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D'var Torah: A Mystic's Reality

06/05/2024 08:22:20 AM


Rabby Amy Sapowith

Mystics are those who sense another kind of universe is present within the very
fabric of the everyday world we live in. They sense that there is more to life than meets the eye. Though it may not be the usual way we operate in the world, it’s likely that many if not most of us have had some kind of mystical experience.

But what does this other world that mystics detect look like? How does it operate?
How do we access it? Kabbalah is the Jewish answer to these kinds of questions. It is the Jewish understanding revealed over the centuries, of this inner, underlying, all-pervasive, hidden, always present universe. It is the Teaching about the nature of the Divine and its Attributes and about the Jewish person’s and any person’s purpose: which is to experience the union or (reunion) with the Divine, and have this experience infuse and elevate our lives. The highest principle of this experience is the principle of cooperation. Others say the highest purpose is sharing.

Let’s revisit one version of the story that Kabbalah tells. Hold onto your heads, it’s
rather mind-blowing:

There was divine light and only divine light. They called it Ayn Sof, meaning without
end. With a desire to create, the Ayn Sof contracted, into itself in order to create space for creations. After this first contraction called tzimtzum of the Ayn Sof, a line of light flowed from the contracted Godhead into the newly created space and formed 10 sefirot, 10 vessels, that were distributed roughly in the shape of a human called Adam Kadmon—the primordial Adam.

In time, itself a new creation, most of these sefirot, these vessels that contained the
divine light shattered, in what is called the shevirat ha’kelim. The vessels were not strong enough to contain such pure light. This shattering had a role in differentiating parts of the cosmos. The seven sefirot or emanations that were furthest from the point of contraction broke apart and fell. The created space now had two parts, an upper and a lower part. The lower part is where we dwell. We are structured around the 10 sefirot, each a kind of divine portal linked to a divine spark, a replication of the cosmos. Our souls are broken vessels that we seek to make whole. When we perform mitzvot and practice tikkun olam, we are helping to repair the broken vessel within us.

In this way, we strengthen our own ability to hold and share divine light. That is our purpose. To hold and share divine light. But, we may ask, why did the Ayn Sof want to create in the first place? Was it like other gods in order to have a plaything? To have a world of creation that would adore it—loathe it or deny it? Was the Ayn Sof lonely? None of these answers satisfies. One thought from Isaac Luria, the 16 th century kabbalist of Sfat in the land of Israel, is that the Ayn Sof created in order to find harmony within itself. It’s a radical idea. The godhead, the Ayn Sof contained differentiated elements that were not in harmony within itself! The Ayn Sof before the world of creation was not in harmony within itself! The contraction (tzim tzum) that created space for creation was also meant to be a kind of distillation. For as Ayn
Sof contracted into itself, certain unintegrated elements remained, like water clinging to a bucket that has been emptied. These unintegrated elements were the seeds of the
sefirot—the different aspect of the divine that could manifest and be experienced--and
their purpose is to become integrated with one another, to make cooperative, all the
elements of the godhead. Ayn Sof, God, creates in order to better integrate its different

Each of the sefirot that manifest in our world and in us, contains its own
combination of energy that gives it its own dominant quality—like the quality of intuition, analysis, or initiative; of judgment, compassion, or balance; of acceptance, endurance or partnership with God.

This past week we were working on the sefirah of yesod: the foundation. It is the
sefirah of the covenant—the partnership with the Divine that we are born into or choose to join. The foundation for experiencing God and understanding our cosmic role is to accept and strengthen our partnership. On a personal level, the sefirah of yesod is the channel through which God’s goodness manifests, and which we experience as our eagerness to do the right thing. When we choose to respond constructively, we are part of the distillation and integration process. We help affect the integration in the godhead above and we strengthen our souls below so that we can hold and share more divine light. However, with free will that comes with God’s contraction, is the risk that we will not choose to be a partner and tikkun will never happen. Jewish traditions, rituals and study are meant to inspire and infuse us with the will of God. They too are windows into the mystic’s reality. As we continue to seek to do the right thing, to understand and fulfill our purpose in this great cosmos, we also strengthen our bonds of partnership with one another. For our covenant is not with God alone but also with the Jewish people and with the blessing of humanity. As we prepare to receive Torah on the holiday of Shavuot, either officially next Tuesday evening or this Friday with our confirmands, we say, hazak, hazak, v’nithazek! Be strong, be strong, and together we strengthen one another.


Sat, June 22 2024 16 Sivan 5784