Reprinted from The Jewish Religion: A Companion, published by Oxford University Press.
Holy Sparks are the spiritual illuminations inherent in all things. The doctrine, as found in the kabbalistic system of Isaac Luria, the Ari, runs that when the light of Ein Sof, the Limitless Ground of Being, poured into the vessels which were to receive this light in order to produce the sefirot, the powers or potencies in the Godhead, the light was too strong to become limited in the vessels of the seven lower sefirot, those at a greater distance, so to speak, from the infinite light of Ein Sof.
As a result, there took place the “breaking of the vessels.” When the vessels were broken, the lights returned to their source; but not all the lights returned. “Sparks” of the lights remained, adhering to the broken shards in order to keep them in being.
The Sparks Spill Over
The sefirot were reconstituted after the breaking of the vessels, reinforced so that they could contain the light, using in the process the further light that streamed forth but also the holy sparks in the broken shards. This restoration resulted in an overspill of the light in the highest of the four worlds, the World of Emanation.
From this overspill the World of Creation was constituted but here, too, there was an overspill and this constituted the World of Formation and here again there was an overspill to constitute the lowest world of the four, the World of Action. The idea behind all this is that fewer sparks are required for the formation of the worlds as they descend; less energy is required to keep lower worlds in existence, so that as the sparks flash out those which are redundant so far as that world is concerned spill over to create the next, lower world.
The Kelipot or Evil
There is a further overspill from the World of Action and it is this which nourishes the kelipot, the “shells” or “husks,” the demonic forces which feed on the sacred realms while attacking them. In this way the effect of the breaking of the vessels results in holy sparks being imprisoned among the kelipot. It is the human task to reclaim these sparks for the holy and by so doing to assist the fallen worlds to be restored to their former harmony. The reclaiming of the holy sparks from the kelipot is achieved by rejecting evil, that is, by obeying the negative precepts of the Torah.
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