Chassidic Psychologymain posts

Chasidic Psychology and Demons: Part 1

The Zohar on the Creation of Demons*

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There is an essay (ma’amar)[1] from the Lubavitcher Rebbe that discusses a very general and basic topic in Chasidut, on the secret of the service of the Levites that is alluded to in the verse, “But the Levite alone shall do the service of the tent of meeting, and they shall bear their iniquity.”[2] The Alter Rebbe of Chabad already wrote a short essay on this in Likkutei Torah,[3] which was followed by other essays from all the Chabad Rebbes. The foundation of the Rebbe’s essay is a section in the Zohar.[4]

This particular section of the Zohar contains a remarkable survey of the creation of demons beginning with Creation ending with the service of the Levites in the Tabernacle. The Zohar discusses the completion of Creation with the creation of Adam, after which the six days of creation were completed, and the Shabbat arrived. Then it writes:

When the time came for the sanctification of that day [between the setting of the sun and the shining of the stars on Friday night], the spirits of the demons came out so that a body would be created for them. But the day was sanctified and creation was not completed and the world remained blemished and the acts of Creation were lacking.

The Zohar continues,

The world was completed when the people of Israel [came out of Egypt, received the Torah, and] were divided into their rungs [Priests, Levites, and Israelites—corresponding to the right, the left, and the center, respectively]. The [service of the] Levites, which corresponds to the left side, consummated the blemished dimension of the left axis, from which the demons emerged. It was then that the bodies of the demons were completed.

The Zohar points out that the special power of the Levites to complete everything is connected to the fact that they carried the Ark of the Covenant through the wilderness.

It is regarding this surprising topic, which does not appear in the original essay by the Alter Rebbe, that the Lubavticher Rebbe brings his primary innovation in his essay.

Bodies for Demons: Beneficial or Detrimental?

The Zohar passage aims to explain that at the end of the six days of Creation, after God had created everything, when the entire order of evolution had descended all the way down into this world, from the internal to the external, it was time to “build” the most external of beings. As we will explain, external beings, demons, also have a purpose. They play a role in Creation. However, initially, it was necessary to hold back and not finish their creation by not giving them bodies; exactly what “bodies” in this context are, we will presently explain. Since the demons constitute an incomplete part of creation created in this way by God, it would seem that according to the Zohar, God Himself, at the end of Creation, created something blemished. This is the primary question posed by the Lubavitcher Rebbe: How does God make something that is blemished?

From the words of the Zohar, we can surmise that the fact that God did not create bodies for the demons is not good. But it would also seem that even had God created bodies for them, the situation would still not be good. One of the topics that the Rebbe discusses in this essay is the teaching of the sages on the verse, “I will be filled from that which lies in ruins.”[5] The sages explain that this verse refers to how “Tyre was built from the destruction of Jerusalem.”[6] In this verse, Tyre refers to the kingdom of Edom, i.e. to the Roman Empire.[7] If Jerusalem lies in ruins, then the husks of impurity plunder and pillage all the treasures and wealth developed and kept in Jerusalem and build themselves from them—a very undesirable situation. Likewise, during Creation, God did not want the impure husks to be fully developed. If the demons would have bodies, it would have led to “Tyre” being built and developed.

The sages say, “If the one is developed, the other is destroyed. If the one is destroyed the other is developed”[8]—they stand antithetically to one another. If Jerusalem is developed, Tyre is destroyed. If Jerusalem is destroyed as it is now, until Mashiach comes, then Tyre is developed. Sometimes, the word Tyre in the Bible is written without a vav in the middle (צֹר).[9] There are also several times that the word “Tyre” is written in its full form, with the vav in the middle (צוֹר)[10] alluding to its state of being “developed.” The sum of the numerical values of the two forms of Tyre (צוֹר צֹר) is the exact numerical value of Jerusalem (יְרוּשָׁלִם), illustrating their mirrored reflection of one another, and ensuring that if one is developed, the other is destroyed.

The numerical value of the expression “If the one is developed, the other is destroyed” (אִם מְלֵאָה זוֹ חֲרֵבָה זוֹ) is 358, the same as “Mashiach” (מָשִׁיחַ), which is also the value of “snake” (נָחָשׁ). Thus, if it is Jerusalem that is developed and Tyre is destroyed, we say this phrase equals Mashiach. But if, God forbid, Tyre is developed and it is Jerusalem that is destroyed, then we say this phrase equals “snake,” alluding to the primordial snake that seduced Eve and Adam.

So, it is good that God did not create bodies for the demons and did not complete the existence of the external husks and of impurity preventing complete destruction of the holiness. This is the state of affairs in our present reality: either-or. But, as we shall see, in the future, in the World to Come, everything will ascend and all the worlds will return to their original status before Adam and Eve’s sin of eating from the Tree of Knowledge and the entire reality of the kelipah—the impure husks—will be completely nullified, “And the spirit of impurity, I will remove from the earth.”[11] We see that in the World to Come, it is possible for even something that develops Tyre—the kelipah—to elevate. It then becomes possible to save the sparks of holiness that are in them and then, even if the demons have bodies and are developed, holiness will not be destroyed as a result.

Pouring Wine and Saving the Yeast

As mentioned, the Lubavitcher Rebbe was not the first of the Rebbes to address this topic. The Mittler Rebbe, in his Bi’urei Hazohar,[12] brings a parable for the process of creation and its final stage prior to the creation of the bodies of the demons:

If I have a barrel full of wine, the clear wine is at the top, while the yeast settles to the bottom. Near the bottom of the barrel, there is a spout for pouring the wine. When I want to empty the barrel, I open the spout and pour the wine into a different vessel. At a certain point, when the wine is nearly finished, I feel that if I continue to let the wine flow out of the faucet, the yeast will also come out. Essentially, there is no more wine in the barrel. All the clear wine has already come out and all that is left is a mixture of wine with yeast. What do I do?

As soon as I feel that the yeast is going to come out, I have to close the spout so that the yeast will not pour into the clear wine and ruin it. Now the barrel is closed and the yeast is not coming out, but there is still yeast in the barrel. What can I do? I can throw the barrel into the garbage, but it is a shame to throw out the yeast. The yeast can still be used, but it has to be kept in a special vessel for yeast so that it will not ruin the wine. At a later stage, I will be able to take care of the yeast.

The interpretation of this parable is that God is pouring the wine. He showers His Divine abundance to create the world. After all the good wine has come out, God, as it were, closes the spout and stops the process of creation. This happens as the sun sets on the eve of Shabbat, during the time that is called “the addition to Shabbat.”[13] It is then that the final quantity of wine that produced Creation emerges and all that is left is the yeast. If the yeast would come through the open spout of the barrel, it would ruin reality. The expression used in these essays is that the yeast will obscure (or muddy) reality (יְטַשְׁטְשׁוּ אֶת הָעוֹלָם).[14] As soon as the demons and spirits come out, it is a sign that if God continues to bring them out and creates bodies for them, they can ruin and muddy everything. What then, did God do? He closed the spout. The closing of the spout is indicated in the verse, “And the heavens and the earth were finished, and all of their hosts.”[15]

Taking the wine out of the barrel represents direct light (אוֹר יָשָׁר), it pours forth, evolving from above to below. When the state of “And the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their hosts” is reached, the direct light is finished and then a reversal takes place. Now light flows in the opposite direction and becomes known as reflected light (אוֹר חוֹזֵר). Altogether, in the account of Creation, God’s Name, Elokim, appears 32 times. Indeed, the verse that follows the verse describing the “closing of the spout” is, “And Elokim finished,”[16] Alluding to the end of the flow of Elokim from above to below and the reversal of its direction from below to above. The reversal of direction, as it were, of God’s action signifies the spout’s closing. Nothing can come out anymore. The yeast remains in the barrel. However, God does not throw the yeast away. There are holy sparks in the yeast that also must be saved.

This is a deep secret related to Shabbat. Shabbat is meant to preserve the yeast. The Hebrew word for “yeast” (שְׁמָרִים) stems from the same word that means “to safeguard,” just as the Shabbat needs to be safeguarded.[17] But this word also appears in the description given to the finest wine in the world—the secret wine of the Mashiach and the World to Come—“wine preserved in its grapes since the six days of Creation” (יַיִן הַמְשֻׁמָּר בַּעֲנָבָיו מִשֵּׁשֶׁת יְמֵי בְּרֵאשִׁית).[18] The meaning of “preserved” is obviously that it has not come out [of its grapes]. It is kept a secret. The secret of secrets of the Torah. “Preserved wine” (יַיִן הַמְשֻׁמָּר) and “yeast” (שְׁמָרִים) come from the same root, which means “to safeguard.” Safeguarding is very important in the Torah. We have to safeguard all the mitzvot, particularly the Shabbat.[19] As the sages say, “If Israel safeguards two Shabbatot, they will immediately be redeemed.”[20] Safeguarding the Shabbat is both the secret of the “preserved wine,” and of the “yeast of the wine.” This is a classic example of how “the end is enwedged in the beginning.”[21] Yeast are the very lowest of the husks, the most not-good. Their source, however, above is the best there can be. They come from the “wine preserved in its grapes.” They both seem to be the same. The property they both have is associated with the left axis—the axis that the Levites have to rectify.

Breastfeeding As a Parable

As we saw earlier, the Zohar connects the fact that the demons were created without bodies to a general blemish found on the left axis—the fact that when the world was created, the “north side was left unfinished and open.”[22] Because it was necessary to stop the yeast from pouring out of the barrel and into the wine, the world remained blemished and lacking.

There is another important parable that is used to describe the sudden halting of the drawing down of abundance by closing the spout, which then begins the process of reflected light. This is the parable of a woman who ceases breastfeeding.[23] The woman’s milk, which is certainly a good thing, also stops flowing at some point.

What is the primary blemish or problem? The yeastthe impure husks and the samech mem (the accusing angel)—all come from the left. Despite the fact that I do not want to complete the left because it will not be good for the world or for reality to grant these impure beings too much of a presence and hold on reality, by stopping the flow of abundance from the left, I also blemish the source of all abundance (not just the abundance that flows to the left). At its root, the abundance flowing from the left side, or the left axis, is very good; it is like a mother’s milk. The woman, however, reaches a state in which she feels that right now, it will not be good for her to nurse her baby. But stopping will stop the very source from which the flow of abundance comes. The cessation blemishes the source, where the reality certainly is that it is good that she has milk. This is another deep parable in Chasidut.

Once again, the abundance flowing down the left axis—the left side of reality—is good and should continue, like mother’s milk. When there is a situation in which it can do damage and the flow is stopped below, the blemish reaches all the way up to its source above. At its source, the left axis is completely holy; it is the holy of holies. Some of the loftiest souls emerge from the left axis, such as Moses,, Ezekiel,[24] Hezekiah[25] who was worthy of becoming the Mashiach.[26] It is written that Mashiach the son of David also comes from the left.[27] David is ruddy[28] like Esau,[29] who is also from the left.

What is the special trait of the left axis that such tremendous abundance flows from it? The answer is that the left axis is the source of joy. It is the axis from which emanate “great song and music”[30] (בְּרוֹב שִׁירָה וְזִמְרָה) and as we know, we are enjoined to “Serve God with joy, come before him with song.”[31] And the song itself is related to Isaac, the archetypal soul related to the left axis, as we say, “Isaac will sing.”[32]

In addition, the sefirah of kingdom, and as a result, the Kingdom of Israel (מַלְכוּת יִשְׂרָאֵל), of which we speak a great deal, depends and develops from the left axis—specifically from the sefirah of might. But it is important to remember that it is from the left axis that by means of barriers and contractions, the reality of the potentially harmful external and vile beings originates. A rectification must be made. We must reach the state in which it is possible to draw the left axis down into reality without causing harm and without preventing the Divine effluence from being fully revealed.

Rectification at Dusk

The story of the bodiless demons who need to be rectified took place at dusk—the time between the setting of the sun and nightfall. Dusk in Hebrew is referred to as “Between the Luminaries” (בֵּין הַשְּׁמָשׁוֹת). This part of the day is the temporal equivalent of the spatial corner (קֶרֶן זָוִית),[33] as both embody the “nothingness” (אָיִן) that separates one reality from another. The time “Between the Luminaries” is the nothingness between day and night, and the corner represents the nothingness between two spatial dimensions (for instance, in a room, it is where the room’s height, width, and length dimensions meet).[34] At that point of nothingness in between dimensions, impure reality can grab a foothold. It is a place where the forces opposite holiness can find a place, because reality there is in an unfinished, incomplete, formless state, which the sages call hyle (הִיּוּלִי); in fact, “hyle” (הִיּוּלִי) has the same numerical value as “nothingness” (אָיִן).

The sages say that if Adam and Eve would have held back and not succumbed to the temptation of the snake, he would have become a “great helper.”[35] We can also say this about the demons (that when they are rectified, they will bring important benefit for people, as we will explain). In the unformed reality between the luminaries, the demons are created, and in a rectified state, they could connect the two realities described as “A sun and a shield is Havayah Elokim[36] and, “the sun has charity and healing in its wings.”[37] Thus, demons can become great helpers for man. But if they do not, they become as harmful as the snake.

We usually explain that the rectification for that which is formless, or in a state of hyle, is found in the secret of the words spoken by King David, “Your statutes were my songs in the house of my dwelling”[38] (זְמִרוֹת הָיוּ לִי חֻקֶּיךָ בְּבֵית מְגוּרָי) since the two words in bold spell together “hyle” (הִיּוּלִי). “My dwelling” can also be understood as referring to a state of fear, and thus relates the verse to the left axis. In this verse once again, we see the secret of the song of the Levites, who ultimately perform the rectification.

Without the rectification performed by the Levites, there is danger during dusk—“the time between the luminaries.” In the holy books, it is written[39] that during dusk it is good to study Torah and by doing so, to connect the day and the night with Torah study. This is a spiritual remedy for all sorts of things and is also important for warding off the danger inherent during this time of day. Indeed, cleaving to the Torah is the special power residing the Levites, who carry the Ark of the Covenant (and the rest of the Tabernacle) in the wilderness. Thus, we may say that the very power of the Levite is his ability to accompany the transformation of the day into night. The night corresponds to Israel—the simple Jew—while the day corresponds to the Priest. Also, the three parts of the Jewish people—priests, Levites, and Israel—correspond to the three stages in the Ba’al Shem Tov’s method of transformation: submission, switching, and finally sweetening. The numerical value of Levite (לֵוִי) is 46 is also the same exact value as “separation” (הַבְדָּלָה), the power of the Levite that, in the future, will reveal the essential light that pierces the darkness (in which specifically the vessels-bodies are created, just as the limbs of humans grow mostly at night).

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* 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.”

[1]. Ve’Avad HaLevi Hu 5744.

[2]. Numbers 18:23.

[3]. Likkutei Torah Korach 55, 2-3.

[4]. Zohar 3:178a-b. This section is also discussed in the Mittler Rebbe’s Biurei HaZohar 94d and ff. A similar explanation appears in Midrash Tanchuma (Buber ed.) Bereishit 17 on the verse “He rested from all His work that Elokim had created to make” (Genesis 2:3):

It is not simply written here “[He rested from all His work] that Elokim had created and made,” but rather “[that Elokim had created] to make,” for the Sabbath came first and their work [i.e., the word of all that was created] was not completed. Rabbi Bnayah said, “This refers to the demons, for He created their souls; and as He was creating their bodies, the Sabbath day was consecrated. He left them, and they remained soul without body.”


[5]. Ezekiel 26:2.

[6]. This is quoted in many places in the revealed Torah and in Kabbalah and Chasidut. For example, Rashi on Genesis 25:23. In the Talmud Pesachim 42b and Megillah 6a the places mentioned are Edom and Caesarea.

[7]. Pesachim 42b.

[8]. Ibid. and Megillah 6a.

[9]. Joshua 19:29 and elsewhere.

[10]. 1 Kings 5:15 and elsewhere.

[11]. Zachariah 13:2.

[12]. See note 4.

[13]. See at length the approach of the Ramban, in his book Torat Adam, Inyan Aveilut Yeshanah 5 and in Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 261:2.

[14]. See Zohar 2:103a. See Sefer Halikutim on Vezot HaBerachah ch. 7 (regarding demons).

[15]. Genesis 2:1.

[16]. Genesis 2:2.

[17]. Deuteronomy 5:11.

[18]. Bamidbar Rabbah 13:2.

[19]. Deuteronomy 5:11.

[20]. Shabbat 118b.

[21]. Sefer Yetzirah 1:7.

[22]. See Bava Batra 25b. Cited in Nitzutzei Zohar on Zohar 3:178b, note 2.

[23]. The parable of breastfeeding connects the demons (שֵׁדִים, pronounced shedim) to the breasts (שָׂדָיִים, pronounced shadayim) of the breastfeeding woman. Symbolically, the shadayim (also called dadim) of the Congregation of Israel are Eldad and Meidad (Sha’ar Hapsukim and Likkutei Torah Beha’alotcha) who prophesized that, “Moses will die, and Joshua will bring the people into the Land” (Bamidbar Rabbah 15:19). Now, Moses’ luminance and influence is likened to “the face of the sun” and Joshua’s to “the face of the moon’ (Bava Batra 75a). Their relationship is like that between the masculine and the feminine, lights and vessels. Relatively, Moses is the secret of the lights that cannot completely integrate into our mundane reality, which is why he cannot enter the Land of Israel. But Joshua is the secret of the vessels that do permeate the Land of Israel (as explained in the article that the rectification of the bodies of the demons is contingent on the vessels of holiness being able to reach all the way down).

In addition, Joshua is associated with the Resurrection of the Dead, as is alluded to in the initials of the words describing the Resurrection (Isaiah 26:19), “…arise! Awake and shout for joy, you who dwell in the dust” (יְקוּמוּן הָקִיצוּ וְרַנְּנוּ שֹׁכְנֵי עָפָר) which spell “Joshua” (יְהוֹשֻׁעַ), in order (Likkutei Moharan 2, 7:13). But Moses himself did not die (Sotah 13b) and thus does not need the Resurrection of the Dead. The Resurrection of the Dead is the elevation of sparks—the rectification of the bodies of the demons—and is relevant specifically to the Land of Israel. The Resurrection of the Dead will reveal the superiority of the body to the soul (see the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s essay Kol Yisrael Yesh Lahem Chelek 5733 and sources cited there; see our Hebrew volume, Emunah VeMuda’ut, pp. 179 – 180). The body constitutes the primary “dwelling place [of the Almighty] in the lower realms” (דִּירָה בַּתַּחְתּוֹנִים) and is a level of the mundane realms that is not associated with Moses.

[24]. Sha’ar Hagilgulim 36.

[25]. Ibid.

[26]. Sanhedrin 94a.

[27]. See Shnei Luchot Habrit, Torah Shebichtav Va’etchanan 32.

[28]. 1 Samuel 16:12.

[29]. Genesis 25:25. No other person in the Bible is described as “ruddy.”

[30]. These were the last words heard uttered by the Lubavitcher Rebbe.

[31]. Psalms 100:2.

[32]. Shabbat Minchah Liturgy.

[33]. Ma’amarei Admur Hazaken Haketzarim, p. 344; R. Hillel of Paritch’s Pelach Harimon on Genesis 4:2. See Zohar 3:120a.

[34]. Siddur im Dach 51d, and more. Also see Likkutei Sichot vol. 12, p. 81. Mefa’aneach Tzfunot pp. 177-178.

[35]. Sanhedrin 59b.

[36]. Psalms 85:13. See Tanya, Sha’ar Hayichud VeHaEmunah ch. 4.

[37]. Malachi 3:20.

[38]. Psalms 119: 54.

[39]. Shnei Luchot Habrit, Pesachim Bi’ur Hahagaddah 4 (quoting the Zohar).

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