Evil doesn’t lend itself to just one definition. Jewish Kabbalah, for instance, relates evil to a cosmic catastrophe that followed the creation of our world. The theory of the “kellipot,” namely husks or shells, was developed by Isaac Luria, a 16th century kabbalist from Safed, who came up with a cosmic theory of creation.
Accordingly, the world was created as the result of the Absolute’s attempt to allow for a being outside the Infinite. To achieve that, the Absolute had to withdraw and leave an empty space that would allow for the existence of the Other. This of course is a beautiful thought, because it anchors creation in an ethical gesture. It is also tragically comic—once we let the Other into our lives, we lose balance…
The Absolute left ten emanations, the Sefirot, known also as the Tree of Life, of divine light, that represent divine (and human) intellectual, spiritual, and emotional attributes. But these emanations proved too weak to contain the Infinite Light, and as a result broke down into shards. While some of the Infinite Light returned to its divine origin, the rest became the alienated and negative foundation of evil.
While the ten emanations were restored, their balance remained disturbed by the force of evil. It is up to humans to restore the balance in the divine Tree of Life. This, of course, is a metaphor, and the idea is that our life is based on the right balance, between good and evil, or judgment and mercy—two attributes in the Tree.
The idea of balance between opposites is inherent in Eastern philosophies, too, yet without the distinction between good and evil. Kabbalah as a Western construct relies on those concepts. It is fascinating though, to realize how different beliefs and ways of life arrive at the same principles, albeit in different ways. We are, after all, not so different.