Kelipah...How Evil Works For Good: A Message From Our President & CEO

This past week, since the insurrection at the Capitol, has been difficult for me, as for others. There are days I feel scared, forlorn, and confused. Although the past year has been especially trying, somehow this event was harrowing and shook me to my core. The fragility of our democracy was staring me in the face.

At times like this, when I am confused and feel downtrodden, I turn to our Jewish writings and texts to seek answers and solace. I also meditate. This week, as I prepared to write my blog, I read much about those who came before us and how they overcame their challenges to be leaders of the Jewish people. I pondered on what internal strength they mustered to see beyond the chaos and lead.

I landed on two points of meaning for me. One was a word, kelipah, discussed in the Zohar, the foundational work in the literature of Jewish mystical thought known as Kabbalah. This word is the Hebrew word for peel or husk. I learned about this during a meditation sit where it was explained that we all have a kelipah or shell that surrounds our spark. It functions as a defense mechanism where we hide from who we are. What was so fascinating for me was the concept that upheaval in our lives is part of a process that will lead us to greater peace.

Rabbi Menachem Feldman, in his description of kelipah, uses the metaphor of fruit and shares, “the peel serves as 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.”

“Everything G-d created, including evil, has 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,” continues Feldman.

I found this notion quite compelling as it explained evil through a different lens for me. There is a greater purpose beyond the chaos and my feelings to recoil, be angry, and protect myself from the plethora of emotions are natural. The challenge is not letting the kelipah calcify, but rather loosen it so our spark can shine. We have a choice.

I then turned to the story of Joseph, the righteous one, as he never lost faith in G-d even though his life had many ups and downs. He was thrown into a pit and then sold into slavery by his brothers and was later thrown into prison by his slave master after falsely being accused of a crime. After interpreting the Pharaoh’s dreams, Joseph became his right-hand man and saved the entire nation.

In an article, 'Building Success by Dreaming,' Samantha Barnett states, “No matter what the circumstances, he never lost faith that the vision he had in his dreams would be fulfilled. He always believed that G-d would lead him just where he needed to be.”

The lessons of Joseph are to not let your failures or troubles dissuade you from your course and never give up on your dreams. Believe in who you are and imagine what could be. With Barnett, I believe that our dreaming is not just for ourselves, but for the people who follow us. Optimism is contagious. We achieve the most when we pass on the success to others. We must lead by example.

So, this week, my learning was twofold. First, about kelipah, the husk of fear, debris, constriction, insecurity, and anger we use to protect ourselves from the chaos of the world and life’s daily upheaval. The good news is that on Shabbat we can crack through this shell and let our spark of holiness shine. Disrupt and unpleasantness is part of the process from which we learn and grow. We choose the good.

Secondly, rereading the story of Joseph was uplifting. Despite his trials and tribulations, Joseph held onto the knowledge that G-d exists, that He is really in charge, and trusting in G-d that everything will come out as it should.

Continue to dream. Believe that a better world will come. Be present in life, be cognizant of shedding that shell, and dream of tomorrow. We owe this to our children and grandchildren. The choice is ours.