This article presents an alternative view of evil based on Jewish mysticism, pointing out the presence of potential good within evil which can be recognized and then transformed or redeemed.
Jewish mystics teach that even in the very heart of evil, there is a spark of holiness and yearning for redemption. Our task is not to destroy, but to build; not to hate, but to find a place of yielding; not to polarize, but to discover the points of commonality so that we can work together.
Their concept of Ein Sof – the Endless, Limitless, Incomprehensible, Infinite Being/Process beyond all the scriptural concepts and attributes of God – embraces everything, including the totality of good and evil. The created universe can be viewed as a metaphysical magnet with one good pole representing God and one evil pole representing “Satan” or evil spirits. Our thoughts, desires and activities, depending on their nature, draw us closer to either God or “Satan”. Therefore, in simple terms, whatever draws us to God is good, and whatever draws us away is evil.
Our drawing to and connection with the magnet of goodness depends on factors such as our openness to divine influences in our lives, awareness of and seeking God’s presence, and how much time we spent in higher thoughts, such as exploring the deeper meanings of life. We are drawn to the other end of the magnet when we submit to the opposing force – the evil inclination and desires in our natures, including lust, greed, status, fame, acquisition, and power. Each of these has the potential of seduction to draw us deeper into our ego-structures.
In the universe, there is a constant tension of opposing forces, for example, positive and negative, restrictive powers and expanding powers, yin and yang. This cosmic push and pull is the nature of creation and the principle upon which good and evil are based.
Good and evil can be viewed as not a dichotomy or split between opposites, but rather an enclosed universe of curved time and space. This can be graphically illustrated by a mobius strip – a strip which before attaching the two ends has one end twisted to its opposite side. The two sides of the strip are geometrically one. This is obviously not to say that good and evil are one, but rather that each has a spark of the other, and if pushed far enough, this spark can be ignited. In other words, good and evil can get to a point of overlap to the extent that either can transform into the opposite.
Rather than viewing evil as something that should be obliterated or at least avoided, it can be seen as something that has a spark of divine nature within it and therefore, our task is to uplift it or transform it – bringing good out of it.
Evil, according to Jewish mystics, serves a primary function in creation and therefore can never be eradicated even if we wanted to. Without something pulling us away from the Divine, we would be overwhelmed by God and lose our free will. This paradigm suggests that God is in every direction, represented by light. “Satan” is also everywhere, represented by veils. Evil then becomes a force that dims the light.
The old way of looking at this issue is that something is inherently evil. The new way points out that evil is not a thing or event, but rather it is related to awareness. Almost everything can have both a good side and an evil side depending on what we do with it. Sometimes only time will tell whether an event was good or evil – for example, a tragedy in retrospect can be seen as the best thing that has happened to a person by turning their life around.
The question of good and evil is one of the most difficult of all and doesn’t have an easy answer. In fact, the complexities of this issue go beyond reason and it is necessary to draw on resources that transcend the mind and intellect. A new mind state and perspective, with fresh insights into the question of good and evil, can be arrived at through spiritual practices such as meditation, contemplation, and intense devotion.
Reference: Rabbi David A. Cooper, God Is a Verb (New York, Riverhead Books, 1997), pp. 156-161
Header image: John Grech
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- Sin and Forgiveness
- Unpardonable Sin
- Cause and Effect
- What Celestial Spirits Think About War
- End of the World