Introduction to Kabbalah: The Creation Myth

Isaac Luria (1534 – July 25, 1572), "Ha'ARI" (The Lion), "Ha'ARI Hakadosh" (the holy ARI), or "ARIZaL" - born in Jerusalem, died in Safed

Luria’s new myth is concentrated in three great symbols, the tsimtsum, or self-limitation, of God, the shevirah, or breaking of the vessels, and the tikkun, or harmonious correction and mending of the flaw which came into the world through the shevirah.

Gershom Scholem, On the Kabbalah and its Symbolism, p. 110

Tzimtzum - Self-Limitation

Creating Space

In the creation myth of ancient Judaic mysticism, God creates the universe by a process dubbed tzimtzum, which in Hebrew means a sort of stepping back to allow for there to be an Other, an Else, as in something or someone else. The Judaic notion of a world of Free Will (Talmud Berachot 33b) is deeply rooted in this concept, in the understanding that in creating life, the Eyn-Sof, or the Endless One, subdued the omnipotent, all-embracing Divine Presence for the sake of the realization of the Divine Will that there be other beings (Etz Chaim 1:1:2.) Our world, then is the sacred space that the Great Spirit gave as a gift to us, a space in which to be as human as divinely possible, and as divine as humanly possible. A space to err, to fall, to believe, to doubt, to cry, to laugh. Our space, created by the simple motion of stepping back, the humble act of honoring the separate reality of an Other.

Rabbi Gershon Winkler with Lakme Batya Elior, The Place Where You are Standing Is Holy: A Jewish Theology on Human Relationships. (page 1)

Shevirah - Shattering the Vessels

At the beginning of time, God’s presence filled the universe. When God decided to bring this world into being, to make room for creation, He first drew in His breath, contracting Himself. From that contraction darkness was created. And when God said, “Let there be light” (Gen. 1:3), the light that came into being filled the darkness, and ten holy vessels came forth, each filled with primordial light.

In this way God sent forth those ten vessels, like a fleet of ships, each carrying its cargo of light. Had they all arrived intact, the world would have been perfect. But the vessels were too fragile to contain such a powerful, divine light. They broke open, split asunder, and all the holy sparks were scattered like sand, like seeds, like stars. Those sparks fell everywhere, but more fell on the Holy Land than anywhere else.

That is why we were created — to gather the sparks, no matter where they are hidden. God created the world so that the descendents of Jacob could raise up the holy sparks. That is why there have been so many exiles — to release the holy sparks from the servitude of captivity. In this way the Jewish people will sift all the holy sparks from the four corners of the earth.

And when enough holy sparks have been gathered, the broken vessels will be restored, and tikkun olam, the repair of the world, awaited so long, will finally be complete. Therefore it should be the aim of everyone to raise these sparks from wherever they are imprisoned and to elevate them to holiness by the power of their soul.

Howard Schwartz, Tree of Souls, p. 122

Husks - the Other Side

In the wake of this event, most of the light that had been contained in the vessels returned to their divine source, while the remainder fell below into the empty space and attached themselves to the now broken shards of vessels. From these shards of broken vessels the powers of the qelipot, that is, “husks” or “shells” were produced. These are the evil forces of the “other side,” the sitra ahra.

In addition to constituting the source of evil, the broken shards are also the basis for the material world. The sparks of light that failed to return to their source above remained trapped, as it were, among the qelipot. The qelipot, in turn, are constantly nourished and strengthened by the holy sparks attached to them. Indeed, were it not for these sparks, the qelipot would lose their life and power altogether.

Lawrence Fine, “Tikkun: A Lurianic Motif in Contemporary Jewish Thought”

Tikkun - Repair

Tikkun, therefore, entails two separate but related processes. First, it means the gathering of the divine lights that had fallen into the realm of the qelipot as a result of the “breaking of the vessels.” Second, it means the gathering of all the holy souls likewise imprisoned in the qelipot.

Tikkun is to be achieved by human beings through their contemplative action. Every religious act requires contemplative concentration on the various dimensions of divinity and the various combinations of the divine name in order to “raise up the fallen sparks.” The focus of concentration is the inner dynamics of reorganization and restructuring that takes place in the course of acts of devotional piety.

The kinds of activities by which the kabbalist seeks to accomplish these goals include a) liturgical prayer; b) the performance of all other mitzvot; and c) the practice of certain special exercises, such as those known as yihudim [“unifications”, that is, of the Godhead]. The same general contemplative idea characterizes each of these types of activity, and [16th- and 17th-century author of the kabbalistic work The Tree of Life] Hayyim Vital’s versions of Luria’s teachings spell out the proper mystical intentions (kavvanot) in great detail.

Lawrence Fine, “Tikkun: A Lurianic Motif in Contemporary Jewish Thought”