Kabbalistic Tu Bishvat Seder: Part 2

Evil in the world is symbolized by fruit at the seder.

In this discussion of the kabbalistic seder, the author addresses the mystical view of the source of evil in the world. The first humans disobeying God’s command and eating the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden brought evil into the world. In mystical beliefs, humanity has the ability to reestablish the cosmic balance shattered at Eden. All this is contemplated as part of the mystical seder.

It should be noted that in his discussion of "external forces," the author is referring to the Aramaic term sitra akhra. This is a basic Judaic term that understands evil as function, not as objective reality.

This article, the second of a three-part article, is excerpted from a longer, footnoted work. (Read Part 1 here.) It is reprinted with permission of the author from Trees, Earth, and Torah: A Tu B’Shvat Anthology, edited by Ari Elon, Naomi Mara Hyman, and Arthur Waskow (Jewish Publication Society).

We have thus far been considering nature as source for divine knowledge. There is another aspect of the kabbalist’s view of nature that is equally fundamental. This is related to the question of humanity’s relation to nature.

The kabbalistic cosmos in its present state, especially according to the School of Isaac Luria [also known as the Ari, 1534-1572], is dualistic. Evil as well as good is present in some sense and to some degree in each of the worlds that exist below the world of divine emanation itself.

Evil in the World

Indeed, the way in which evil is present in each world is symbolized in the seder by the classification of fruits, according to the location of their shells, skin, or rind. Thus the presence of evil in our material world is also a reflection of conditions in the higher worlds, which themselves reflect the state of things in the theosophical realm. There, however, evil by definition cannot exist, although its roots, or potential for existence, are located in the highest ontological levels of divinity.

Nevertheless, while evil is external to the divine realm of holiness itself, it is located in proximity to its tenth sefirah [emanation], Malkhut [kingdom]. Thus, as long as evil has not been entirely vanquished, it has the capacity to threaten the tenth sefirah and to separate Her from the higher sefirot. The ascendancy of evil above is reflected by various conditions in the material world that are characterized by injustice. In terms of the sacred history of Judaism, the disruption of the divine realm is represented by Israel’s exile among the nations, which symbolizes the absence of God’s Kingdom on earth.

The duality of good and evil is also symbolically present within nature. Sources of life, such as food, represent the powers of holiness. That which may not be eaten symbolizes the external evil forces. The edible portion of wheat, for example, symbolizes the tenth sefirah, while chaff represents the external forces. The edible portion of fruit is associated with forces of holiness, while its shell represents the forces of evil. Here we should note that the symbolism compels us to recognize that the "external forces" have an important role to play. They are not evil in an absolute sense. Indeed, the examples from nature teach us that when the cosmos is in a harmonious state, the "external forces" perform the positive function of acting as guardians that protect the more vulnerable manifestations of holiness.

However, it is obvious that nature alone is not sufficient for maintaining a harmonious state. Just as evil may assail the tenth sefirah above, those aspects of nature that should protect its life-giving elements can, under certain conditions, overrun them. As a result, the forces of holiness in nature can be cut off from the sources of life that sustain them, just as Malkhut can be separated from the higher sefirot.

Humanity Maintains Cosmic Harmony

If, then, neither the divine realm nor nature can be counted on to maintain a state of cosmic harmony, what factor remains which might act to fulfill this function? For the kabbalist, the answer is humanity. Indeed, according to kabbalistic exegesis, the separation of the tenth sefirah was first caused by the sin of Adam. Symbolically, through eating the fruit in direct violation of the divine command, Adam separated the forces of holiness in nature from their divine source, thus empowering the external forces. As a result, the Edenic state of harmony was broken and humanity and nature became adversaries. Thus, from the kabbalistic point of view, the sin of Adam testifies to the awesome power that humanity possesses. It is humanity that is primarily responsible for the state of nature and the cosmos.

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