Last week, I was asked by a woman on the train, going to work, a series of questions about King Saul’s life. Having learned the story a few times, I showed her some new threads between ideas she has never been exposed to beforehand. Upon arriving in my station, she told me that she had more questions. I jotted down for her my FaceBook contact information, so she can have an opportunity to ask them in the future.
The following day, she messaged me with a request to explain the episode of King Saul’s being bothered by a bad spirit and the youthful David playing music for him. I explained to her that as a consequence of not finishing his job to destroy Amalek, a harmful spirit was sent to drive him to insanity. David’s music was designed to have a therapeutic effect, to temporarily relieve his insanity.
Then based on what I’ve learned from a Kabbalist, I explained the psycho/spiritual dynamics of Saul’s insanity and how music was able to provide a temporary restoration of sanity:
What those spirits tend to do is to disrupt the contact between the conscious and subconscious levels of the mind. The music formed a temporary mental bridge between these two mind levels, so sanity was temporarily restored.
Psychologically speaking, insanity can result from improper communication between the conscious and subconscious levels of the mind. There’s a quantitative level to this, where the flow of communication is either too much or too little. The conscious mind is either overwhelmed or starved. Then there’s the qualitative level, where communication is not properly translating. The subconscious level of the mind is pre-verbal, while the conscious level is verbal. When trying to cross the boundary from pre-verbal to verbal, not every message necessarily comes through clearly and communication can suffer from distortion.
Obviously, to one extent or another most people don’t have an optimal flow of communication between their subconscious and conscious levels. This can cause some normative psychological difficulty, like a person not being fully in touch with why s/he’s doing something. Maybe the person could have possibly made a better choice if s/he was more fully aware of the motive. However, only when this problem becomes very extreme, it crosses over into insanity.
The way Kabbalah explains this communication problem between the two levels of mind begins with the notion that evil has no life of its own. It has to draw life, like a parasite, from goodness. This makes sense when one considers that evil is destruction. A force of destruction can continue for a time only if it somehow latches onto to a force of creation. Otherwise, it self destructs. We each have both forces within us. Judaism refers to these forces as a good inclination and an evil inclination. This explains why humans can be so kind and be so ...
The Kabbalist explained to me where evil lodges its nest is in the gap between the higher and lower levels of spirituality; which in our case is gap between the subconscious and conscious levels of mind. Then like a pirate, he intercepts transport flowing in both directions and runs off with the booty. Counter-intuitively, evil will sometimes encourage an overwhelming flow of subconscious information to confuse the person. King Saul’s case seemed to be mostly the latter. He was suddenly beset by acute, but out of context insights, like that David will later be King.
The music David played for him bridged him back into an earlier state of mind, to a mental place where the spirits could not reach. Here, he found his pristine pre-afflicted self intact and was able to temporarily operate from that place. This reminds me of bringing a crashed computer back to an earlier pre-crash version of itself. However, such a fix for Saul, as I’ve seen with computers too, was only temporary because the conditions that caused the problem to begin with weren’t actually repaired.
Our Sages teach that the consequences for our actions tend to have a “measure for measure” quality. Like a child resembles a parent, the consequences tend to somehow resemble the deeds that birthed them. If Saul’s insanity resulted from not destroying Amalek, then the insanity is likely to somehow be linked with Amalek. It is known among Kabbalists that many of the ancient nations of the Bible no longer exist through their direct descendants, but, rather as spiritual forces which sometimes nest themselves in modern nations. This means that each Biblical nation continues on as a kind of soul force which at times will find an earthly host. Since Saul’s failure to destroy Amalek caused his insanity, it makes sense that the source of his insanity was the spiritual force of Amalek itself. He was being haunted by his own inner counterpart of the force he failed to destroy.
As a result of this failure, his descendants and reincarnations, Mordechai and Esther had to confront Haman - a descendant and possibly a reincarnation of Agag, the Amalekite king. Its their miraculous victory over Haman which brings us our upcoming Holiday, Purim!
Jewish Holidays aren’t meant simply to commemorate. They are meant as tools to access holy forces, which are uniquely available at different times of the year. The commemorated events themselves are designed to serve as models to clarify the nature of a given Holiday season; so people can attune themselves to the spiritual flow of the times. The spiritual flow of Purim is an opportunity to destroy our personal inner Amaleks.
In a small way, we are all in King Saul’s predicament. The flows between our subconscious and our conscious selves aren’t as optimal as they could be. Each year on Purim, and the surrounding season, we’re encouraged to find more music, more happiness, more celebration to restore the flow - to bridge ourselves back to our earlier selves; the self that was full of hope and music before our encounters with the world robbed us of our warmth and joy and left us in the cold. As with any process of personal growth, there are levels and levels. While we may have accomplished one level with last year’s Purim, there are brand new levels to accomplish with this year’s Purim. Happy Purim!