Available across Europe by the 1650s, the Lurianic Kabbalah was prescient to the age and Spinoza would undoubtedly have had access to Isaac Luria’s teachings.
Rav Isaac Luria took his followers on a metaphorical journey of Platonic, Eleusian divine light, creation and fall, that left mankind with a neo-chivalric quest for redemption and return to divine perfection. This was ‘secret’ knowledge, a gnosticism refashioned to serve the needs of exiled Marrano-Jews and, through Spinoza, it entered the world as the rationalism of the Enlightenment. Pause to consider this. Enlightenment rationalism was founded upon kabbalistic mysticism.
The critical Lurianic metaphor was Tzimtzum, an inward movement by which the Godhead abandoned a space in order to create an ‘empty’ region.
Before the contraction, a higher light filled everything. It had nothing in it of beginning or end but was all one equally distributed light, known as Ein Sof (infinity or unending). This was the only Substance, the great preconception, the hypostasis from which the movement described by Lurianic Kabbalah unfolded.
An illuminating ray from Ein Sof entered the abandoned space providing a permanent link with the spacial region in which all the dimensions of existence were to unfold.
The form of the divine produced by this first ray of light was Adam Qadmon or Primordial Man. The light issuing from his eyes was atomised into sefirot (meaning emanations) and needed containment in special vessels or qelim.
The sublime intensity of the light would not be contained, leading to a spiritual shattering of Divinity in a definitive catastrophe known as Shevirat HaKeilim - ‘The Shattering of the Vessels’.
As well as being the source of evil, the broken shards, or qelipot (metaphorical shells surrounding holiness) were also the basis for the material world. Sparks of divine light remained trapped among the qelipot. The qelipot, in turn, were 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.
The challenge was to determine how to mend the injury suffered by the Godhead. Tikkun refers to the processes by which restoration and repair were to be accomplished. This had been Adam’s task, but original sin caused the sparks of all the human souls that had been contained within his own to fall and become imprisoned within them too. This was the metaphorical explication of our material world of differentiation and individuation.
Tikkun therefore entails two separate but related processes presented metaphorically. Firstly, it means the gathering of the divine lights that had fallen into the realm of the qelipot as a result of the ‘shattering of the vessels’. Secondly, it means the gathering of all the holy souls likewise imprisoned in the qelipot.
Complete tikkun would undo the material, differentiated and individuated world we know.
The Lurianic project of human life is to separate the holy from the material world, and thus divest that world of all existence. Remember, the qelipot are constantly nourished and strengthened by the holy sparks attached to them. Cut off the source of divine sustenance and the quelpot wither away.
All existence would then return to the original perfection of Ein Sof, the great preconception, in the reassertion of the totality of the original divine substance. Being would be Ein Sof, total and undifferentiated. All would be hypostasis.
Tikkun would mean the de-centring of the subject, ultimately the suicide of the self.
© John Dunn.