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Studies in Sabbatian Kabbalah:

Isaac Luria's "ZimZum"

Prof. Evgueni Tortchinov

The Lurianic Kabbalah (based on the Zohar and personal insights of R. Isaac Luria Ashkenazi of Zfat/Safed School of Kabbalah) teaches that the hidden transcendent Absolute, Deus Absconditus (En-Sof, Unlimited, or En-Sof 'Or -- Unlimited Light) had to contract Itself to produce the place for the creation. If En-Sof is everything, if It is unlimited and endless, here there is no "space" for the created universe. Therefore En-Sof, or Unlimited Light contracted from the center to "empty" place for the world.

The technical term for this contraction is "zimzum" (tzimtzum). There were different interpretations of zimzum from literal and mythological (mytho-poeic) to the philosophical (the last approach was represented first of all by Italian Kabbalist Israel Sarug and his disciple Azariah Fano). And, as you have known from Prof. Avraham Elqayam's post, some Kabbalists (Moshe Hayim Luzatto) interpreted zimzum as God's self-limitation for the benefit of the creation). It is interesting that Nathan of Gaza in his "Book on Creation" (Sefer ha-Beriy'ah -- see Prof. Avraham Elqayam extremely useful study on:external link ) taught about the existence of some duality or even contradiction in the Divine Will: wish to contract and to create (thought-some lights) and wish to be in eternal state of the hidden mystery without any contraction or creation (thought-less lights).

What was the cause of the contraction? Certainly, Divine Will which is completely immanent to Absolute like crown to the sun or heat to fire.  This eternal Will (ratzon, hefetz) is the first appearance of the Absolute which can be understood as Sefirah Keter (Crown). But Nathan Gazati suppose the existence of some contradictions in this Will.  After the contraction there appeared a void of non-being in the place of contraction. This voidness is called "tehiru". But there existed some "remnants", or "traces" of the Absolute Light in this Voidness -- the so-called reshimu which became the "material" substrate (kelim -- vessels) for the creation. Then En-Sof projects straight ray of light into the abyss of tehiru, and the process of the creation thus obtained its beginning.In the Kabbalah of Nathan of Gaza the thought-less lights which were opposed to the very idea of creation and took the will of the thought-some lights as the revolt agains En-Sof, were at the beginnig of the process of creation cut from their source in En-Sof and isolated in the lowest part of the tehiru -- "pit of the serpents".

It is very interesting that the very creation put the beginnig to the existential gap, to the crack, or ravine of the being as such. The creation has been put by the Absolute outside Itself, and for the appearance of this "outside" the Absolute had to limit Itself, had to create borders for Its own borderless nature.

What was a cause of the contraction? The first answer, certainly, is the nature of the Divine Will itself which eternally strove to the unfolding of the hidden mystery of En-Sof. But Prof. Gerschom Sholem has pointed another foundation for the initiating of the cosmogenic process. It was the wish of En-Sof to liberate Itself from the potentially presented in Its nature roots of evil understood as the roots of the power of Stern Judgement.

These roots had to be objectivied, to be manifested so that it became possible to emancipate from them in this or that way. The Absolute had to became conscious of those roots to liberate from them. And the very process of creation as that of ordering, limitation and bordering is the process of the objectivisation of the roots of the Stern Judgement. Thus understood, the process of creation became something like the universal seance, or session of the psychoanalysis of the Absolute.  And such an interpretation explains also the motives of the "serpents'" (thought-less lights') protest against the creation: the process of creation by its own nature is the process of puting into existence the powers of Stern Judgement with the potential danger of their transformation into the powers of evil.

Therefore the possibility of the "scatterig/breaking of the vessels" (shevirat ha-kelim) was hidden in the very nature of the way of creation as such.

external linkEvgeny Torchinov



from a  post to the  Donmeh West mail list
Sunday, 31 Jan 1999

an ascii formatted version of this text can be found on Eylon Israeli's Donmeh site
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page uploaded 8 February 1999