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Chasidic Psychology and Demons: Part 2

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In the first part of this series, we saw that like other creatures, demons* have a spiritual and a physical dimension. So when they were created, at the very end of the sixth day of Creation, God wanted to prevent them from receiving a fully complete physical body, and therefore reversed the process of Creation just before their physical bodies could emerge. We also saw the Chasidic parable that likened this to a person pouring wine out of a barrel, in which the yeast is still mixed. After he pours out all the wine (including the equivalent of the spiritual dimension of the demons), he sees the yeast about to emerge (i.e., the body of the demons) and so immediately closes the spout. This we saw is the meaning of the Torah’s words, “And the heavens and the earth were finished, and all of their hosts.”[1]

Shade without a Yud

The Hebrew word for “demon” (שֵׁד), is pronounced shade. It is written[2] that ‘shade’ is similar to God’s Name Shad-ai (שַׁ־דַּי), but without the final yud. We might have thought that the yud represents deep wisdom. In Sefer Yetzirah, however, the yud represents the sense of action.[3] Indeed, the yud in God’s Name Shad-ai does represent a form of wisdom but in this case, it is the wisdom that is described as, “wisdom at the end,” following the well-known adage, “wisdom in the beginning, wisdom at the end” (חָכְמָה בָּרֹאשׁ חָכְמָה בַּסּוֹף).[4] The “wisdom at the beginning” refers to the letter yud, which is the first letter in God’s essential Name, Havayah (י־הוה) and the “wisdom at the end” refers to the yud, which is the final letter in God’s Name, Adni (אֲ־דֹנָי). Yud refers to yad (hand)[5] as the sages explain that “You open Your hands,”[6] refers to God opening His letters yud, in order to distribute charity “and satiate all living things with will.” When God created the demons without a body, he created them without the yud at the end (i.e., without the practical wisdom that is “wisdom at the end”) and therefore without the full power to act.

Demons Without a Grasp on Reality

If God had created the bodies of the demons before Shabbat, they would have obscured (or muddied) reality (יְטַשְׁטְשׁוּ אֶת הָעוֹלָם). Apart from the external reality, which already serves to conceal God, there would have been a mixture of good and evil in reality, similar to the mixture found in the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Mixtures muddy and confuse a person’s psyche. A person’s imagination is filled with unreal images, fears, and anxiety, which confuse and confound the psyche. Demons are exactly that. They are “false images” (דִּמְיוֹנוֹת שָׁוְא), a phrase whose initials are the two letters of “demon” (שֵׁד).

Interestingly, the “shade” is related to “shadow.” To sit with a demon means to sit in a shadow. Thus, demons are shadows of reality, not the true reality; they are just imagination. If we open a good English dictionary, we find that shade might also mean a phantom, a ghost, or a spirit, similar to its meaning in Hebrew. This is a beautiful example of another English word whose origin is in Hebrew.[7] By Divine Providence, we are in the generation of Mashiach, in which the universal language is English. The simple meaning of shade is also the same. This is a sign that emotionally, demons are shadows, as in “a shady relationship” or a “shady deal.”

These shadows or illusory images do not have a body, meaning they do not have substance; this at least was the situation at the beginning of Creation. Having a body allows a spirit to gain “a hold on reality” (אֲחִיזָה בַּמְּצִיאוּת). When something has a hold on reality, we say that it has a “grip,” like with a hand, on reality. The hand is the letter yud that we saw earlier is missing from the word for “shade.” So, since these demons do not have a body, we can also describe them as “not having a hand, or grip, on reality.” Having “a grip on reality” means that one can grasp the external dimension of reality. Indeed, “a grip on reality” has the same numerical value as “external [or physical] reality” (חִיצוֹנִיּוֹת). So the yud that the demons are missing informs us that they are not connected with reality. As we said, they are shadows or illusory images.

Is it good or not good to give the demons a body, to give them a connection with physical reality, and to make them part of it? At the beginning of creation, it was not good. Hence, God did not create the bodies of demons. This is despite the fact that the price for leaving their bodies out of Creation also meant that the construct of the world was not complete. God preferred a blemished world to allowing the demons to influence, confuse, and muddy physical reality. So, God created something blemished. If He had completely finished it, everything would have been a mixture, a great blur.

Rectifying Demons After the Giving of the Torah

As we saw earlier and in the first part of this series, God did not pour out the metaphoric yeast, i.e., the spirit of the demons. He rather preserved it in the barrel. In Hebrew, the word “yeast” (שְׁמָרִים) itself stems from the same root as “to preserve” or “to keep” (ש.מ.ר.). So even the word itself implies that there is good reason to preserve it. If something is compared metaphorically to yeast, that in itself is an implication that it should be preserved; apparently it contains some good and perhaps it can eventually be used in ways that one could not have initially considered. To put it another way, when pouring the wine out of the barrel (i.e., all that went into physical reality) the usefulness of the wine is immediately apparent, while the yeast seems to have already served its purpose. But the forward-thinking mind might realize that in the future, the yeast could be used for an as yet unidentified purpose.

We can say this in a different way: The bodies of the demons pull the entire creation far down, much lower than a world in which demons do not have bodies and the outer husks are strictly spiritual.[8] The body of the demon corresponds to what the Tanya calls, “the lowest of which there is nothing lower than it.”[9] But this is exactly what God wanted when He created the world: God wanted to make for Himself a dwelling place in the lower realms.” This is the place about which it is said that Mashiach will come “when your [the Ba’al Shem Tov’s] wellsprings spread outward”[10] until they reach a place that is considered “more outward than any other.”[11]

Hence, God ultimately does want to give bodies to the demons. But only when there will be Levites after the Torah is given. Prior to the giving of the Torah, the descent of reality to the point where demons would have bodies was akin to sinking into the 50th gate of impurity, from where it is impossible to exit. (For the same reason, God hurried the Exodus from Egypt, before the Jews would sink into the 50th gate of impurity and could not be released from it; all this before the Giving of the Torah).[12]

Indeed, after the Giving of the Torah, on the 50th day of the Counting of the Omer, it is possible to escape from even the 50th gate of impurity.[13] The Rebbe’s essay is saying that the bodiless state of the demons was always meant to be temporary. Prior to the Giving of the Torah—when God was creating the world—it would have been impossible to tend to the demons if they had been given bodies and thus, a strong hold on reality. Following the Giving of the Torah, however, when there are practical mitzvot, it is the Levites who are able to rectify the demons with bodies specifically. If something has no body, it cannot be tended to. The ultimate purpose is to fulfill the statement that, “the superiority of light is when it comes out of darkness”[14]—to transform the demons and to have them do teshuvah.

The power to have the demons do teshuvah depends on adding the yud back to their name, turning them into the Name Shad-ai. What the Name Shad-ai stands for is very similar in a way to the explanation regarding demons. The sages explain that it means “He said to His world, ‘Enough!’”[15] (שֶׁאָמַר לְעוֹלָמוֹ דַּי). God limited creation at some point. He said, as it were, “No more!” This is the same type of limitation that He exercised regarding the demons, but of course with Shad-ai it pertains to holiness, and the creation that was given a physical body. While the word “shade” (without a yud) indicated a blemished reality, when God limited the bodies of that which had been created, he was doing so to perfect that which was created whole and which already had a body and a hold on reality, and which was connected with holiness.

We can give an example of this principle as it pertains to holiness, specifically to the study of Torah. It is brought in Chasidic teachings[16] that there are three levels of learning Torah, which correspond with the intellectual sefirot (Chabad: wisdom, understanding, and knowledge), with the emotional sefirot (Chagat: loving-kindness, might, and beauty) and the habitual sefirot (Nehi: victory, acknowledgment, and foundation). These three levels are: logical deliberation (סְבָרָא), ruling (הֲלָכָה), and applied ruling (הֲלָכָה לְמַעֲשֶׂה).[17] The purpose of learning should be to reach the final stage of an applied ruling, which is akin to saying that the theoretical logical deliberations are given a hold on reality. By doing so, one gives the learning a “vessel” (כְּלִי), which has the same numerical value as “ruling” (הֲלָכָה), allowing the learning to connect with reality. This is the meaning of the phrase spoken by the prophet Habakkuk, “The pathways of the world are His”[18] (הֲלִיכוֹת עוֹלָם לוֹ), which the sages[19] rendered as, “Rulings, the world is His” (הֲלָכוֹת – עוֹלָם לוֹ).

The Power of the Levites: Rectification of the Left

After the Torah was given, the bodies of the demons can be rectified by the Levites. When the Levites are inducted into the holy service, they are first purified, as is described in the Torah.[20] The purification of the Levites, which qualifies them for their service, takes the entire left axis of the sefirot, all the way to its termination, and sanctifies it. This is the power of the Levite alone. The priest (the kohen) does not have this ability. This is one of the reasons that in the future, the Levites will become Priests.[21] This is the secret of “the Priests, the Levites,”[22] as elaborated upon in the essay. Part of their service is to convert all of reality, to rectify evil and transform it into good. Prior to the giving of the Torah, this was impossible. Even Isaac, who was from the left axis—the archetypal soul of the sefirah of might—could not perform this transformation, for he lived before the Giving of the Torah. After the Giving of the Torah, the Levites, with the mitzvot that they perform, have the power to transform reality.

In the wilderness, the Levites carry the Ark of the Covenant on their shoulders.[23] This is a very great privilege. In the Temple, the primary focus of their service is song. Song consists of both longing and joy, as explained at length in the writings of Chabad.[24] Both are the service of the Levites. The Levite himself is the beinoni (the intermediate individual as described in the Tanya). The service of the Levites is the service of the beinoni. [25] The service of the beinoni of the Tanya is the service of God in the present. It is written that the tzaddik is a person who belongs to the future, but the beinoni lives and acts in the present.

In the present, we must be joyous in every situation. However, in the Bible, the word for “present” (הֹוֶה) also means “to break.”[26] How is the present in a state of being broken even in holiness? Even though the primary mode of service is to be happy in every situation and to accept all that happens with joy,[27] still, there is something in the present moment that is broken. That something is the broken heart that one should have when it comes to serving God. A person who lives in the present really does have a broken heart. He is broken because he still has not seen Mashiach with his own eyes. It may be that he does see the Mashiach. But others, perhaps a country at the end of the world, do not see Mashiach, and that breaks him.  (As the Lubavitcher Rebbe explains in depth in the last discourse that he distributed to us, Ve’atah teztaveh[28]).

The broken heart is a vessel—the secret of the rectification of the vessel, which is described in many Chasidic works as “There is no vessel more complete than a broken heart.”[29] When dealing with the impure husks of reality, a broken heart is dangerous and might burst, God forbid. But in the realms of holiness, a broken heart is the ultimate vessel for the revelation of the secrets of the Torah: “Secrets of the Torah are revealed only to he whose heart is anxious within.”[30] The broken heart is the lowliness that brings joy in its wake.[31] And thus, both lowliness and joy are affixed together in the heart in the present moment.[32]

We said earlier that the priest cannot do this type of work of rectifying the entire left axis. Relatively, the priest represents the mind, while the Levite represents the heart. It is specifically in the heart that these two opposite states can be felt simultaneously: the Levite weeps from his broken heart and experiences endless joy from the feeling that God is with him. This is one of the foundations of the service of the beinoni in the Tanya.[33] Light is the joy and weeping is the vessel, the broken heart. Both are in the present moment. This is the service of the Levite.

The service of rectification and transformation of evil is also in the heart. This is the service of taking all the demons, all the negative inclinations and cravings that we have and transforming them into holiness. The service of the Levites, which is the service of the beinoni, is contemplation that creates and arouses love in the soul. The primary time for this contemplation is in the Shema,[34] which brings one to a state of “You shall love Havayah your God with all of your heart, and with all of your soul, and with all your being.”[35] As we will see in the next installment of this series, the primary inclination, the primary demon that needs to be rectified, is the craving of the animal soul. If we can use our craving to love God, we can reach the level alluded to by the sages when they say that the “very good” in the verse, “God saw all that He had made and it was very good” refers to the evil inclination.”[36] We can then advance from a state of loving God “with all of your heart” to the third state, loving God “with all of your being.”

* Throughout the article, “demons” is used as a translation for the Hebrew word שֵׁד, whose proper transliteration into English is “shade,” a less well-known synonym for “demon.”

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Click here for part 4 of this article

[1]. Genesis 2:1.

[2]. Zohar 3:277a.

[3]. Sefer Yetzirah 5:8.

[4]. Zohar 3:238a. See Sha’arei Orah sha’ar 9 (f. 94a)

[5]. The letter yud (pronounced יוֹד) has always been associated with the hand (יָד).

[6]. Psalms 145:16. The final letters of the words, “You open Your hands” (פּוֹתֵחַ אֶת יָדֶיךָ) spell the holy Name חתך, which is associated with livelihood (Pri Eitz Haim, Sha’ar Hazemirot, ch. 5). But when the “hands,” i.e., the letter yud, is missing—as in the word shade, which is missing the yud in God’s Name Shakai—then the final letters spell חת, which means “fear(caused by the shade).

[7]. For many more examples, see “The Word” by Rabbi Yitzchak Mozeson.

[8]. Also see Tanya ch. 24.

[9]. Ibid. ch. 36.

[10]. Proverbs 5:16.

[11]. Words used by the Lubavitcher Rebbe in many places (following Tanya ch. 36).

[12]. Chesed L’Avraham, Fountain B, River 56.

[13]. Or Hachaim on Exodus 3:8.

[14]. Ecclesiastes 2:13.

[15]. Chagigah 12a and Zohar 3:251b. The numerical allusion here is that the values of the three words that make up this phrase in Hebrew “He said” (שֶׁאָמַר), 541, “to His world” (לְעוֹלָמוֹ), 182, “Enough!” (דַּי), 14, are exactly the values of “Israel” (יִשְׂרָאֵל), “Jacob” (יַעֲקֹב), and “David” (דָּוִד). Just as the yud at the end of Shakai refers to the power to act in reality, the power of the sefirah of kingdom, which is the “hand” (יָד), whose value is also 14, that has a grip on reality, so too the word “Enough” (דַּי) refers to King David, the archetypal soul of kingdom who applies the essential character traits of the Jewish people represented by Israel (the mind of the Jewish people) and Jacob (the heartfelt emotions of the Jewish people).

[16]. Likkutei Be’urim to Sha’ar HaYichud, ch. 2. See also Ma’ayan Ganim, Lech Lecha, p. 32.

[17]. These three levels correspond precisely to the three levels appearing in note 15. Israel represents the power of logical deliberation, Jacob the power to create a ruling, a halachah, from the logical deliberations (and his name literally means “heel,” referring to a person who is walking, the meaning of halachah), and David represents the power to apply the ruling to reality, as the sages say (Sanhedrin 93b) that “God is with him [David]” (1 Samuel 16:18) refers to the halachah being ruled in accordance with his opinion in every area.

[18]. Habakkuk 3:6.

[19]. Megillah 28b, meaning that he who follows (or applies) the rulings of Torah, will inherit the World to Come.

[20] Numbers 8:5 and on.

[21]. Sha’ar HaGilgulim 35; Sha’ar HaPesukim on Ezekiel 20.

[22]. Ezekiel 44:15.

[23]. Numbers 7:9.

[24]. See at length in the introduction to Sefer HaNigunim and elsewhere.

[25]. See the preface of Shechinah Beineihem p. 10, note 1. Lev LaDa’at, Perek BeAvodat HaShem excursus 10. Nefesh Bri’ah vol. 2, chs. 4 and 28.

[26]. See Ezekiel 7:26 (and the commentaries there). Proverbs 17:4; Pslams 57:2 and 91:3 (in Metzudat Tzion).

[27]. Tanya, Igeret Hakodesh 11.

[28] Ve’atah tetzaveh 5741 – Kuntres Purim Katan 5752.

[29] Kol Mevaser vol. 1 on Psalms 147 (in the name of Rebbe Bunim of Parshischa). See Kuntres HaTefillah ch. 12.

[30]. Chagigah 13a.

[31]. Explained at length in Ma’amar HaShiflut VeHasimchah from Rebbe Isaac of Homil and in the essay Veyasfu anavim simchah baHashem in the Mittler Rebbe’s Sefer HaMa’amarim Nach on Isaiah.

[32]. Based on Zohar 3:75a.

[33]. Tanya ch. 34; Igeret Hateshuvah ch. 11.

[34]. Deuteronomy 6:5.

[35]. Mishnah Berachot 9:5.

[36]. Bereishit Rabbah 9:5 and on.

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