Is Satan real or only symbolic of our ego?
Satan is real, but not the Satan that we imagine—a devil flying around with a pitchfork. That is not Satan. The literal translation of Satan is the "disturber" or in Hebrew, the "adversary". Satan is a negative force that we all have within us. It is a tool created by the Light to help us to grow, to overcome, to shine, and to become the unlimited soul that we are supposed to be in this world. One of the manifestations of that force called Satan is our ego. But it’s not just the ego. Every desire that is for ourselves alone, stems from that negative force. The code name for this selfish desire is Satan.
It is not something physical. It is within us, like the intelligence of the soul, which is the pure energy of sharing, giving, and trusting—an electric extension from the Creator. We have another intelligence within us, which was also created by the Light—it is the source of all selfishness, reactive feeling, egotistic behavior, jealously, sadness and depression, victim consciousness, and blame consciousness. It is the part within us that feels wronged whenever something does not go our way.
There’s a difference between the soul consciousness and the Satan consciousness, both of which we all have within us. The soul consciousness is our real essence that, according to kabbalists, will stay forever. Satan consciousness will eventually be limited or transformed completely because it’s not our real essence, even though those feelings seem to be real in our lives. Anger, upset, hurt, and disappointment feel so real. Yet, The Zohar teaches us that they are temporary forces that exist to challenge us until we reach the collective transformation of the world. So, is Satan real? Yes, it is. The Zohar calls it an evil inclination—the impulsive desire that exists within us.
But it’s not a devil that exists externally. Satan is actually a good angel whose job is to help us to grow. The Zohar tells us a story of a king that loved his son very much. He told his son, if you want to be my successor, you must promise to never sleep with prostitutes. So, the son promised. When the son reached 20 years of age the father decided to test him. He found the most beautiful harlot in town and asked her to seduce the son with all the tricks that she knew. She tried and the son was very tempted but he overcame his desire. He restricted himself because of his deep love for his father. He believed in the principles that his father shared with him and knew in the long-term it was the right thing to resist. He didn’t succumb to his short-term desires. So, who had the tools to help the son actually get closer to his father? The harlot! The Zohar tells us, even though Satan sounds like a negative force within each one of us, it is negative only if we let it control us. It is positive if we see all the inclinations that come from Satan-consciousness as a jumping point to grow and become the best that we can become. When we reach the critical mass of transformation in the world it will be revealed to everyone that Satan is actually a good angel that helps us to grow.
As Rav Berg would say, the biggest trick of Satan was to hide from us and allow us to believe that this force does not exist.
Satan became an opponent to make it difficult for us to connect with the Light. Our spiritual growth begins when we recognize Satan, recognize the evil within, the ego within, our arrogance, our cockiness, and our low self-esteem as a trick of Satan. The problem occurs when we become caught up with an opponent outside ourselves: someone who has just hurt us, or fear over the result of a lawyer, or fear over a doctor’s test. We often become so caught up with the external opponent that we forget that the real opponent we need to be dealing with is the one within. The opponent can manifest as fear, uncertainty, anger, or the person who hurt you.
The first step of true transformation and true growth is recognition of the opponent within. It is Satan’s job to hide. The universal law in the game of life is to overcome the opponent within. You want a more ideal life? You want more blessings? What are you willing to overcome, what are you willing to stretch beyond in order to overcome that opponent within? Understanding that this is really the objective makes life easy, but Satan is so tricky, he convinces us that he is an outside force. That’s one of the biggest illusions of Satan.
Problems arise because one of the things Satan controls is our emotions. So when we feel anger, the possibility of overcoming the opponent within is out the window, because it’s fueled by emotion. When we feel hurt or judged or wronged we must turn to kabbalistic tools to gradually defeat Satan. Even if we feel strongly that we are right about something, we’ll find strength in pausing to ask where the opponent is hiding.