Nature and Origins of Evil in the Hebrew Kabala
Here are some notes taken years ago about the Kabala  and the origins of evil... Why should we wonder about the nature and origins of evil? Many people state that our need to separate light and shadow, good and evil, is only the result of the blindness that prevents us from seeing the unity hidden behind the apparent game of opposites…
Let’s imagine that on the vessel bound for the Colchis, Jason and the Argonauts were accompanied by a Jungian psycho-analyst. I am pretty sure that during the journey, seeing Jason’s worry for the imminent confrontation with the dragon that guarded the Golden Fleece, the psycho-analyst would have winked at him behind the golden glasses and said: ‘Look, Jason, the Dragon is nothing but an evolutionary function of your unconsciousness, it is part of you. It is the whole of inertia and resistance you oppose to changes, it is the Shadow you have to face and integrate with. Don’t worry, the danger exists only if you want it to, you are only a victim of the illusory game between opposites, the Dragon is not real. Don’t let Fear stop you!’.
Perhaps Jason would have felt reassured by him and he would have never asked for Medea’s help… that wouldn’t have made the dragon’s teeth less sharp or the dragon itself less dangerous. The Golden Fleece would have been left hanging on the tree and the dragon would have eaten the unwise Jason, who is said to have put some weight on during the journey…
Perseus as well could have met another psycho-analyst, keen reader of Erich Neumann, who would have explained with a soothing voice that Medusa, like any other incarnation of the negative mother, such as Lilith and Kali, was nothing but an aspect of our soul; that Medusa’s task (and her sisters’) is to highlight the less advanced aspects of the hero in order to push him towards transformation and growth; finally, that the Feminine aspect always plays a positive role in our existence. Who knows, perhaps Perseus would have felt reassured and would have forgotten to advance walking backwards, looking in the shiny shield and wearing the Cap of Invisibility given to him by Hades; he would have stared at Medusa’s eyes with confidence and he would be now one of the marble statues in the British Museum, turned into stone by Medusa’s merciless look.
An Initiate or a Master, too, could give the same kind of answer to a neophyte who asked him what the origin of Evil is. He would raise his ascetic and thoughtful face from the miso soup and would say to the disciple with a final tone: ‘Good and Evil are nothing but illusions, nothing but Maya’…’Oh Student of Life, according to Hindu myths this distinction started from Brahma who looked at himself in the game of reflections he had created himself. Therefore don’t worry, my Son, when you will reach the status that alchemists call the unus mundus, when your dark and bright sides will be joined together, the game of Opposites will appear for what it really is: pure illusion’.
In the meantime, what would prevent the adept from turning into ‘Jack the Ripper’? From robbing old people? From devoting to the practices of the ‘Golden Dawn’ and sexual magic? To run for elections? To use Napalm to deforest whole natural reserves and build residential homes? To build anodized aluminum door frames?
In other words… how many of us have reached the coniunctio oppositorum? How many have definitely defeated our Shadow? How many can safely deny the metaphysical existence of Evil because they are beyond any distinction between Good and Evil?
There is an awful trap waiting for all those who devote themselves to inner search and to amplify some symbolic constellation. It is the illusion of being at the end of the path before even having started it, the fancy that the humble and hard work of integration of the Shadow can be reduced to mere intellectual work. The temptation to put oneself beyond Good and Evil, despising those who fight inner and outer battles, those who fight for the victory of the bright principle on the dark principle (following the model of the fight without care for the result of actions supported by Arjuna in ‘Bhagavad Gita’).
Personally I have met many people affected by these Luciferian delusions of grandeur. None of them had transcended his Shadow in the least… and often the illusion of having achieved this turned into a tragedy.
In the templar invocation: ‘Non nobis domine, non nobis, sed nomini tuo da gloriam’, the dominus mentioned is not the Ego, but a subtle principle which can be called for only after many years of hard work on oneself. Many people identify themselves with their research and divinize it; they confuse the Ego, the mask-person, with the Spirit. The humbleness required to the researcher is not a hypocritical and unctuous attitude, where one publicly devalues his own merits and strengths, the extraordinary goals that he secretly thinks he has reached. It consists of the CONSCIOUSNESS that the voice of the Spirit is subtle and it speaks only and if there is absolute silence inside us. To be silent means not to take advantage of past experiences, not to use the forms of thought used for our research like stones of Babel’s Tower to climb the sky. Symbols, concepts, experiences, thoughts… everything must be sacrificed to keep the inner dialogue quiet. My experience has shown me many times that the Path is scattered with traps and that the Ego is an extraordinary transformer, which often wears a plastic nose and speaks with a baritone voice pretending to be the Spirit. In other words, until the condition of illumination is reached (and then we will devote to SILENCE), it is not only legitimate, but also necessary, to question about Evil. We can’t face or integrate with the Shadow if we don’t see or recognize it for what it is.
Nevertheless…the ideas of Jungians and hurried Masters which I ridiculed above are opposed by the ‘Iranian’ and Manichaean vision of Good and Evil as incompatible and independent realities in conflict; they are Ahrimanand Ahura Mazda, Shadow and Light intended as Matter and Anti-matter, which generate Angels and Demons that fight each other both in the subtle and in the material world. The Manichaean position tends to demonize all that is not ‘on this side’ of the line of demarcation (arbitrarily) marked out between Light and Shadow. It has often identified the Matter and the feminine principle with disaggregating forces; essentially it brings what it is supposed to aspire to, viz. by demonizing matter and shadow, or even the feminine principle, we condemn ourselves to a ‘satanic’ attraction for all that can be denied and trampled on, because they are parts of our soul that ‘take revenge’ inside us. In this spirit, my intention in writing the notes below is to carry out a research that will lead me to understand how cabbalists have intended the reality and origins of Evil.
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The two main texts of Kabala are the ‘Sefer Yetzirah’, or ‘Book of Creation’, written, according to tradition, by Abraham himself and passed on to us from generation to generation (the critics date its compiling between the 4th and the 8th centuries A.D.) and the ‘Zohar’ or ‘Book of Splendor’, written by Moses De Leon in Spain in the 13th century. According to some legends, the ‘Sefer Yetzirah’ contains the same secret principles used to create the world and the man who understands its hidden sense gains this divine power.
The Creator is considered ‘Ein Sof’ (the Infinite) and therefore as a ‘God in himself’. His first emanation is Will. In the ‘Tikkunei Zohar’, Tikkun 22 is written: ‘He is called Ein Sof internally and Keter externally. The Thought (Chokhmah) follows’.
God created the world through Number, Numbering and Numbered (or Form, Forming and Formed) through 32 paths: 10 Sephirots (emanations, spheres and sapphires) and twenty-two fundamental letters (the 22 letters-numbers of the Hebrew alphabet). The 22 letters were divided into three Mothers: Aleph, Mem and Sin, from which he created water, fire and spirit, from fire the sky, from water the earth and from spirit the air, intermediary between sky and earth, the plate of the scales of good, evil and the language between the two. The three Mothers in their permutations work in the Universe, during Time, in the human body (the head from fire, the belly from water and the bust from Breath), from them the Hot, Cold and Temperate climates are created. Near the three Mothers he created seven doubles (because of the two possible pronunciations): Beth, Gimel, Daleht, Kaph, Pe, Resh, Taw, viz. life, peace, science, wealth, grace, generation and power with their contraries death, wickedness, ignorance, poverty, ugliness, sterility and slavery. The seven doubles were associated to the limitations of space, fixed in six of the 10 Sephirots and the seventh to the temple of sacredness that supports everything. They were also associated to the seven planets: Saturn, Jupiter (justice), Mars (strength), Sun (heat), Venus (splendor), Mercury (star) and Moon (whiteness), to the seven days of the week, to the seven orifices of the human body (eyes, mouth, nose, ears) and to various parts of the body. Furthermore, with the seven doubles were formed seven Universes, seven skies, seven earths, seven seas, seven rivers, seven deserts, seven days, weeks, years and sabbatical years, seven jubilees and the temple of sacredness. By combining and permuting, these doubles extended their influence to the entire visible world. Finally he created 12 singles: He, Waw, Zayin, Heth, Teth, Yod, Lamedh, Nun, Samekh, Ayin, Sadhe, Qoph and linked them to word, meditation, locomotion, sight, hearing, action, coitus, smell, sleep, anger, nutrition and laughter. The 12 singles were also the origins of the 12 signs of the zodiac and the 12 months of the year, of the ‘conductors’ of the body: hands, feet, kidneys, spleen, liver, bile, intestine, stomach, rectum. The 231 combinations obtained by extracting the possible couple of letters from the 22 (excluded those produced by the same letter repeated twice) are considered doors or aspects of God where every formed thing comes from.
In the root of all roots there are three occult lights without beginning or ending, which must be considered as attributes of God together with the 10 Sephirots.
The Sephirots (one of the etymologies, from Zephir, sapphire) from which everything was created are:
Keter (crown) – The Spirit of the Lord, Voice, Breath and Word, the depth of the principle
Chokhmah (Wisdom) – the Breath from the Spirit, original source of the creating force, the hidden Eden used to carve and form the 22 fundamental letters, the depth of the end
Binah (Intelligence) – The water from the breath: here he created the 22 letters with the Unformed and Empty, mud and lime. Here the river of Eden widens, Binahis also the Mother of the worlds, the depth of good
Gedulah or Chesed (Greatness, Love, Mercy) – The fire from water, the Angels, the helping Spirits, the Gold (sometimes silver; a relevant difference between Kabala and alchemy is that sometimes silver is considered more precious than gold), the depth of evil. Here he chose three letters from the single ones with the advice of the three Mothers and he sealed six extremes with them
From here is derived the emanation of the 6 directions made by permuting J, H and V from the name of God, JHVH.
Gevurah or Din (Power, Judgment) – The loftiness (Jod He Vau), (sometimes gold). It is considered the Sephirot from which Evil and the power of the Left act in the world
Tipheret or Rahamin (Beauty, Compassion) – The depth of lowness (Jod Vau He) (in other texts He Jod Vau) , also called ‘the sky’ and considered the degree where Moses had to stop in his journey
Netzach (Perseverance, Victory) – The east (He Jod Vau) (in other texts Vau Jod He)
Hod (Majesty) – The west (He Vau Jod) (in other texts Vau He Jod) source of prophetic vision
Yesod or Zaddith (Fundament of the World, Fair, Virtuous) – The South (Vau Jod He) (in other texts Jod Vau He). Mercury, the origin of the generating force and active power in the world, celestial vault, sphere of the day, rainbow, origin of the angelical formatoins, superior hidden World. It is the tree of Life (although in later texts the tree of Life is Tipheret)
Malkhut or Atarah (Kingdom, Diadema) – The North (Vau He Jod) (in other texts He Vau Yod), lead. It is the sea where other powers flow, a sea become deed, end of Thought and Creation. Oral Torah (viz. interpretation of the Torah with the insertion of the vowels), Feminine Principle, Moon, the strength lent from the other 9 Sephirots and that is kept here, Earth, night, dryness, place for the crop, place where treasures are kept, Kingdom of God in the lower world. Malkhut represents the access to the theosophical path that leads to God; in the prophetic visions it is called ‘visible or lower world’ and it is the Sephirah that has the closest relationship with the earthly and visible world. It is the tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, the Oral Law
The link of Sephirots with metals, especially in an alchemic sense, is quite uncertain and it varies from an author to another.
The two pillars of the Temple of Solomon, Joakim and Boaz, which support the visible and invisible worlds, correspond respectively to Malkuth and Yesod. Next to them we must consider the two pillars that must support and guide our search for the Spirit in the world…Wisdom (Chokhmah), Strength (Yesod) and Beauty (Tipheret).
The Sephirots are also called lights, powers, crowns, stages, clothes, buds, mirrors, sources, aspects (of God), his ‘internal’ face or limbs and ‘external look of God’ (opposed to ‘Ein Sof’).
According to Ashkenazi, the Sephirots are intermediary and they pray God, but they are unable to perceive the nature of who emanated them one after the other.
Man is the image of God in the sense that he embodies the ten principles emanated or faces of God, both in his ‘subtle’ and in his material body.
The origin of the speculation regarding the 10 Sephirots is sometimes dated back to the ‘Chronicles’, 29, 11. The external aspect of Keter, placed between Chokhmah and Binah, is also called ‘Daath’ (knowledge) and it harmonizes the two. In some texts Yesodis in the seventh place and only in the Gerona School it had its definitive collocation.
Keter, Chokhmah and Binah are considered intellectual Sephirots; Gedullah, Gevurah and Tipheret, psychic Sephirots; Nezah, Hod and Yesod natural Sephirots… many speculations are dedicated to the Sephirots linked with the seven days of the creation of the world: ‘Bereshit Bara Elohim’, ‘In the beginning God created’ includes the first three Sephirots, the following ones are linked with the directions of space and Malkhut in particular to Woman and Mother. In the relation between Sephirots and days of the creation Yesodmust be considered Saturday, the day when the Lord rested. Two symbols, connected to Malkhut and the moon, have a particular role: the Keneset Israel (the Israel community) also called ‘mother, bride and daughter of the King’, which represents the relation between God and his people, the marriage of God with the community of believers. It has a relation with the Torah and the forbidden tree of the garden of Eden. It is the personification of the written law in the oral one, which supplies its interpretation through the spoken language and the Temple. It is also the last attribute through which the Creator acts in the lower world. Malkhut is therefore the symbol of the oral law, transient and linked to historical events and of the tree of knowledge of Good and Evil. The Tree of Life is associated to Yesod (sometimes to Tipheret), symbol of the written and unchangeable law and of Tradition, carved in the heart of every man. Its connection with the oral law makes indeed Malkhut the door through which man can start his ascent towards the divine mystery. The other symbol linked to Malkhut and the moon is the Shekhinah, the ‘Divine Presence’.
According to Moses Cordovero, there are six aspects shared by the different Sephirots:
The hidden aspect, preceding the Manifestation, in the Sephirah that emanates it.
The aspect where it is manifested and apparent in the emanating Sephirah.
The aspect where it is manifested as a spiritual emanation, viz. as independent Sephirah.
The aspect that allows the Sephirah above to instill the power to emanate other Sephirots.
The aspect through which it gains the power to emanate the Sephirots hidden in itself and give them manifested existence.
The aspect through which the following Sephirah is emanated in its place. From here the cycle starts again.
The emanation of each Sephirah in another Sephirah is represented in two symbolic ways:
As reflected light. The Sephirots can be seen both as means to transfer light from the top to the bottom and as mirrors that reflect the light back to its source. This reflected light can re-ascend from any Sephirah (particularly from Malkhut) up to Keter.
Through ‘channels’. There are Paths of influence among the various Sephirots (visible in the classical images of the Sephirotic tree). Every interruption of the flow backwards from the bottom to the top is called ‘breaking of the channels’ and the cause is usually called Sin or divine Disapproval.
In the doctrine of the Shemittot or the cosmic Cycles the world lasts 49,000 years, 7,000 for each planet among the seven of the classic astrology. Incidentally, this is the doctrine used by Nostradamus in its famous Centuries, when he talks about the ‘Kingdom of the Moon’ or ‘of Saturn’ or any other planet. One of the most extreme flows of thought stated that the Torah is ‘read differently’ in each of the millions of worlds of the creation. It was believed that in the Shemittah (present time) one of the letters of the sacred alphabet is missing and it will be revealed as the twenty-third letter only in the future.
Let’s now face the problem of reality or unreality of Evil. Evil is the inability of man to receive the influence of the Sephirots. According to this principle Evil doesn’t have any ontological reality but it is only separation from the Emanation.
Nevertheless, in the ‘Bahir’, the Sephirah Gevurah is defined as the ‘left hand of the Most Holy’ and also ‘a quality whose name is Evil’ and whose essence is coercion and limitation (therefore it is also linked to death).
The dark realm of demoniac powers, although emanated by God, doesn’t belong to the world of holiness and Sephirots any more. There is a complete hierarchy of the ‘emanations of the left’ that receives its power from Gevurah, since it keeps receiving new strength by man’s sins; they are the deeds that separate him from the knowledge of the emanating archetypes and use symbols to disperse rather than to gather (let’s think of what we said about ‘counter-initiation’…).
The first three worlds that were created and then destroyed were three tenebrous emanations as well. In the ‘Zohar’ it is also said that the Evil of the Universe started from what was left of the destroyed worlds. Another theory on the origins of Evil refers to the two trees of Life and Knowledge. Once upon a time the two trees were joined in one but Adam, by feeding on the fruit of the tree of knowledge, separated them; he separated the fruit from its origin, the ‘above’ from the ‘below’, the Power of Judgment contained in the tree of knowledge from the Power of Love and Mercy contained in the tree of Life. All this ideas of Evil coexist in the ‘Zohar’. The latter gives Samael (cabbalistic equivalent of Satan) and Lilith the central role in the Kingdom of Evil. According to Nathan of Gaza, since the beginning there were two lights in the ‘Ein Sof’; one of them contained the Thought and the other didn’t. The first tended towards Creation, the second remained closed in itself. These two ‘primordial Lights’ reflect in the cycle of seasons and in the same structure of our psyche. (N.B. Could they be the concepts where Freud got his idea of the ‘Instinct of Death’ from?). Evil originated from the resistance that the second light opposed to the emanation created by the first light. The Light Without Thought became then the supreme source of Evil, because of its constant effort to frustrate and destroy all that is built by the light of though, because ‘nothing must exist apart from Ein Sof’. (In the lower world the tendency of the human Ego to centralize is a caricature reflection of this primordial conflict).
Nevertheless, at the end of times, Samael, king of the fallen angels, will loose the letter ‘mem’ (mavet, death), from his name and the lack of this letter will transform Samael in Sa’el, one of the 72 names of God.
According to Isaac Luria, the World started because ‘Ein Sof’ contracted in himself, separating Judgment from Mercy in a self-limitation. The first form that emerged was Adam Kadmon, the celestial and primordial Adam with the 10 Sephirots. Since then, two motions characterize the processes of the universe: Return in itself and Expansion; each contains the requirements of the other. (There is also a Lurian doctrine of the ‘breaking of the vessels’ and of ‘Tikkun’, or cosmic and microcosmic restoration and reintegration).
According to the Spanish Kabala, the origin of Evil and sin is to be found in the separation of Malkhutfrom the other Sephirots: Malkhut was ‘isolated from the rest’ by Adam’s Original Sin. In the ‘Ma’arekhet Elohut’ the main Sins mentioned in the ‘Torah’ (Noah’s drunkenness and the sin of the son that gazes at his nakedness, the building of the Tower of Babel, the sin of Moses in the desert, the golden Calf) are considered as repetitions of Adam’s sin and as causes of division and disorder between top and bottom, between King (Melech) and Queen (Shekhinah). The main instrument to rebuild the broken communication channels between the lower and higher worlds is the human commitment to sacredness through ‘Torah’ (Tradition) and prayer (what prayer is in an esoteric sense, this is something to think about…).
It was believed that if the chapters of the ‘Torah’ were given in the right order, anybody would be able to resurrect the dead and do miracles by reading it… but the true order of the ‘Torah’ is known only to God… (‘Midrash Tehillim’, psalm 3). The creation of the ‘Torah’ itself is a summary of the process through which the Sephirots and the individual aspects of the names of God were emanated by the ‘Ein Sof’. In its first and occult existence the book is called ‘Primordial Torah’ and it is identified with Chokhmah. Later it develops into two manifestations: written (Tipheret or Yesod) and oral (Malkhut) Torah.
The ‘Torah’ could be interpreted in four ways (Moses de Leon called Pardes or Garden the whole of the four possible readings and he stated that in the Garden of Eden they were identified as:
Literal reading, which includes the oral law of the rabbinic tradition;
Hermeneutic reading, ethical and haggadic comment;
Allegorical reading, philosophical truths of the “Torah”;
Mystic reading, the whole of possible cabbalistic comments, which tend to re-read the words of the ‘Torah’ referring them to the world of Sephirots.
Only on the last level the ‘Torah’, freed from all the layers that hide its deep meaning, it reveals the processes of divinity and their relations with human life. In future times the ‘Torah’ will get rid of its clothes and it will reappear in a form where letters will have spiritual meanings. The ‘Zohar’ says that if it wasn’t for Adam’s sin its letters would have been arranged to make a completely different text and this will happen after the coming of the Messiah. According to a Talmudic tradition, the ‘Torah’ has been written with black fire on white fire. In the 13th century came the idea that the white fire included the true text of the ‘Torah’ and the text that appeared in black fire was only the Oral Law. Therefore the true Written Law is totally invisible to human perception, hidden in the white parchment of the ‘Torah’, whose letters are only a comment to this vanished text. At the time of the Messiah the letters of the ‘White Torah’ will be revealed.
Going back to the Evil emanated by the Left and the Judging Power, and to Love, Light of desire and generating Force emanated by the Right of God, the game of these two forces, joined in the central pillar of the Sephirotic tree can be seen in the first three days of the Creation of the World… in the first day of the creation is held the mystery of the inclusion in the Right of night and darkness and their ‘desire’ to go back in the light of the day.
In the second day the mystery is the secret of the fight between Left and Right originating Hell, which then joined the Left. In the third day the role of the Central Pillar is decisive (see the scheme of the Sephirotic tree), which brings the two parts to an agreement.
The letters that from El create the name Elohim, changing their order, originate the lower waters and forces, the ‘bottom waters’. In the second day of creation the same letters, in the order that they should be, create the higher waters with a disposition that means ‘the original heart’. By changing their order again the meaning is ‘towards the sea’, viz. ‘towards the lower forces’. In the third day of creation the fight is resolved and from the separation of the waters the world was generated and the separate waters produced progeny. The lower world is ruled by Shekhinah, spread among the multitude of the tree of Life… the same Shekhinah is associated to the ‘dryness that appears after the deluge’ and to one of the He of God’s name; it is the only degree that can become manifested.
1. As you can see in the final bibliography, the correct writing of the word is controversial… I have found at least eight ways of writing it in as many books. (back to text)
2. The association between letters of God’s name, directions and Sephirots written in bold are referred to the edition of the ‘Sefer Yetzirah’ edited by Atanòr. (back to text)
“Sefer Yetzirah” (suggested edition: Carabba, Lanciano 1938).
“Le Zohar”, Verdier, Paris 1981.
“Cabbala ebraica: I sette santuari”, Tea, Milan 1990.
D’Aquin, Philippe, “Interpretazione dell’albero della Kabalah”, Atanòr, Rome 1994.
Di Nola, Alfonso, “Cabala e mistica giudaica”, Rome 1984.
Fortune, Dion, “La Cabala mistica”, Astrolabio, Rome 1973.
Gaffarel, Jacques, “Profond Mystères de la Cabale divine”, Paris 1625.
Haziel, “Des Origines de la Cabale à l’Angeologie”, Haziel, Paris 1996.
Yates, Frances, “Cabbala e occultismo nell’era elisabettiana”, Turin 1982.
Levi, Eliphas, “I misteri della Cabalà”, Atanòr, Rome 1980.
Prophet, Elisabeth Clare, “Cabala, la chiave del potere interiore”, Armenia, Milan 1999.
Scholem, Gershom, “La Kabbalah e il suo simbolismo”, Turin 1980.
Scholem, Gershom, “Le origini della Kabbalà”, Rome 1981.
Scholem, Gershom, “La Cabala”, Edizioni Mediterranee, Rome 1982.
Scholem, Gershom, “Le grandi correnti della mistica ebraica”, Il Melangolo, Genoa 1986.
Scholem, Gershom, “Alchimia e Kabbalah”, Einaudi, Turin 1995.
Scholem, Gershom, “Zohar il libro dello splendore, passi scelti”, Einaudi, Turin 1998.
by Alessandro Orlandi