If you had to pick one word that would describe all negativity in this world, a word that would capture the heart and soul of evil, which word would you choose?
These are some of the synonyms for the word “evil” suggested by the thesaurus: wicked, bad, wrong, immoral, sinful, foul, vile, dishonorable, corrupt, iniquitous, depraved, reprobate, villainous, nefarious, vicious, malicious.
The word the Kabbalah uses to describe all negative energy, all unholiness in the universe is, surprisingly, a neutral word, a word that does not evoke a strong image of evil. The Kabbalah refers to all evil with the innocent-sounding word kelipah, the Hebrew word for “peel.”
The metaphor of a peel captures all we need to know about unholiness: its origin, its purpose, the challenges it presents, and ultimately the way to deal with it.
Where does evil come from? There were many who believed that evil could not possibly come from G‑d. Since G‑d is good, they argued, all evil must therefore come from Satan, from a power independent from, and contradictory to, G‑d. Judaism fiercely rejects this explanation. The most fundamental premise of Judaism is that Hashem echad, G‑d is one, and there can be no force independent of G‑d. Where, then, does evil and negativity come from?
The answer lies within the metaphor of the peel. The peel serves a double function: it both conceals and protects the fruit. When man removes the peel and consumes the flesh of the fruit, both the peel and the fruit have served their purpose.
The same is true for all cosmic energy. Everything G‑d created, including evil, serves a purpose. Yet there is a distinction between good and evil: the purpose of good is intrinsic, while the purpose of evil is to benefit the good. The purpose of evil is to enable the human being to choose good from evil by removing the “peel” and consuming the “fruit.”
Within evil itself, there are generally two categories: the evil that must be rejected outright, and the evil that could become positive if used to serve that which is holy.
This sheds light onto one of the earliest dramas of the Bible, a story that has captured the imagination of humanity since the beginning of time: the story of the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden.
What did this mysterious tree represent? And why was its fruit so enticing to Eve?
The Torah tells us that after a conversation with the serpent, Eve perceived the beauty of the fruit: “And the woman saw that the tree was good for food and that it was a delight to the eyes, and the tree was desirable to make one wise; so she took of its fruit, and she ate, and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate.”
Eve perceived that there was beauty in the “peel,” and therefore she desired the “peel” for its own sake. Before Eve’s conversation with the serpent, the entire fruit, including the peel, was perceived as nothing more than a tool that served holiness. Until the sin, all material pleasures served as a vehicle for people to escape the confines of self, relate to other people, and connect to the Creator. The heart of the sin was that the human being now perceived material pleasure for its own sake, confusing the peel for the actual fruit, the means for the end.
Each and every day we face the allure.
The choice is ours. We can live in the tranquility of paradise or be expelled into a world of tension and chaos.
We can desire materialism for its own sake, seeking the sensual with no higher purpose. We can choose the peel and reject the fruit. The result will be conflict with others, as selfish egos inevitably clash, and inner chaos, as the body struggles with the soul.
We can, however, perceive that all material blessing in our life must be enjoyed and used as a vehicle for spiritual life, thus bringing peace between people and within our own psyches.
We can recreate paradise.
by Menchem Feldman