Dee Finney's blog

start date July 20, 2011

today's date May 24, 2014

page 684


NOTE:  One never knows when something to jump up in your life and inspire you.  Today, while watching a program on the History Channel 2 about the Secrets of Kabbalah, they mentioned ISAAC LURIA, among many other scholars.  They also said that there is a version of Genesis that describes Adam and Eve kicking God out of Eden, not the other way around as we see it today.

Because interpretations of who God really is, including the aliens  EA/ENKIL and ENLIL as described in Sumerian and Babylonian texts, I found this particularly interesting because I have done the same thing a time or two in my life because of the abuse I've received in various Christian churches.

That said, here is the history of Isaac Luria.

Isaac (ben Solomon) Luria Ashkenazi (1534 – July 25, 1572) (Hebrew:יִצְחָק בן שלמה לוּרְיָא אשכנזי Yitzhak Ben Sh'lomo Lurya Ashkenazi), commonly known as "Ha'ARI" (meaning "The Lion"), "Ha'ARI Hakadosh" [the holy ARI] or "ARIZaL"[the ARI, Of Blessed Memory (Zikhrono Livrakha)], was a foremost rabbi and Jewishmystic in the community of Safed in the Galilee region of Ottoman Palestine. He is considered the father of contemporary Kabbalah, his teachings being referred to as Lurianic Kabbalah. While his direct literary contribution to the Kabbalistic school of Safed was extremely minute (he wrote only a few poems), his spiritual fame led to their veneration and the acceptance of his authority. The works of his disciples compiled his oral teachings into writing. Every custom of the Ari was scrutinized, and many were accepted, even against previous practice.

Luria died at Safed on July 25, 1572 (5 Av 5332). He was buried in the Old Cemetery of Safed.


Early life

Luria was born in 1534 in Jerusalem in what is now the Old Yishuv Court Museum to anAshkenazi father, Solomon, and a Sephardic mother.

Sefer HaKavanot U'Ma'aseh Nissim records that one day Luria's father remained in the Beth kneset alone, studying, when Eliyahu HaNavi appeared to him and said, "I have been sent to you by the Almighty to bring you tidings that your holy wife shall conceive and bear a child, and that you must call him Yitzchak. He shall begin to deliver Israel from the Klipot [husks, forces of evil]. Through him, numerous souls will receive their tikkun. He is also destined to reveal many hidden mysteries in the Torah and to expound on the Zohar. His fame will spread throughout the world. Take care therefore that you not circumcise him before I come to be the Sandak [who holds the child during the Brit Milah ceremony]."

While still a child, Luria lost his father, and was brought up by his rich maternal uncle Mordechai Frances, a tax-farmer out of Cairo, Egypt. His uncle placed him under the best Jewish teachers, including the leading rabbinic scholar David ibn Zimra. Luria showed himself a diligent student of rabbinical literature and under the guidance of another uncle, Rabbi Bezalel Ashkenazi (best known as the author of Shittah Mekubetzet), he became proficient in that branch of Jewish learning.

At the age of fifteen, he married a cousin and, being amply provided for financially, he was able to continue his studies. Though he initially may have pursued a career in business, he soon turned to asceticism and mysticism. Around the age of twenty-two he became engrossed in the study of the Zohar (a major work of the Kabbalah that had recently been printed for the first time) and adopted the life of a recluse. Retreating to the banks of the Nile for seven years, he secluded himself in an isolated cottage, giving himself up entirely to meditation. He visited his family only on Shabbat. But even at home, he would not utter a word, even to his wife. When it was absolutely necessary for him to say something, he would say it in the fewest number of words possible, and then, only in Hebrew. Hassidism believes that he had frequent interviews with the prophet Elijah through this ascetic life, and was initiated into sublime doctrines by him.

Fellowship, leadership, and discipleship


Ark in the Ari Ashkenazi Synagogue. While Luria, the "Lion", gave the complete traditional system of Kabbalah. Maimonides, Judaism's greatestRationalist, is called the "Great Eagle", both images taken from the Merkabah vision of Ezekiel.

In 1569, Luria moved back to the Ottoman Palestine Eretz Israel; and after a short sojourn in Jerusalem, where his new kabbalistic system seems to have met with little success, he settled in Safed.

Safed, over the previous several decades, had become something of a lightning-rod for kabbalistic studies. "[S]pawning an astounding array of impressive religious personalities [including] ... Rabbi Moses Cordovero, Rabbi Shlomo Alkabetz, Rabbi Jacob Berab, Rabbi Moses di Trani, Rabbi Joseph Caro, Rabbi Hayyim Vital, Joseph ibn Tabul, Rabbi Abraham ben Eliezer ha-Levi Berukhim, Rabbi Israel Najara, Rabbi Eleazar Azikri, Rabbi Eliyahu de Vidas, and Rabbi Moses Alshech;" including some lesser known figures such as RabbiJoseph Hagiz, Rabbi Elisha Galadoa, and Rabbi Moses Bassola.

In this community, Luria joined a circle of kabbalists led by Rabbi Moses Cordovero. "Cordovero was the teacher of what appears to have been a relatively loose knit circle of disciples, of which the most noteworthy were Elijah de Vidas, Abraham Galante, Moses Galante, Hayyim Vital, Abraham ben Eliezer ha-Levi Berukhim, Eleazar Azikri, Samuel Gallico, and an important kabbalist who studied with Cordovero for a short while in the 1560s, Mordechai Dato."

There is evidence to suggest that Isaac Luria also regarded Moses Cordovero as his teacher. "Joseph Sambari (1640–1703), an important Egyptian chronicler, testified that Cordovero was 'the Ari's teacher for a very short time.'[9] ... Luria probably arrived in early 1570, and Cordovero died on June 27 that year (the 23d day of Tammuz). Bereft of their most prominent authority and teacher, the community looked for new guidance, and Isaac Luria helped fill the vacuum left by Cordovero's passing.

Soon Luria had two classes of disciples: (1) novices, to whom he expounded the elementary Kabbalah, and (2) initiates, who became the repositories of his secret teachings and his formulas of invocation and conjuration.

However, the most renowned of the initiates was Rabbi Hayyim Vital, who, according to his master, possessed a soul which had not been soiled by Adam's sin. With him Luria visited the grave of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and those of other eminent teachers; it is said that these graves were unmarked (the identity of each grave was unknown), but through the guidance given by Elijaheach grave was recognized. Luria's kabbalistic circle gradually widened and became a separate congregation, in which his mystic doctrines were supreme, influencing all the religious ceremonies. On Shabbat, Luria dressed himself in white and wore a fourfold garment to signify the four letters of the Ineffable Name.

Many Jews who had been exiled from Spain following the Edict of Expulsion believed they were in the time of trial that would precede the appearance of the Messiah in Galilee. Those who moved to Palestine in anticipation of this event found a great deal of comfort in Luria’s teachings, due to his theme of exile. Although he did not write down his teachings, they were published by his followers and by 1650 his ideas were known by Jews throughout Europe.


Main article: Lurianic Kabbalah

Luria used to deliver his lectures extemporaneously and did not write much, with a few exceptions, including some kabbalistic poems inAramaic for the Shabbat table. The real exponent of his kabbalistic system was Rabbi Hayyim Vital. He collected all the notes of the lectures which Luria's disciples had made; and from these notes were produced numerous works, the most important of which was theEtz Chayim, ("Tree of Life"), in eight volumes (see below). At first this circulated in manuscript copies; and each of Luria's disciples had to pledge himself, under pain of excommunication, not to allow a copy to be made for a foreign country; so that for a time all the manuscripts remained in Palestine. At last, however, one was brought to Europe and was published at Zolkiev in 1772 by Isaac Satanow.[citation needed] In this work are expounded both the theoretical and the devotional, meditative teachings of Lurianic Kabbalahbased on the Zohar.

See also


  1. ^ Jump up to:a b Fine 2003, p. 24
  2. Jump up^ Derived from the acronym for "Elohi Rabbi Itzhak", the Godly Rabbi Isaac or "Adoneinu Rabbeinu Isaac" (our master, our rabbi, Isaac).
  3. ^ Jump up to:a b c d e f
  4. Jump up^ Eisen, Yosef (2004). Miraculous journey : a complete history of the Jewish people from creation to the present (Rev. ed.). Southfield, Mich.: Targum/Feldheim. p. 213. ISBN 1568713231.
  5. ^ Jump up to:a b Fine 2003, p. 29
  6. Jump up^ Fine 2003, p. 31-32
  7. Jump up^ Fine 2003, p. 1
  8. ^ Jump up to:a b Fine 2003, pp. 80-81
  9. Jump up^ Sambari 1673, p. 64
  10. Jump up^ Armstrong, Karen, The Battle for God: A History of Fundamentalism, Ballantine Books, 2001, pp. 8-14


External links


Lurianic Kabbalah is a school of kabbalah named after the Jewish rabbi who developed it: Isaac Luria (1534-1572; also known as the "ARI'zal", "Ha'ARI" or"Ha'ARI Hakadosh"). Lurianic Kabbalah gave a seminal new account of Kabbalistic thought that its followers synthesised with, and read into, the earlier Kabbalah of the Zohar that had disseminated in Medieval circles.

Lurianic Kabbalah describes new supra-rational doctrines of the origins of Creation, and its cosmicrectification, incorporating a recasting and fuller systemisation of preceding Kabbalistic teaching.The main popularizer of Luria's ideas was Rabbi Hayyim ben Joseph Vital of Calabria, who claimed to be the official interpreter of the Lurianic system, though some disputed this claim. Together, the compiled teachings written by Luria's school after his death are metaphorically called "Kitvei HaARI" (Writings of the ARI), though they differed on some core interpretations in the early generations.

Previous interpretations of the Zohar had culminated in the rationally influenced scheme of Moshe Cordovero in Safed, immediately before Luria's arrival. Both Cordovero's and Luria's systems gave Kabbalah a theological systemisation to rival the earlier eminence of Medieval Jewish philosophy. Under the influence of the mystical renaissance in 16th-century Safed, Lurianism became the near-universal mainstream Jewish theology in the early-modern era, both in scholarly circles, and in the popular imagination. The Lurianic scheme, read by its followers as harmonious with, and successively more advanced than the Cordoverian, mostly displaced it, becoming the foundation of subsequent developments in Jewish mysticism. After the Ari, the Zohar was interpreted in Lurianic terms, and later esoteric Kabbalists expanded mystical theory within the Lurianic system. The later Hasidic and Mitnagdic movements diverged over implications of Lurianic Kabbalah, and its social role in popular mysticism. The Sabbatean mystical heresy would also derive its source from Lurianic messianism, but distort the Kabbalistic interdependence of mysticism with Halakha Jewish observance.

The nature of Lurianic thought


The characteristic feature of Luria's theoretical and meditative system is his recasting of the previous, static hierarchy of unfolding Divine levels, into a dynamic cosmic spiritual drama of exile and redemption. Through this, essentially there became two historical versions of the theoretical-theosophical tradition in Kabbalah:

  1. Medieval Kabbalah and the Zohar as it was initially understood (sometimes called "Classical/Zoharic" Kabbalah), which received its systemisation by Moshe Cordovero immediately prior to Luria in the Early-Modern period
  2. Lurianic Kabbalah, the basis of modern Jewish mysticism, though Luria and subsequent Kabbalists see Lurianism as no more than an explanation of the true meaning of the Zohar

Earlier Kabbalah

The mystical doctrines of Kabbalah appeared in esoteric circles in 12th century Southern France (Provence-Languedoc), spreading to 13th century Northern Spain (Catalonia and other regions). Mystical development culminated with the Zohar's dissemination from 1305, the main text of Kabbalah. Medieval Kabbalah incorporated motifs described in academia as "Neoplatonic" (linearly descending realmsbetween the Infinite and the finite), "Gnostic" (in the sense of various powers manifesting from the singular Godhead, rather than plural gods) and "Mythical" (in contrast to rational, such as Judaism's first doctrines of reincarnation). Subsequent commentary on the Zohar attempted to provide a conceptual framework in which its highly symbolic imagery, loosely associated ideas, and seemingly contradictory teachings could be unified, understood, and organised systematically. Meir ibn Gabbai (born 1480) was a precursor in this, but Moshe Cordovero's (1522–1570) encyclopedic works influentially systemised the scheme of Medieval Kabbalah, though not including in its explanation some important classic beliefs such as reincarnation. The Medieval-Cordoverian scheme describes in detail a linear, hierarchical process where finite Creation evolves ("Hishtalshelut") sequentially from God's Infinite Being. The sephirot (Divine attributes) in Kabbalah, act as discreet, autonomous forces in the functional unfolding of each level of Creation from potential to actual. The welfare of the Upper Divine Realm, where the sephirot are manifest supremely, is mutually bound up with the welfare of the Lower Human Realm. The acts of Man, at the end of the chain, affect harmony between the sephirot in the higher spiritual Worlds.Mitzvot (Jewish observances) and virtuous deeds bring unity Above, allowing unity between God and the Shekhinah (Divine Presence) Below, opening the Flow of Divine vitality throughout Creation. Sin and selfish deeds introduce disruption and separation throughout Creation. Evil, caused through human deeds, is a misdirected overflow Below of unchecked Gevurah (Severity) on High.

The Early-Modern Safed community

Joseph Karosynagogue in Safed. The 1538 Safed attempt byJacob Berab to restore traditional Semikhah(Rabbinic organisation), reelected the community's Messianic focus. Karo, author of the normative Shulkhan Arukh (Code of Law) was one appointed

The 16th century renaissance of Kabbalah in the Galilean community of Safed, which included Joseph Karo,Moshe Alshich, Cordovero, Luria and others, was shaped by their particular spiritual and historical outlook. After the 1492 Expulsion from Spain they felt a personal urgency and responsibility on behalf of the Jewish people to hasten Messianic redemption. This involved a stress on close kinship and ascetic practices, and the development of rituals with a communal-messianic focus. The new developments of Cordovero and Luria in systemising previous Kabbalah, sought mystical dissemination beyond the close scholarly circles to which Kabbalah had previously been restricted. They held that wide publication of these teachings, and meditative practices based on them, would hasten redemption for the whole Jewish people.

Lurianic Kabbalah

The old cemetery in Safed where its pre-eminent 16th century mystical and legal figures are buried, including Yosef Karo, Shlomo Alkabetz, Moshe Alshich, Moshe Cordovero and the Ari. After the Expulsion from Spain the Safed circle held a national Messianic responsibility, mirrored in Lurianic scheme

Where the messianic aim remained only peripheral in the linear scheme of Cordovero, the more comprehensive theoretical scheme and meditative practices of Luria explained messianism as its central dynamic, incorporating the full diversity of previous Kabbalistic concepts as outcomes of its processes. Luria conceptualises the Spiritual Worlds through their inner dimension of Divine exile and redemption. The Lurianic mythos brought deeper Kabbalistic notions to the fore: theodicy (primordial origin of evil) and exile of the Shekhina (Divine Presence), eschatological redemption, the cosmic role of each individual and the historical affairs of Israel, symbolism of sexuality in the supernal Divine manifestations, and the unconscious dynamics in the soul. Luria gave esoteric theosophical articulations to the most fundamental and theologically daring questions of existence.

Kabbalist views

Religious Kabbalists see the deeper comprehensiveness of Lurianic theory being due to its description and exploration of aspects of Divinity, rooted in the Ein Sof, that transcend the revealed, rationally apprehended mysticism described by Cordovero. The system of Medieval Kabbalah becomes incorporated as part of its wider dynamic. Where Cordovero described the Sephirot (Divine attributes) and the Four spiritual Realms, preceded by Adam Kadmon, unfolding sequentially out of the Ein Sof, Luria probed the supra-rational origin of these Five Worlds within the Infinite. This revealed new doctrines of Primordial Tzimtzum (Withdrawal) and the Shevira (shattering) and reconfiguration of the sephirot. In Kabbalah, what preceded more deeply in origins, is also reflected within the inner dimensions of subsequent Creation, so that Luria was able to explain messianism, Divine aspects, and reincarnation, Kabbalistic beliefs that remained unsystemised beforehand.

Cordovero and Medieval attempts at Kabbalistic systemisation, influenced by Medieval Jewish philosophy, approach Kabbalistic theory through the rationally conceived paradigm of "Hishtalshelut" (sequential "Evolution" of spiritual levels between the Infinite and the Finite - the vessels/external frames of each spiritual World). Luria systemises Kabbalah as a dynamic process of "Hitlabshut" ("Enclothement" of higher souls within lower vessels - the inner/soul dimensions of each spiritual World). This sees inner dimensions within any level of Creation, whose origin transcends the level in which they are enclothed. The spiritual paradigm of Creation is transformed into a dynamical interactional process in Divinity. Divine manifestations enclothe within each other, and are subject to exile and redemption:

The concept of hitlabshut ("enclothement") implies a radical shift of focus in considering the nature of Creation. According to this perspective, the chief dynamic of Creation is not evolutionary, but rather interactional. Higher strata of reality are constantly enclothing themselves within lower strata, like the soul within a body, thereby infusing every element of Creation with an inner force that transcends its own position within the universal hierarchy. Hitlabshut is very much a "biological" dynamic, accounting for the life-force which resides within Creation; hishtalshelut, on the other hand, is a "physical" one, concerned with the condensed-energy of "matter" (spiritual vessels) rather than the life-force of the soul.

Due to this deeper, more internal paradigm, the new doctrines Luria introduced explain Kabbalistic teachings and passages in the Zohar that remained superficially understood and externally described before. Seemingly unrelated concepts become unified as part of a comprehensive, deeper picture. Kabbalistic systemisers before Luria, culminating with Cordovero, were influenced by Maimonides' philosophical Guide, in their quest to decipher the Zohar intellectually, and unify esoteric wisdom with Jewish philosophy. In Kabbalah this embodies the Neshama (Understanding) mental level of the soul. The teachings of Luria challenge the soul to go beyond mental limitations. Though presented in intellectual terms, it remains a revealed, supra-rational doctrine, giving a sense of being beyond intellectual grasp. This corresponds to the soul level of Haya (Wisdom insight), described as "touching/not-touching" apprehension.

Academic views

In the academic study of Kabbalah, Gershom Scholem saw Lurianism as a historically located response to the trauma of Spanish exile, a fully expressed mythologising of Judaism, and a uniquely paradoxically messianic mysticism, as mysticism phenomenologically usually involves withdrawal from community. In more recent academia, Moshe Idel has challenged Scholem's historical influence in Lurianism, seeing it instead as an evolving development within the inherent factors of Jewish mysticism by itself.


Primordial Tzimtzum - Contraction of Divinity

Main article: Tzimtzum

Scheme of the Five Worlds forming within the Khalal Vacuum (Outer Circle) through the illumination of theKav Ray (Vertical Line). Concepts are non-spatial. Sephirotshown in the scheme of Iggulim ("Circles")

Isaac Luria propounded the doctrine of the Tzimtzum, (meaning alternatively: "Contraction/Concealment/Condensation/Concentration"), the primordial Self-Withdrawal of Divinity to "make space" for subsequent Creation. This reconciles the Infiniteness of God with finite Creation, preventing created realms from being nullified into non-existence within their source of vitality.

Previous Kabbalah taught that before the creation of the spiritual or physical realms, the Ein Sof ("Without End") Divine simplicity filled all reality. In a mystical form of Divine self-revelation, the Ohr Ein Sof ("Light of the Ein Sof/Infinite Light") shone within the Ein Sof, before any creation. In the absolute Unity of the Ein Sof, "no thing" (no limitation/end) could exist, as all would be nullified. About the Ein Sof, nothing can be postulated, as it transcends all grasp/definition. Medieval Kabbalah held that at the beginning of Creation, from the Ein Sof emerged from concealment the 10 Sephirot Divine attributes to emmanate existence. The vitality first shone toAdam Kadmon ("Primordial Man"), the realm of Divine Will), named metaphorically in relation to Man who is rooted in the initial Divine plan. From Adam Kadmon emerged sequentially the descending Four spiritual Realms: Atziluth ("Emanation" - the level of Divine Wisdom), Beriah ("Creation" - Divine Intellect), Yetzirah("Formation" - Divine Emotions), Assiah ("Action" - Divine Realisation). In Medieval Kabbalah the problem of finite creation emerging from the Infinite was partially resolved by innumerable, successive tzimtzumimconcealments/contractions/veilings of the Divine abundance down through the Worlds, successively reducing it to appropriate intensities. At each stage, the absorbed flow created realms, tranmitting residue to lower levels.

To Luria, this causal chain did not resolve the difficulty, as the infinite quality of the Ohr Ein Sof, even if subject to countless veilings/contractions would still prevent independent existence. He advanced an initial, radical primordial Tzimtzum leap before Creation, the self-withdrawal of Divinity. At the centre of the Ein Sof, the withdrawal formed a metaphorical (non-spatial) Khalal/Makom Ponui ("Vacuum/Empty Space") in which Creation would take place. The vacuum was not totally empty, as a slight Reshima("Impression") of the prior Reality remained, similar to water that clings to an emptied vessel.

Into the vacuum then shone a new light, the Kav ("Ray/Line"), a "thin" diminished extension from the original Infinite Light, which became the fountainhead for all subsequent Creation. While still infinite, this new vitality was radically different from the original Infinite Light, as it was now potentially tailored to the limited perspective of Creation. As the Ein Sof perfection encompassed both infinitude and finitude, so the Infinite Light possessed concealed-latent finite qualities. The Tzimtum allowed infinite qualities to retire into the Ein Sof, and potentially finite qualities to emerge. As the Kav shone into the centre of the vacuum it encompassed ten "concentric" Iggulim (the conceptual scheme of "Circles"), forming the sephirot, allowing the Light to appear in their diversity.

In the development of Luria's school, debate considered the degree to which his scheme was metaphorical (more philosophical) or literal (more mythological). Differences over the tzimtum revolved over whether the Divine was immanent in Creation or not. However, all emphasised that concepts needed divestment from false corporeal-spatial interpretation. The dialectic between Tzimtum and Kav begins a dynamic of Divine exile/crisis-redemption/catharsis in Lurianism that continues to repeat through subsequent consequences in unfolding Creation. At each stage, the Divinity before the crisis returns in a new form afterwards, in order to allow rectification. Creative levels are no longer self-enclosed entities, complete in themselves.

Shevira - Shattering of the sephirot vessels

Main article: Tohu and Tikun

The first Divine configuration within the vacuum comprises Adam Kadmon, the first pristine Spiritual Realm described in earlier Kabbalah. It is the manifestation of the specific Divine Will for subsequent Creation, within the relative framework of Creation. Itsanthropomorphic name metaphorically indicates the paradox of creation ("Adam") and manifestation ("Kadmon"-Primordial Divinity). Man is intended as the future embodiment in subsequent Creation, not yet emerged, of the Divine manifestations. The Kav forms the sephirot, still only latent, of Adam Kadmon in two stages: first as Iggulim ("Circles"), then encompassed as Yosher ("Upright"), the two schemes of arranging the sephirot. In Luria's systematic explanation of terms found in classic Kabbalah:

"Upright" is so called by way of an analogy to the soul and body of man. In man the 10 sephirot soul powers act in harmony, reflected in the different limbs of the body, each with a particular function. Luria explained that it is the Yosher-Upright configuration of the sephirot that is referred to by Genesis 1:27, "God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him, male and female He created them". However, in Adam Kadmon, both configurations of the sephirot remain only in potential. Adam Kadmon is pure Divine light, with no vessels, bounded by its future potential Will to create vessels, and by the limiting effect of the Reshima.

From the non-corporeal figurative configuration of Adam Kadmon emanate five lights: metaphorically from the "eyes", "ears", "nose", "mouth" and "forehead". These interact with each other to create three particular spiritual Worlds-Stages after Adam Kadmon: Akudim("Bound" - Stable Chaos), Nekudim ("Points" - Unstable Chaos), Berudim ("Connected" - beginning of Recification). Each realm is a sequential stage in the first emergence of the sephirot vessels, prior to the World of Atziluth ("Emanation"), the first of the comprehensive Four spiritual Worlds of Creation described in previous Kabbalah. As the sephirot emerged within vessels, they acted as 10 independent Iggulim forces, without inter-relationship. Chesed (Kindness) opposed Gevurah (Severity), and so with the subsequent emotions. This state, the World of Tohu ("Chaos") precipitated a cosmic catastrophe in the Divine realm. Tohu is characterised by high Divine Ohr (Light) in weak, immature, unharmonised vessels. As the Divine light poured into the first intellectual sephirot, their vessels were close enough to their source to contain the abundance of vitality. However, as the overflow continued, the subsequent emotional sephirot shattered (Shevirat HaKeilim - "Shattering of the Vessels") from Binah (Understanding) down to Yesod (Foundation) under the intensity of the light. The final sephirah Malkhut (Kingship) remains partially intact as the exiled Shekhina (Feminine Divine immanence) in Creation. This is the esoteric account in Genesis and Chronicles of the 8 Kings of Edom who reigned before any King reigned in Israel. The shards of the broken vessels fell down from the realm of Tohu into the subsequent created order of Tikun ("Rectification"), splintering into innumerable fragments, each animated by exiled Nitzutzot ("Sparks") of their original light. The more subtle Divine sparks became assimilated in higher spiritual realms as their creative lifeforce. The coarser animated fragments fell down into our material realm, with lower fragments nurturing the Kelipot (Shells) realms of impurity.

Tikun - Rectification

Partzufim - Divine Personas

Main article: Partzufim
The sephirotin the scheme ofYosher("Upright"), from which thepartzufim develop

The subsequent comprehensive Four spiritual Worlds of Creation, described in previous Kabbalah, embody the Lurianic realm of Tikun ("Rectification"). Tikun is characterised by lower, less sublime lights than Tohu, but in strong, mature, harmonised vessels. Rectification is first initiated in Berudim, where the sephirot harmonise their 10 forces by each including the others as latent principles. However, supernal rectification is completed in Atziluth(World of "Emanation") after the Shevira, through the sephirot transforming into Partzufim (Divine "Faces/Configurations"). In Zoharic Kabbalah the partzufim appear as particular supernal Divine aspects, exponded in the esoteric Idrot, but become systemised only in Lurianism. The 6 primary partzufim, which further divide into 12 secondary forms:

The Parzufim are the sephirot acting in the scheme of Yosher, as in man. Rather than latently including other principles independently, the partzufim transform each sephirah into full anthropomorphic three-column configurations of 10 sephirot, each of which interacts and enclothes within the others. Through the parzufim, the weakness and lack of harmony that instigated shevirah is healed. Atziluth, the supreme realm of Divine manifestation and exclusive consciousness of Divine Unity, is eternally rectified by the partzufim; its root sparks from Tohu are fully redeemed. However, the lower three Worlds of Beri'ah ("Creation"), Yetzirah("Formation") and Assiah ("Action") embody successive levels of self-consciousness independent of Divinity. Active Tikun rectification of lower Creation can only be achieved from Below, from within its limitations and perspective, rather than imposed from Above. Messianicredemption and transformation of Creation is performed by Man in the lowest realm, where impurity predominates.

This proceeding was absolutely necessary. Had God in the beginning created the partzufim instead of the Sefirot, there would have been no evil in the world, and consequently no reward and punishment; for the source of evil is in the broken Sefirot or vessels (Shvirat Keilim), while the light of the Ein Sof produces only that which is good. These five figures are found in each of the Four Worlds; namely, in the world of Emanation (atzilut), Creation (beri'ah), Formation (yetzirah), and in that of Action (asiyah), which represents the material world.

Birur - Clarification by Man

The soul ofAdam included all future human souls, while the 613 Mitzvot relate to 613 spiritual "limbs" in the configuration of the soul

The task of rectifying the sparks of holiness that were exiled in the self-aware lower spiritual Worlds was given to Biblical Adam in the Garden of Eden. In the Lurianic account, Adam and Hava (Eve) before the sin of Tree of Knowledge did not reside in the physical World Assiah ("Action"), at the present level of Malkhut (lowest sephirah "Kingship"). Instead, the Garden was the non-physical realm of Yetzirah ("Formation"), and at the higher sephirah of Tiferet ("Beauty").

Gilgul - Reincarnation and the soul

Main article: Gilgul

Luria's psychological system, upon which is based his devotional and meditational Kabbalah, is closely connected with his metaphysical doctrines. From the five partzufim, he says, emanated five souls, Nefesh ("Spirit"), Ru'ach("Wind"), Neshamah ("Soul"), Chayah ("Life"), and Yechidah ("Singular"); the first of these being the lowest, and the last the highest. (Source: Etz Chayim). Man's soul is the connecting link between the infinite and the finite, and as such is of a manifold character. All the souls destined for the human race were created together with the various organs of Adam. As there are superior and inferior organs, so there are superior and inferior souls, according to the organs with which they are respectively coupled. Thus there are souls of the brain, souls of the eye, souls of the hand, etc. Each human soul is a spark (nitzotz) from Adam. The first sin of the first man caused confusion among the various classes of souls: the superior intermingled with the inferior; good with evil; so that even the purest soul received an admixture of evil, or, as Luria calls it, of the element of the "shells" (Kelipoth). In consequence of the confusion, the former are not wholly deprived of the original good, and the latter are not altogether free from sin. This state of confusion, which gives a continual impulse toward evil, will cease with the arrival of the Messiah, who will establish the moral system of the world upon a new basis.

Until the arrival of the Messiah, man's soul, because of its deficiencies, can not return to its source, and has to wander not only through the bodies of men and of animals, but sometimes even through inanimate things such as wood, rivers, and stones. To this doctrine ofgilgulim (reincarnation of souls) Luria added the theory of the impregnation (ibbur) of souls; that is to say, if a purified soul has neglected some religious duties on earth, it must return to the earthly life, and, attaching itself to the soul of a living man, and unite with it in order to make good such neglect.

Further, the departed soul of a man freed from sin appears again on earth to support a weak soul which feels unequal to its task. However, this union, which may extend to two souls at one time, can only take place between souls of homogeneous character; that is, between those which are sparks of the same Adamite organ. The dispersion of Israel has for its purpose the salvation of men's souls; as the purified souls of Israelites will fulfill the prophecy of becoming "A lamplight unto the nations," influencing the souls of men of other races to do good. According to Luria, there exist signs by which one may learn the nature of a man's soul: to which degree and class it belongs; the relation existing between it and the superior world; the wanderings it has already accomplished; the means by which it can contribute to the establishment of the new moral system of the world; and to which soul it should be united in order to become purified.


Sabbatean mystical heresies

Lurianic Kabbalah has been accused by some of being the cause of the spread of the Sabbatean Messiahs Shabbetai Tzvi (1626–1676) and Jacob Frank (1726–1791), and their Kabbalistically based heresies. The 16th century mystical renaissance in Safed, led by Moshe Cordovero, Joseph Karo and Isaac Luria, made Kabbalistic study a popular goal of Jewish students, to some extent competing for attention with Talmudic study, while also capturing the hold of the public imagination. Shabbeteanism emerged in this atmosphere, coupled with the oppressions of Exile, alongside genuine traditional mystic circles.

Where Isaac Luria's scheme emphasised the democratic role of every person in redeeming the fallen sparks of holiness, allocating the Messiah only a conclusive arrival in the process, Shabbetai's prophet Nathan of Gaza interpreted his messianic role as pivotal in reclaiming those sparks lost in impurity. Now faith in his messianic role, after he apostasised to Islam, became necessary, as well as faith in his antinomian actions. Jacob Frank claimed to be a reincarnation of Shabbetai Tzvi, sent to reclaim sparks through the most anarchist actions of his followers, claiming the breaking of the Torah in his emerged messianic era was now its fulfilment, the opposite of the messianic necessarity of Halakhic devotion by Luria and the Kabbalists. Instead, for the elite 16th century Kabbalists of Safed after the Expulsion from Spain, they sensed a personal national responsibility, expressed through their mystical renaissance, ascetic strictures, devoted brotherhood, and close adherence to normative Jewish practice.

Influence on ritual practice and prayer meditation

divine names

Kabbalistic chart of Divine names in Ari synagogue. Traditional Lurianic prayer method involved esoteric kavanot meditations on specific Divine letter permutations related to each prayer

Lurianic Kabbalah remained the leading school of mysticism in Judaism, and is an important influence onHasidism and Sefardic kabbalists. In fact, only a minority of today's Jewish mystics belong to other branches of thought in Zoharic mysticism. Some Jewish kabbalists have said that the followers of Shabbetai Tzvi strongly avoided teachings of Lurianic Kabbalah because his system disproved their notions. On the other hand, the Shabbetians did use the Lurianic concepts of sparks trapped in impurity and pure souls being mixed with the impure to justify some of their antinomian actions.

Luria introduced his mystic system into religious observance. Every commandment had a particular mystic meaning. The Shabbat with all its ceremonies was looked upon as the embodiment of the Divinity in temporal life, and every ceremony performed on that day was considered to have an influence upon the superior world. Every word and syllable of the prescribed prayers contain hidden names of God upon which one should meditate devoutly while reciting. New mystic ceremonies were ordained and codified under the name of Shulkhan Arukh HaARI (The "Code of Law of the Ari"). In addition, one of the few writings of Luria himself comprises three Sabbath table hymns with mystical allusions. From the third meal's hymn:

You princes of the palace, who yearn to behold the splendour of Zeir Anpin
Be present at this meal at which the King leaves His imprint
Exult, rejoice in this gathering together with the angels and all supernal beings
Rejoice now, at this most propitious time, when there is no sadness...
I herewith invite the Ancient of Days at this auspicious time, and impurity will be utterly removed...

In keeping with the custom of engaging in all-night Torah study on the festival of Shavuot, Isaac Luria arranged a special service for the night vigil of Shavuot, the Tikkun Leil Shavuot ("Rectification for Shavuot Night"). It is commonly recited in synagogue, with Kaddish if the Tikkun is studied in a group of ten. Afterwards, Hasidim immerse in a mikveh before dawn.

Modern Jewish spirituality and dissenting views

Rabbi Luria's ideas enjoy wide recognition among Jews today. Orthodox as well as Reform, Reconstructionist and other ProgressiveJews frequently acknowledge a moral obligation to "repair the world" (tikkun olam). This idea draws upon Luria's teaching that shards of divinity remain contained in flawed material creation and that ritual and ethical deeds by the righteous help to release this energy. The mystical theology of the Ari does not exercise the same level of influence everywhere, however. Communities where Luria's thought holds less sway include many German and Modern Orthodox communities, groups carrying forward Spanish and Portuguese traditions, a sizable segment of Baladi Yemenite Jews (see Dor Daim), and other groups that follow a form of Torah Judaism based more on classical authorities like Maimonides and the Geonim.

With its Rationalist project, the 19th century Haskalah movement and the critical study of Judaism dismissed Kabbalah. In the 20th century, Gershom Scholem initiated the academic study of Jewish mysticism, utilising historical methodology, but reacting against what he saw as its exclusively Rationalist dogma. Rather, he identified Jewish mysticism as the vital undercurrent of Jewish thought, periodically renewing Judaism with new mystical or messianic impetus. The 20th century academic respect of Kabbalah, as well as wider interest in spirituality, bolster a renewed Kabbalistic interest from non-Orthodox Jewish denominations in the 20th century. This is often expressed through the form of Hasidic incorporation of Kabbalah, embodied in Neo-Hasidism and Jewish Renewal.

Contemporary traditional Lurianism

Mikveh of Isaac Luria on the hillside belowSafed in the Galilee, fed by a cold spring

Study of the Kitvei Ha'Ari (writings of Isaac Luria's disciples) continues mostly today among traditional-form Kabbalistic circles and in sections of the Hasidic movement. Mekubalim mizra'chim (oriental SephardiKabbalists), following the tradition of Haim Vital and the mystical legacy of the Rashash (1720–1777, considered by Kabbalists to be the reincarnation of the Ari), see themselves as direct heirs to and in continuity with Luria's teachings and meditative scheme.

Both sides of the Hasidic-Mitnagdic schism from the 18th century, upheld the theological worldview of Lurianic Kabbalah. It is a misconception to see the Rabbinic opposition to Hasidic Judaism, at least in its formative origin, as deriving from adherence to Rationalist Medieval Jewish philosophical method. The leader of the Rabbinic Mitnagdic opposition to the mystical Hasidic revival, the Vilna Gaon (1720–1797), was intimately involved in Kabbalah, following Lurianic theory, and produced Kabbalistically focused writing himself, while criticising Medieval Jewish Rationalism. His disciple, Chaim Volozhin, the main theoretician of Mitnagdic Judaism, differed from Hasidism over practical interpretation of the Lurianic tzimtzum. For all intents, Mitnagdic Judaism followed a transcendent stress in tzimtzum, while Hasidism stressed the immanence of God. This theoretical difference led Hasidism to popular mystical focus beyond elitist restrictions, while it underpinned the Mitnagdic focus on Talmudic, non-mystical Judaism for all but the elite, with a new theoretical emphasis on Talmudic Torah study in the Lithuanian Yeshiva movement.

The largest scale Jewish development based on Lurianic teaching was Hasidism, though it adapted Kabbalah to its own thought. Joseph Dan describes the Hasidic-Mitnagdic schism as a battle between two conceptions of Lurianic Kabbalah. Mitnagdic elite Kabbalah was essentially loyal to Lurianic teaching and practice, while Hasidism introduced new popularised ideas, such as the centrality of Divine immanence and Deveikut to all Jewish activity, and the social mystical role of the Tzadik Hasidic leadership.

Literal and non-literal interpretations of the Tzimtzum

Main article: Tzimtzum

In the decades after Luria, and in the early 1700s, different opinions formed among Kabbalists over the meaning of the tzimtzum Divine self-withdrawal, whether it should be taken literally or symbolically. Bacharach’s Emek HaMelekh took tzimtzum literally, while Joseph Ergas (Shomer Emunim, 1736) and Abraham Herrera, held that tzimtzum was to be understood metaphorically

Hasidic and Mitnagdic views of the Tzimtzum

The issue of the tzimtzum underpinned the new, public popularisation of mysticism embodied in 18th century Hasidism. Its central doctrine of almost-Panentheistic Divine Immanence, shaping daily fervour, emphasised the most non-literal stress of the tzimtzum. The systematic articulation of this Hasidic approach by Shneur Zalman of Liadi in the second section of Tanya, outlines a Monistic Illusionismof Creation from the Upper Divine Unity perspective. To Schneur Zalman, the tzimtzum only affected apparent concealment of the Ohr Ein Sof. The Ein Sof, and the Ohr Ein Sof, actually remain omnipresent, this world nullified into its source. Only, from the Lower, Worldy Divine Unity perspective, the tzimtzum gives the illusion of apparent withdrawal. In truth, "I, the Eternal, I have not changed" (Malachi3:6), as interpreting the tzimtzum with any literal tendency would be ascribing false corporeality to God.


Norman Lamm describes the alternative Hasidic-Mitnagdic interpretations of this. To Chaim Volozhin, the main theoretician of theMitnagdim Rabbinic opposition to Hasidism, the illusionism of Creation, arising from a metaphorical tzimtzum is true, but does not lead to Panentheism, as Mitnagdic theology emphasised Divine transcendence, where Hasidism emphasised immanence. As it is, the initial general impression of Lurianic Kabbalah is one of transcendence, implied by the notion of tzimtzum. Rather, to Hasidic thought, especially in its Chabad systemisation, the Atzmus ultimate Divine essence is expressed only in finitude, emphasising Hasidic Immanence. Norman Lamm sees both thinkers as subtle and sophisticated. The Mitnagdim disagreed with Panentheism, in the early opposition of the Mitnagdic leader, the Vilna Gaon seeing it as heretical. Chaim Volzhin, the leading pupil of the Vilna Gaon, was at the same time both more moderate, seeking to end the conflict, and most theologically principled in his opposition to the Hasidic interpretation. He opposed panentheism as both theology and practice, as its mystical spiritualisation of Judaism displaced traditional Talmudic learning, as was liable to inspire antinomian blurring of Halachah Jewish observance strictures, in quest of a mysticism for the common folk.

As Norman Lamm summarises, to Schneur Zalman and Hasidism, God relates to the world as a reality, through His Immanence. Divine immanence - the Human perspective, is pluralistic, allowing mystical popularisation in the material world, while safeguarding Halacha. Divine Transcendence - the Divine perspective, is Monistic, nullifying Creation into illusion. To Chaim Volozhin and Mitnagdism, God relates to the world as it is through His transcendence. Divine immanence - the way God looks at physical Creation, is Monistic, nullifying it into illusion. Divine Transcendence - the way Man perceives and relates to Divinity is pluralistic, allowing Creation to exist on its own terms. In this way, both thinkers and spiritual paths affirm a non-literal interpretation of the tzimtzum, but Hasidic spirituality focuses on the nearness of God, while Mitnagdic spirituality focuses on the remoteness of God. They then configure their religious practice around this theological difference, Hasidism placing Deveikut fervour as its central practice, Mitnagdism further emphasising intellectual Talmudic Torah study as its supreme religious activity.


  1. ^ Jump up to:a b c The Development of Kabbalah in Three Stages from 1 Cordoverian Kabbalah - Hishtalshelut Evolution of Spiritual Worlds, 2 Lurianic Kabbalah - Hitlabshut Enclothement within Spiritual Worlds, 3 Hasidic thought - Hashra'ah Divine Omnipresence
  2. Jump up^ Fine 2003, p. 343-344, "Vital must have viewed Ibn Tabul's literary activities as an arrogant attempt to usurp his own authority as the sole legitimate repository and interpreter of Lurianic Kabbalah. We do not know how Ibn Tabul felt about Vital. Competition and jealousy between them was not, however, limited to the literary sphere. Both sought to succeed Luria, in the sense that, each also saw himself as a teacher of the Lurianic tradition. Three years after Luria's death, in 1575, Vital formed a group of seven individuals who agreed to study Lurianic teachings with him alone and not to share them with others. Needless to say, Ibn Tabul was not a member of this group. Scholem speculated, in fact, that part of Vital's motivation in creating this circle was precisely to marginalize Ibn Tabul. We know, of course, from the letters of Ibn Tabul's students Samuel Bacchi that Ibn Tabul had a group of disciples as well. Whereas Vital's fellowship survived for a very short time, leaving no evidence that he inspired true allegiance, Ibn Tabul gained a reputation as a charismatic teacher, at least some of whose disciples were intensely attached to him."
  3. Jump up^ [1] Notes on the Study of Later Kabbalah in English: The Safed Period & Lurianic Kabbalah, p 1, Don Karr, quoting Gershom Scholem(Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism, 3rd edition, London: Thames & Hudson, 1955—pages 285-6):

    The Lurianic Kabbalah was the last religious movement in Judaism the influence of which

    became preponderant among all sections of Jewish people and in every country of the Diaspora,

    without exception.
  4. Jump up^ [2] from "We can now understand why the doctrine of gilgul (reincarnation) does not appear anywhere within the system of the Ramak (Cordovero). Having not identified Hitlabshut ("Enclothement") as part of his conceptual focus, the entire issue remains premature and in need of the Ari's future elaboration.
  5. Jump up^ Kabbalah, A Very Short Introduction, Joseph Dan, Oxford University Press, chapter on Early Modern Developments: Safed and Lurianic Kabbalah. One example is the opening of Etz Hayim by Haim Vital, the main text of Lurianic thought. It begins with 2 "Hakirot" (investigations): "Why did God create the World?" and the seemingly mysterious "Why did God create the World when He did?"
  6. Jump up^ The Development of Kabbalistic Thought: Enclothement (Hitlabshut) and the Kabbalah of the Ari from
  7. ^ Jump up to:a b Five Stages in the Historical Development of Kabbalah in relation to its texts, from 1 Sefer Yetzirah - Nefesh action, 2 Zohar- Ruah emotion, 3 Pardes Rimonim (Cordovero) - Neshamah understanding, 4 Etz Haim (Lurianic Kabbalah) - Haya wisdom, 5 Tanya (Hasidic thought) - Yehida Divine unity
  8. Jump up^ Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism, Gershom Scholem, Schocken. Seventh lecture: Isaac Luria and his school
  9. Jump up^ Kabbalah: New Perspectives, Moshe Idel, Yale University Press
  10. Jump up^ Genesis 36:31
  11. Jump up^ I Chronicles 1:43
  12. Jump up^ Converting the Wisdom of the Nations Part 1 from, section "The Origin of the Sparks"
  13. Jump up^ Sidur Tehillat HaShem, Habad Lurianic text, Kehot pub. English translation, p 211
  14. Jump up^ Kabbalah: A Very Short Introduction, Joseph Dan, Oxford University Press: Chapter on Modern Hasidism
  15. Jump up^ Torah Lishmah: Study of Torah for Torah's Sake in the Work of Rabbi Hayyim Volozhin and his Contemporaries, Norman Lamm, Ktav pub.
  16. Jump up^ Kabbalah:A Very Short Introduction, Joseph Dan
  17. Jump up^ Notes on the Study of Later Kabbalah in English, The Safed Period & Lurianic Kabbalah, Don Karr
  18. Jump up^ Torah Lishmah: Study of Torah for Torah's Sake in the Work of Rabbi Hayyim Volozhin and his Contemporaries Ktav pub. Philosophical difference summarised in "Monism for Moderns" in Faith & Doubt: Studies in Traditional Jewish Thought Ktav
  19. Jump up^ On the Essence of Chasidus, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, Kehot pub.

External links



The Tzimtzum (Hebrew צמצום ṣimṣūm "contraction/constriction/condensation/withdrawal") is a term used in the Lurianic Kabbalah teaching of Isaac Luria, to explain his new doctrine that God began the process of creation by "contracting" his infinite light in order to allow for a "conceptual space" in which finite and seemingly independent realms could exist. This primordial initial contraction, forming a Khalal/Khalal Hapanoi ("empty space", חלל הפנוי) into which new creative light could beam, is denoted by general reference to the Tzimtzum. In contrast to earlier, Medieval Kabbalah, this made the first creative act a concealment/Divine exile rather than unfolding revelation. This dynamic crisis-catharsis in the Divine flow is repeated throughout the Lurianic scheme.

Because the Tzimtzum results in the "empty space" in which spiritual and physical Worlds and ultimately, free will can exist, God is often referred to as "Ha-Makom" (המקום lit. "the Place", "the Omnipresent") in Rabbinic literature ("He is the Place of the World, but the World is not His Place"). In Kabbalistic interpretation, this describes the paradox of simultaneous Divine presence and absence within the vacuum and resultant Creation. Relatedly, Olam — the Hebrew for "World/Realm" — is derived from the root עלם meaning "concealment". This etymology iscomplementary with the concept of Tzimtzum, in that the subsequent spiritual realms and the ultimate physical universe, conceal to different degrees the infinite spiritual lifeforce of creation. Their progressive diminutions of the Divine Ohr (Light) from realm to realm in creation, are also referred to in the plural as secondary tzimtzumim (innumerable "condensations/veilings/constrictions" of the lifeforce). However, these subsequent concealments are found in earlier, Medieval Kabbalah. The new doctrine of Luria advanced the notion of the primordial withdrawal (a dilug - radical "leap"), in order to reconcile a causal creative chain from the Infinite, with finite Existence.

Prior to Creation, there was only the infinite Or Ein Sof filling all existence. When it arose in G-d's Will to create worlds and emanate the emanated...He contracted (in Hebrew "tzimtzum") Himself in the point at the center, in the very center of His light. He restricted that light, distancing it to the sides surrounding the central point, so that there remained a void, a hollow empty space, away from the central point... After this tzimtzum... He drew down from the Or Ein Sof a single straight line [of light] from His light surrounding [the void] from above to below [into the void], and it chained down descending into that void.... In the space of that void He emanated, created, formed and made all the worlds. (Etz Chaim, Arizal, Heichal A"K, anaf 2)

In Lurianic thought

Main article: Lurianic Kabbalah

Isaac Luria introduced three central themes into kabbalistic thought, Tzimtzum, Shevirat HaKelim (the shattering of the vessels), and Tikkun (repair). These three are a group of interrelated, and continuing, processes. Tzimtzum describes the first step in the process by which God began the process of creation by withdrawing his own essence from an area, creating an area in which creation could begin. Shevirat HaKelim describes how, after the Tzimtzum, God created the vessels (HaKelim) in the empty space, and how when God began to pour his Light into the vessels they were not strong enough to hold the power of God's Light and shattered (Shevirat). The third step, Tikkun, is the process of gathering together, and raising, the sparks of God's Light that were carried down with the shards of the shattered vessels.

Since Tzimtzum is connected to the concept of exile, and Tikkun is connected to the need to repair the problems of the world of human existence, Luria unites the cosmology of Kabbalah with the practice of Jewish ethics, and makes ethics and traditional Jewish religious observance the means by which God allows humans to complete and perfect the material world through living the precepts of a traditional Jewish life.

Inherent paradox

A commonly held  understanding in Kabbalah is that the concept of Tzimtzum contains a built-in paradox, requiring that God be simultaneously transcendent and immanent.

Rabbi Nachman of Breslav discusses this inherent paradox as follows:

Only in the future will it be possible to understand the Tzimtzum that brought the 'Empty Space' into being, for we have to say of it two contradictory things...  the Empty Space came about through the Tzimtzum, where, as it were, He 'limited' His Godliness and contracted it from there, and it is as though in that place there is no Godliness...  the absolute truth is that Godliness must nevertheless be present there, for certainly nothing can exist without His giving it life. (Likkutei Moharan I, 64:1)

This paradox is strengthened by reference to the closely related doctrine of divine simplicity, which holds that God is absolutely simple, containing no element of form or structure whatsoever. This gives rise to two difficulties. Firstly, according to this doctrine, it is impossible for God to shrink or expand (physically or metaphorically)—an obvious contradiction to the above. Secondly, according to this doctrine, if God's creative will is present, then He must be present in total—whereas the Tzimtzum, on the other hand, results in, and requires, a "partial Presence" as above.

The paradox has an additional aspect, in that the Tzimtzum results in a perception of the world being imperfect despite God's omniperfect Presence being everywhere. As a result, some Kabbalists saw the Tzimtzum as a cosmic illusion.

Chabad view

In Chabad Hassidism, on the other hand, the concept of Tzimtzum is understood as not meant to be interpreted literally, but rather to refer to the manner in which God impresses His presence upon the consciousness of finite reality: thus tzimtzum is not only seen as being a real process but is also seen as a doctrine that every person is able, and indeed required, to understand and meditate upon.

In the Chabad view, the function of the Tzimtzum was "to conceal from created beings the activating force within them, enabling them to exist as tangible entities, instead of being utterly nullified within their source". The tzimtzum produced the required "vacated space" (chalal panui חלל פנוי, chalal חלל), devoid of direct awareness of God's presence.

Here Chassidut sheds light on the concept of Tzimtzum via the analogy of a person and his speech. (The source of this analogy is essentially Genesis Chapter 1, where God "spoke" to create heaven and earth.):

In order to communicate, a person must put aside all that he knows, all his experiences, and all that he is, and say only one thing ("the contraction"). This is especially the case when we speak of an educator, whose level of mind and understanding is almost completely removed and incomparable to his student, that has to "find" an idea that is simple enough to convey to the student. However, when he goes through this process and now is choosing to express himself through this particular utterance, he has not in any way lost or forgotten all the knowledge of who he really is ("thus the contraction is not a literal contraction").

(Furthermore, the one who hears his words also has the full revelation of who that person is when he hears those words, though he may not realize it. If the listener understood the language and was sensitive enough, he would be able to pull out from those words everything there is to know about the person.)

So too, God chose to express Himself through this world with all of its limitations. However, this does not mean, as pantheism posits, that God is limited to this particular form, or that God has "forgotten" all He can do. He still "remembers what He really is", meaning that He remains always in His infinite essence, but is choosing to reveal only this particular aspect of Himself. The act of Tzimtzum is thus how God "puts aside" His infinite light, and allows for an "empty space", void of any indication of the Divine Presence. He then can reveal a limited finite aspect of his light (namely our imperfect, finite reality).

(As clarified before, if man were spiritually sensitive enough, we would be able to see how God is truly giving us a full revelation of His infinite self through the medium of this world. To a listener who does not understand the language being spoken, the letters are "empty" of any revelation of the person. In the analogue this means that the world looks to us to be "empty" of Godly revelation. Kaballah and Chassidus, however, teaches one how to meditate in order to be able to understand God's "language" so that one can see the Godly revelation in every aspect of creation.)

Therefore, no paradox exists. The finite Godly light that is immanent within the universe, constantly creating and vivifying it, is only a "faint glimmer of a glimmer of a glimmer" (Tanya, Iggeret HaKodesh, Chapter 20) of God's infinite, transcendent light that has been completely concealed by tzimtzum. (See also Dovber Schneuri, Ner Mitzva Vetorah Or, Kehot Publication Society. ISBN 0-8266-5496-7.)

Vilna Gaon's view

The Gaon held that tzimtzum was not literal, however, the "upper unity", the fact that the universe is only illusory, and that tzimtzum was only figurative, was not perceptible, or even really understandable, to those not fully initiated in the mysteries of Kabbalah.

The Leshem articulates this view clearly (and claims that not only is it the opinion of the Vilna Gaon, but also is the straightforward and simple reading of Luria and is the only true understanding).

He writes

I have also seen some very strange things in the words of some contemporary kabbalists who explain things deeply. They say that all of existence is only an illusion and appearance, and does not truly exist. This is to say that the ein sof didn’t change at all in itself and its necessary true existence and it is now still exactly the same as it was before creation, and there is no space empty of Him, as is known (see Nefesh Ha-Chaim Shaar 3). Therefore they said that in truth there is no reality to existence at all, and all the worlds are only an illusion and appearance, just as it says in the verse “in the hands of the prophets I will appear” (Hoshea 12: 11). They said that the world and humanity have no real existence, and their entire reality is only an appearance. We perceive ourselves as if we are in a world, and we perceive ourselves with our senses, and we perceive the world with our senses. It turns out [according to this opinion] that all of existence of humanity and the world is only a perception and not in true reality, for it is impossible for anything to exist in true reality, since He fills all the worlds…. How strange and bitter is it to say such a thing. Woe to us from such an opinion. They don’t think and they don’t see that with such opinions they are destroying the truth of the entire Torah….

However, the Gaon and the Leshem held that tzimtzum only took place in God's Will (Ratzon), but that it is impossible to say anything at all about God Himself (Atzmut). Thus, they did not actually believe in a literal Tzimtzum in God's Essence. Luria's Etz Chaim itself, however, in the First Shaar, is ambivalent: in one place it speaks of a literal tzimtzum in God's Essence and Self, then it changes a few lines later to a tzimtzum in the Divine Light (an emanated, hence created and not part of God's Self, energy).

Application in clinical psychology

An Israeli professor, Mordechai Rotenberg, believes the Kabbalistic-Hasidic tzimtzum paradigm has significant implications for clinical therapy. According to this paradigm, God's "self-contraction" to vacate space for the world serves as a model for human behavior and interaction. The tzimtzum model promotes a unique community-centric approach which contrasts starkly with the language of Western psychology.

In culture

In Yann Martel's novel Life of Pi and its 2012 film adaptation, the cargo ship whose sinking is the pivotal point of the plot is called theTsimtsum.

See also

Portal icon Kabbalah portal


  1. Jump up^ Rabbi Moshe Miller, The Great Constriction,
  2. Jump up^ Parshat Vayeitzei: Yalkut Shimoni on the verse "He arrived..." Also, alternate sages in Midrash Bereishit Rabbah 68:9. HaMakom article,
  3. Jump up^ James David Dunn, Windows of the Soul, p.21-24
  4. Jump up^ J.H. Laenen, Jewish Mysticism, p.168-169
  5. Jump up^ see for example Aryeh Kaplan, "Paradoxes" (in "The Aryeh Kaplan Reader", Artscroll 1983. ISBN 0-89906-174-5)
  6. Jump up^ Yosef Wineberg, Commentary on Tanya, Shaar Hayichud veHaEmunah [1]
  7. Jump up^ "Tzimtzum: Contraction". Retrieved 2013-12-08.
  8. Jump up^ Tanya, Shaar Hayichud veHaEmunah, ch.4
  9. Jump up^ E. J. Schochet, The Hasidic Movement and the Gaon of Vilna
  10. Jump up^ Allan Nadler, The Faith of the Mithnagdim
  11. Jump up^ Leshem Sh-vo ve-Achlama Sefer Ha-Deah drush olam hatohu chelek 1, drush 5, siman 7, section 8 (p. 57b)
  12. Jump up^ "Rotenberg Center for Jewish Psychology". Retrieved 2013-12-08.


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