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Entries in evil (4)


And Lilith fled

The mythology of the demon queen Lilith appears in a number of Jewish sources. Lilith represents an evil force who, among other things, kills babies. One of the sources where Lilith appears is the Zohar. However the Zohar tells us the story differently from other sources. Rather than being created demonic, she started off as a non-evil spirit:

There is a female, a spirit of all spirits, and her name is Lilith, and she was at first with Adam (Zohar 3:19)

She had union with Adam who was at that time a spirit, in primal undifferentiated form (i.e. encapsulating both male and female, as in the verse in Genesis 1:27). However, once Adam began differentiating into male and female, Lilith fled and became evil.

Thereafter the Holy One, blessed be He, sawed Adam into two, and made the female. And He brought her to Adam in her perfection like a bride to the canopy. When Lilith saw this, she fled. And she is in the cities of the sea, and she is still trying to harm the sons of the world. (Zohar 3:19)

What precisely made Lilith flee? The Zohar does not tell us, though this is an intriguing question in and of itself. It might be because she was jealous of Eve, or upset that Adam now had a body while she did not. But I want to suggest something more. We see that she saw Adam becoming whole – developing male and female aspects, while she remained only female. It seems to me that once Adam had evolved, but she had not, the union became imbalanced and that was why she fled. This is a lesson for male-female relationships. In some relationships, each partner is playing up only half of the aspects of the self - the gendered half. The woman plays up only her feminine aspects to the very masculine man. However, where one partner has developed to be more whole and integrate his/her own male and female aspects, the other partner will have to develop similarly for the relationship to endure and thrive.

A second important point here is that the Zohar’s Lilith was originally not evil. What made her evil was her feelings of offense, or upset, or rejection. The Zohar is making a profound statement about the roots of evil, that lie in our actions and reactions. How much damage rejection can do! I mentioned this already in this post, about Timna.

- - -

I originally ended this post here, with the words:

"Two wounded beings unleash so much bad into the world. How can we help people move beyond their negative emotions? What can we do to add to the world’s healing? Here's one route. "

However, today my teacher Avraham mentioned something that puts a much deeper spin on it, that repesents a spiritual development. He taught that Leah is kabbalistically seen as a reincarnation of Lilith, no less (and Rachel is Eve, with Jacob equivalent to Adam).

Like Lilith, Leah too suffers from tremendous rejection and pain. For her entire life, her husband Jacob has given his love to her sister Rachel. Leah's challenges in her lifetime represent the opportunity for growth and tikkun for the Lilith soul inside her. True repentance, says the Rambam, is only when you are back in the same situation and you act differently. Thus, in her lifetime Leah had a similar experience to Lilith, of rejection - but her response is different. Instead of acting in a childish, unevolved manner and storming off to do angry damage in the world, Leah lives within the situation, tries to resolve it, and even strives to feel gratitude for what she actually has, as we see when she names Judah and says "This time I shall thank G-d."

We all get to face our unique personal challenges again and again, in different forms, so that we can refine our responses and react from a more evolved place each time. This is how we heal the world (and meditation [see the link above] is indeed a very valuable tool, as it teaches us to hold our emotions in a different way).


[Thanks to my teacher Avraham Leader for introducing me to this passage. Translation of Zohar is from this site]


Think before rejecting

One of the most incredible paragraphs in the Talmud explains that Amalek came into being due to Jewish rejection of a prospective convert:

And Lotan's sister was Timna... Timna was a royal princess... Desiring to become a proselyte, she went to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, but they did not accept her. So she went and became a concubine to Eliphaz the son of Esau, saying, 'I had rather be a servant to this people than a mistress of another nation.' From her Amalek was descended who afflicted Israel. Why so? — Because they should not have repulsed her.
(Sanhedrin 99b)

We are not told why she was rejected. Since the mission of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob was to spread monotheism, why did they not want to accept her? Was there something about her that made them feel uncomfortable? Whether that was true or not, this courageous section of Talmud makes no bones about its message. It was our own fault that we ended up plagued by Amalek, our arch-nemesis. Evil begets evil.

So next parshat Zachor, let's wipe out not only Amalek but also, in general, acts of rejection we commit due to insularity, snobbery, fear or hatred. Let's try harder to embrace and welcome people with open arms, even those who make us feel uncomfortable, and remember the words of Bob Marley in his song "Corner Stone":

Cause the things people refuse

Are the things they should choose


Amalek - who cares anyway?


Once a year, Jews are commanded to read this paragraph aloud in Synagogue:

Remember what Amalek did to you by the way, when you came forth out of Egypt;
How he met you by the way, and struck at your rear, all who were feeble behind you, when you were faint and weary; and he did not fear God.

This commandment is taken very seriously, and the synagogue is much more crowded than usual as the late sleepers force themselves out of bed. (Some communities even read the paragraph twice in different accents to make sure it is understood by all!)

The essence of the commandment is to remember a nation named Amalek (descended from Esau), in order to blot out their name entirely. The question begs to be asked - if we had not bothered to remember Amalek all these years, their name would long ago have dropped out of human history. Thus we end up achieving the opposite effect from the one ostensibly desired. 

Furthermore, what is the point of this mitzvah anyway today? Amalek probably died out long ago, no one knows for sure, so why can't we stop flogging a dead horse?

This year, noticing my friends grappling with this question, I understood something. Since it is not obvious who Amalek is, the commandment forces us once a year to try to pinpoint what evil is. Is Amalek an evil nation? Is it a spiritual evil, and if so, what is its nature (doubt? chance? meaninglessness? rejection?) The commandment generates discussion and debate on this topic.

I think once a year to attempt to define what evil is constitutes an important and meaningful act. We remember that there is evil in the world... and perhaps ask ourselves what we can do in order to combat it.

(With thanks to Ethan Stephen Press and Barak Tzuberi, through whose struggle with the question of Amalek this insight arose).



For Holocaust Day

A thought I had on Holocaust day:

If we were to truly glimpse the infinite beauty of just one butterfly, perhaps then we would understand the necessity of placing a vast ugliness and evil in the world, without which free choice would be impossible.