What then of the two higher worlds of kabbalistic teaching? I shall write only of the second highest, the world of creation (Heb. Beriah). The biblical book of Isaiah (45:7) includes a verse that has inspired much Kabbalistic analysis: “Forming light, and creating darkness; making peace, and creating evil; I, the Divine Name, do all these things.” The term “creation” is reserved for that which is seemingly disparate from God’s essential nature. God is identified with light and good; the opposites of these therefore require acts of creation. But these acts bring into being that which is necessary for the divine purpose. Without darkness, humans could not identify the light; without evil, there could be no meaning in the human ability to discern the path that brings more consciousness of the divine presence.
So too with viruses. The “archangels”, whom kabbalists viewed as the beings of the world of creation, do not place avoidance of suffering above the will to actualise that which is required for the higher scheme to unfold. God manifests through history, and pain cannot be avoided where birth is concerned. In the face of seemingly unwarranted suffering, this God simply states, “Silence; It is a decree from on high. Submit!” (See the “10 martyrs” Jewish liturgy for Yom Kippur.)
Whether the systems of interest are silicon- or carbon-based, viruses spur us to new initiatives. They manifest in the lower world, but their inception arises through the dynamics of the world of creation in kabbalistic thought. Some may prefer to contemplate the scheme presented here in ways stripped of the divine imagery intrinsic to Judaism and the Kabbalah; perhaps to search for meaning in the ‘world soul’ that in mysterious ways binds all beings into the oneness that unites psyches, trees, rocks, oceans, and creatures. I would argue that, whichever scheme we adopt, a similar pattern operates—that imbalances trigger an impulse which will become actualised in the forms that can work towards a renewed balance. But in this short article I am not advocating a generalised “post-secular” scheme, but rather focusing more specifically on understanding rooted in the Kabbalistic frame.
Critically, whatever framework we advance, we must remember that Covid-19 manifests pre-eminently as a dis-ease of breathing, and therefore of spirit (Hebrew concatenates ‘breath’ and ‘spirit’, a connection evident in other languages also). It is the breath that truly connects us to the world we precariously inhabit. Trees, for example, ‘exhale’ the oxygen that we must inhale in a vibrant dance of inter-being. Covid-19 forces us to contemplate the relationships amongst the threads that sustain our world, threads of consciousness that embrace physical, biological, psychological, and soul levels of existence. A Kabbalistic Midrash impels us to seek a deeper meaning to our suffering, and to research responses that will be appropriate for the different worlds through which the “divine decree” emanates.
A longer essay is available at https://www.aleftrust.org/the-third-narrative-corona-and-the-collective-psyche.