Lurian Kabbalah

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"The teachings of Luria spread gradually throughout the Jewish world in the first decades of the seventeenth century, carried not only by kabbalistic manuscripts but also by popular ethical treatises and collections of hagiographic narratives concerning Luria and his disciples. Rabbi Hayyim Vital tried to preserve the esoteric character of Luria’s teachings and prohibited their being copied and distributed, but despite his efforts the message spread. It gradually replaced the kabbalah of Moshe Cordovero, and dominates Jewish theology to this very day. Since Luria, no traditional, orthodox alternative worldview has been presented within Judaism. The Lurianic prayer book gradually became the standard one in most Jewish communities. Lurianic kabbalists reinterpreted all the ancient sources, from the Bible to the Zohar, as reflecting and expressing the Lurianic doctrines.[1]

" Even today, in the ultraorthodox Jewish communities, Lurianism is unchallenged. Other Jewish spiritual and religious movements, such as the enlightenment, reform, and Zionism, are regarded by the traditionalists as external and irrelevant if not evil. More than four hundred years after it came into being, the Lurianic myth is alive and dominant. Subsequent kabbalists discussed, interpreted, and transformed Lurianic ideas, but the main concept—the tikkun— remained unchanged. The concept of the shevirah was relatively marginalized, but the zimzum was discussed and its character has been changed. Several prominent kabbalists viewed the zimzum as a voluntary divine process intended to make divinity more approachable to the created realms and to the people. The zimzum was often conceived as an expression of divine benevolence, of God diminishing himself in order to be able to be perceived and understood by his creatures."[2]

Stage One of Creation

"The most innovative concept that lies at the heart of Luria’s teachings is the imperfection of beginning. Existence does not begin with a perfect Creator bringing into being an imperfect universe; rather, the existence of the universe is the result of an inherent flaw or crisis within the infinite Godhead, and the purpose of creation is to correct it.

The initial stage in the emergence of existence is described by the Lurianic myth as a negative one: the withdrawal of the infinite divine ein sof from a certain “place” in order to bring about “empty space” in which the process of creation could proceed.

The Lurianic mystics called this process zimzum (constriction), a term taken from talmudic literature indicating the constriction of the shekhinah in the space between the images of the angels on the holy ark in the temple in Jerusalem. Here, however, it is not constriction into a space but withdrawal from a space, creating what Luria called, in Aramaic, tehiru (emptiness). Into this empty region a line of divine light began to shine, gradually taking the shape of the structure of the divine emanations, the sefirot.

Luria made use of a concept developed a generation before him by Moses Cordovero, who attempted to explain the individuality and functional differences between the divine emanations. The question he addressed was: if the sefirot are divine, how can they be different from each other? There cannot be differentiation within divine perfection. His response was: the sefirot are to be conceived like vessels ( kelim); the essence within them is pure divine light, while the vessels are “made” of somewhat courser divine light, which gives them “shapes,” expressing their individuality and specific functions.

When the “straight line” of divine light poured into the tehiru, the “empty space,” it began to draw circles and shapes, bringing “vessels” into existence, and then pouring the pure divine essence into them. At this point, a great catastrophe occurred: the vessels could not contain the immense flow of divine light, and the seven lower ones broke, their shards falling down and the inner essence ascending and returning to its source. This is called in Lurianic terminology “the breaking of the vessels” ( shevirat ha-kelim), expressing the concept that the initial attempt by the Godhead to establish the system of emanated divine powers failed, resulting in a state of destruction and crisis within the divine realm. The meaning of the shevirah is the most esoteric subject in Lurianic teachings, discussed only in very few passages in the writings of the disciples, and even these few texts present different conceptions. It is a paradox that can be very destructive for religious thought: the supreme divine power undertook an endeavor, and failed to carry it out. Such a catastrophe, at the foundation of existence, has to be explained. The analysis presented by Scholem and Tishby is most profound and mythic in character. According to it, when the initial phase, the zimzum, was carried out, the empty space was not really empty. It is like when a container is emptied of water; the inside of the container is still wet, with water clinging to its sides. Some divine light remained in the tehiru, and this residue, called by the Lurianists, in Aramaic, reshimu (impression) included in it some elements of difference and “otherness” that previously were scattered within the infinite Godhead. This was the real purpose of the zimzum: to concentrate and discharge these potentially different entities away from the Godhead, thus achieving uniformity and perfection for the rest. This task has been ac-complished successfully in the process of the zimzum. This can be seen as a cathartic process within the eternal ein sof."[3]

  • The imperfection is the Boredom inevitably caused by immortality. (see BOLIGHT)
  1. Joseph Dan. Kabbalah (Kindle Locations 1172-1178). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.
  2. Joseph Dan. Kabbalah (Kindle Locations 1184-1191). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.
  3. Dan, Joseph. Kabbalah: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006. (Kindle Locations 1076-1103)