Kabbalah Explained




Part One

You should want all that is yours, seeking and obtaining it, overcoming every obstacle. You should not want more than is yours, because that is covetousness and injustice. You should not want less than is yours because that is injustice and neglect.

This teaching is important. It stands at the center of Lurian Kabbalah and is the furthest remove from self-interest as commonly practiced. What is actually being pointed toward in these principles is the doctrine of hidden, holy sparks (photons of creative energy), which lie embedded in material substances. Here also is the conviction that families of persons, creatures, places and even objects share a purposeful affinity that only they, in their unique particulars, can accomplish for the improvement or elevation of the great chain of being.

In Kabbalah, it is taught that certain souls derive from certain roots, certain other souls from yet other roots, and so on. These roots are the pure or combined forms of divine attributes, as expressed through the sefirot or spheres of Godhead’s emanations, flowing out from the condition of unific being, as Ein Sof, the Infinite, unto the revealed personhood of Yahweh (One Who Is Here Among Us). There are ten of these generative attributes: supreme crown or point of complete integration, wisdom, intelligence, love, power, also called judgment, beauty, endurance, also called stability, majesty, foundation, called righteousness, and kingdom, or point of correspondence between worlds above and worlds below. The attributes are reputed to show up as guiding characteristics in individuals, especially as the individuals awaken to their authentic identities and apprehend the implications of identity or character as destiny.

Another way that this process of differentiation and relatedness is expressed is through the image of the Tree of Life, where souls form clusters like blossoms on the branches. When it is time for various souls to descend onto the plane of earthly existence, the divine breath rushes over the primeval tree and shakes loose the souls whose season has come.

Souls from every single cluster are scattered into various locales, where there are imprisoned sparks awaiting their specific arrivals. These sparks are in the food people will eat, the places they will inhabit, journey through, work at; in the clothes they will make and wear, the utensils they will use. The sparks are there for the purpose of sustaining the souls during their earth time. It is the job of persons to use these material congelations of energy properly, so as to liberate the holiness hidden within them. The tradition thus offers a cogent foundation for ecological responsibility. By proper use, we should understand the restoration and elevation into authentic purpose, rather than the degradation and obstruction, the waylaying, of that and those with which and with whom we can dialogically interact. We are, to speak honestly, bound to acknowledge the transformative dialogs of things to the body, glances from eye to eye, soul to soul, knowledge of the senses and spiritual initiation, as well as the dialogs of speech and the written language.

Moreover, not all souls from a single cluster or affinity group reach the earth at one and the same time (this temporal disparity being the source of generational interlacement). Some blossoms are simply riper than others. Some are shaken loose at the first stirring of divine breath, while kindred detach as the last puff of that mysterious wind passes over their heavenly abode, filling the Tree of Life with animating, ambrosial perfume. Here let us ask: In the organization of spiritual units, families of purpose, does God discriminate by race or nationality-especially now, now that the Earth is experienced by even us as one living whole?

Accompanying the liberation of hidden sparks, the chief task of the living is to seek out and interact with those who are also their own. It is within the life experience for those who need one another in deep ways to meet. And these two labors of devotion are the effective means for actualizing tikkun olam (the mending or restoration of our world), which is also a world revolution, ending exile in confusion and malice, and ushering in an age of integrity, responsibility, and peace. What would such an age be, other than the addressing of authentic human need and a gentle honesty attuned to the greater rhythms, the breathing musicality, of diversified creation?

Yet, as we live, we subject and are subject to countless abuses. Nearly everybody and everything is somewhat out of place and vulnerable to falling into a negative existence. Socially, we are given destructive options more readily than creative ones. Too many of our associations, and hence of our experiences, are based on economic aggrandizement, ego inflation, and disintegrate gratifications. We participate in a culture of stimulation for stimulation’s sake; a culture of distraction form purpose. Ecstasy, so natural to our species, wisdom questing, so necessary for balance, rituals of initiation and ceremonies of renewal, are denied, corrupted, or belittled. Therefore, contributing to correcting these dislocations, with all of their wasteful sufferings, requires that we develop sensitivity in service to receiving and responding to the messages of life. This means recovering our deep intelligence, our primitive sanity, our integrity of perception, depth-vested instinct and response-ability.

Moreover, this most important work of enlightened perception and pursuit; without which we are never making any substantial progress toward an individual or world-historical improvement; demands that we stay mindful of the reality that every being presents the possibility of the dialogical meeting (at least for someone, if not for us). And these possibilities are not subjectively determined, but are between subjects, out, on the open pathways, where the Shekhinah (the female hypostasis or Indwelling Presence of God) wanders with her hungry and hunting children.

These paths, or ways of meeting, can also be understood through the following parable. Whenever two people come together in genuine openness, each brings to their communion the light of his or her identity. When this coming together is the meeting of life-changing dialog, the result is the emergence of a third, powerful light, which afterward accompanies both persons wherever they may go. This light is the light of mutuality, of which it is written in the Tanakh, the Hebrew Bible: “And God saw that this was good.”

Once we decide to set out on the way of dialog, we leave violence behind, giving up the will to violate and becoming cognizant of the truth that to deform or destroy life unjustifiably is to wrench yet another segment of the universe out of joint. This disjointing will only perpetuate the exile with which we are all afflicted.

The guiding principle for the above teaching, then, is this: The mystical translates into the existential; restoration is realized out of necessity, not fantasy or caprice. Addressing the real needs of living beings, as participants in the progression toward democratized redemption, is the touchstone of the transcendent carrying over into the everyday.

Ingatherings of appropriate togetherness and healing interactions emerge, endure, through the hard-won illumination of the mundane, not out of some esoteric and hermetic speculation abstracted outside of ordinary life. It is not only the soul, as an interior qualification, but the context of the interhuman also requires tikkunim (the little mendings, the sweet miracles, of the great ordinary).

Part Two

The straight lines of history run into dead ends and confusions and call back warnings of disaster and affliction, that in the linear mind are never registered, or are repeatedly ignored.

The circle is an image of eternity-the space between, where dialogics engage in communication for change and meet the contemporary eternal: a mirror of the world to come. The apple at its core contains the seed of apple tomorrows, where fragrance and blossom and fruit will again grace the earth. The circle is a symbol of meeting and meeting is an event.

The circle is reflected in the pattern of the year. The circle is the creation and signifies revelation, redemption and the forces of love and joy. The address is a circle of speech and reception. And life is a spiral, searching up and down: as the breath, the tree boughs and tree roots, the seed, the flower and the euphoric, creation enraptured eye Cherry reflects apple and calls him her brother for the shapes they share.

Last in noting, although first in importance, there is the circle of teshuvah, a circle of which Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik has written: “Teshuvah, turning back to God, signifies a circular motion. When one finds oneself on the circumference of a large circle, it sometimes seems that the starting point is becoming farther and farther away, but actually it is getting closer and closer.

“This is the secret of teshuvah… The circle may be very large, it may have an immense radius, but those who follow its path always move in a circular direction.” *
Circle, spiral, concentric circles (circle within a circle, within the circle, and so on), these point us toward the center of wonder: a circle hidden in its infinity, spiraling downward without losing its generative form.

On this spiral, like a soft, curling ribbon of silken light, are the Great Names that sustain creation. Last of the Names is Shalom, which is Peace. Through Peace shines the Greater Name, Hayim, which is Life.

Peace makes the showing of the Life Name possible. Through Peace, it can be seen. Being becomes more fully its own articulation. The astonishing diversity of elements, creatures, cultures; the all-too-much of everywhere that surrounds and summons, beckons and caresses us; informs the senses, fibers, the nerves, of human consciousness.

The performing artist, musician, poet, thinker, any person wrestling with the angel of belief; any person who aspires to be m’aggel, a circle drawer; is obligated, as never before, to insist that their presence be recognized. It is not so much that what any of us might intend, or even accomplish, is so right, or even mostly right, for existence in the grip of apocalyptic execution, but that we, by being who we are, here and now, might stand for what it means to be human. Our presence in itself testifies to this and needs for us to make it just so. The artist, the spiritual pioneer, the person of soul-deep struggles, the healer, can insist because each one can become an example of the ever recurrent and the freshly possible.

Kabbalah, on this planet of ecological and deontological crises, is now the inheritance of circle drawers; of awakened dreamers who will seize the real in the name of the “and yet…” and transform the given through the restorative magic of mutuality. This mutuality is not anything more or less than the increased light mentioned above, which is brought forth out of people uniting, in a spirit of balance and love, of the search for justice, sustained sufficiency, and planetary peace.

Finally, what we can look for and hope for from each other, and for one another, is a democracy of experience which accepts responsibility for the human role in the whole drama of deliverance-deliverance which may not be a deliverance from death, but certainly can be a deliverance from ignorance, violence and greed, and a deliverance into courage, humility, and compassion.

* ON REPENTANCE, Rabbi Joseph Dov Soloveitchik, compiled and translated from oral discourses by Pinchas H. Peli (Paulist Press, 1984).

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