Tikkun in Lurianic Kabbalah

In contemporary parlance, tikkun olam refers to repairing the earthly world in which we live but in Luria's teachings, complete tikkun would undo the world we know.

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It was his project to finalize the restorative process through contemplative exercises. He was capable of doing, so as he was a perfect microcosm of Adam Qadmon. Through his mystical activities, Adam could have separated the sparks from their demonic shells, thus reestablishing the primordial unity of all things.

Having purged the realm of holiness of the final vestiges of dross, the qelipot would have sunk beneath the lowest spiritual worlds and lost all their power. The cosmos would have achieved the original state of perpetual communion with the divine light, and the historical process as we know it would have ended.

None of this came about, however, due to Adam's sin. His transgression interrupted his own communion with the upper spheres and brought about his attachment to the lower worlds. Moreover, the processes of tikkun which had already taken place were reversed, the "worlds" which had begun to rise and to return to their proper position once again fell below. Good and evil were again thoroughly mixed in with each other. Humanity and all reality in the lower world of Asiyah became materialized. And the sin of Adam caused the sparks of all human souls that had been contained within his own to fall and become imprisoned as well within the qelipot.

Tikkun: Gathering Light and Souls

Tikkun, therefore, entails two separate but related processes. First, it means the gathering of the divine lights that had fallen into the realm of the qelipot as a result of the "breaking of the vessels." Second, it means the gathering of all the holy souls likewise imprisoned in the qelipot.

Tikkun is to be achieved by human beings through their contemplative action. Every religious act requires contemplative concentration on the various dimensions of divinity and the various combinations of the divine name in order to "raise up the fallen sparks." The focus of concentration is the inner dynamics of reorganization and restructuring that takes place in the course of acts of devotional piety.

The kinds of activities by which the kabbalist seeks to accomplish these goals include a) liturgical prayer; b) the performance of all other mitzvot; and c) the practice of certain special exercises, such as those known as yihudim ["unifications", that is, of the Godhead]. The same general contemplative idea characterizes each of these types of activity, and [16th- and 17th-century author of the kabbalistic work The Tree of Life] Hayyim Vital's versions of Luria's teachings spell out the proper mystical intentions (kavvanot) in great detail.

Some General Conclusions

On the basis of the above account, several general observations pertinent to the present study may be made.

1) The condition of disarray in which the cosmos finds itself, according to Lurianic Kabbalah, is a result of two different catastrophic "falls," one of an intra-divine nature, prior to and independent of human behavior, the other a consequence of human sin.

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Dr. Lawrence Fine

Lawrence Fine, Ph.D., teaches Jewish studies at Mount Holyoke College. He is the author of Safed Spirituality (Paulist Press) and Physician of the Soul, Healer of the Cosmos: Isaac Luria and His Kabbalistic Fellowship (Stanford University Press).