Isaac Luria is the man responsible for the amazing account of the kabalistic thoughts and ideas that his disciples studied and became accustomed to. The Lurianic Kabbalah basically talks of the creation and its cosmic rectifications and by doing so; it also includes a recasting and fuller systemization of previous Kabbalistic teachings. The person that was chiefly responsible for the growing fame of the teachings of Luria was a man called Rabbi Hayyim Vital. He said that he was the main translator of the Lurianic teachings even though he encountered a lot of opposition to that. When all the teachings of Luria are combined, they are known as “Kitvei HaARI” or in simple terms the writings of the ARI.
Former interpretations of the Zohar had culminated in the rationally influenced full synthesis of the Moshe Cordovero in Safed just before Isaac Luria. In both schools, the Kabbalah was given a theological development in order to counter the Jewish philosophy that was in existence then. With the esoteric mystical renaissance in the 16th century having much power, Lurianism became very popular and was a universal mainstream Jewish theology in the early modern era.
However as time went by, the Lurianic interpretation of the Zohar which was viewed as more harmonious with the Cordoveran replaced it and hence became the foundation for developments that took place in Jewish mysticism. Later on there were two movements mainly the Hasidic and Mitnagdic which developed divergent ideas over the interpretation of the Lurianic Kabbalah and its main role in mysticism.
Cosmic Exile and Repair in Divinity
The main aspect of Luria’s system in the theoretical Kabbalah is his rebranding of the former, static hierarchy of unfolding divine levels, into something that is more radical cosmic spiritual drama of exile and salvation. It is because of this that there arose two notable versions of the theoretical Kabbalah which are mainly the Zoharic and the Lurianic.
Partzufim – Divine Personas
In the Lurianic plan, the medieval- Cordoverian ten separate Sephirot features get changed into intermediary agents in creation which are referred to as partzufim. Some of the names that are mentioned here include Atik Yomin, Arikh Anpin and also Zeir Anpin. They are divine features of the revelation of the Godhead or alternative features that God uses to reveal himself.
Contraction, Vacuum and Ray
Isaac Luria spoke of the doctrine of Tzimtzum, self (state of being hidden) of divinity to bring together the infinite God with finite creation. As the former Kabbalah taught, before creation of any spiritual or physical sphere, the Ein Sof (eternal) filled all spheres. In its infinite unity, nothing could exist, because everything would be obliterated into a state of absence within the Ein Sof. Both the medieval and Cordoverian Kabbalah believed that the Ein Sof emerged out of their hidden unity to direct the divine essence of creation of the worlds. The difficulties of the finite world coming from the infinite was dealt with through a lot of tzimtzim hidings, contractions and coverings of divine abundance to decrease it to amounts that could be contained by what was made.
According to Isaac Luria, the static, hierarchical revelation of unfolding did not completely deal with the problem. He therefore held to the opinion that initial primordial tzimtzim in which the divine folded back to form a vacuum; which is metaphorically absent of spatial connotations. This is because spatial spheres only emerge in the physical realms. This newly found idea enabled a significant progress between the infinite source and the first revelation of light after the tzimtzim. While this was still infinite, it could now be easily adopted for creation and thus it was able to produce finite worlds through the second progressive tzimtzim stages.
When creation was made up, the hidden potential Sephirot attributes had to be revealed in their perfect state and that is why the initial radical tzimtzim was crucial. The Ein Sof retreated back to God’s own nature, the divine removed His infinity. As the Godhead included both the finite and infinite, the removal allowed the formerly hidden, potentially finite light inside God to be revealed. In the middle of the ‘removal’ a void surrounded by ten round shapes (kelim) appeared.
It is also important to add that the infinite light did not fully desert the middle but rather a small ray of light called the Kav moved across the round shapes and went through into the center.
Chaos and the Shattering of Vessels
The three outer round shapes were able to contain the light because they were free of any interruptions as a result of being close to the Ein Sof but the inner six shapes were not able to contain the light and thus they exploded. It is for that reason that a need to remove them from the concentration of light arose. Because of that, the Sefirot were changed to become figures called parzufim.
If God would have made these features instead of the sefirot, then there would be no wickedness in the world and thus there would be no need for vengeance or reward. The genesis of wickedness is traced back to the vessels that were broken or (Shvirat Keilim) and on the contrary the light of the Ein Sof only emits that which is good. These figures are found in all the four spheres which are basically the sphere of Emanation (atzilut), the sphere of Creation (beri’ah), the sphere Formation (yetzirah), and the sphere of Action (asiyah) which is the material world.
Isaac Luria’s psychological system that is his main source of devotional and meditational Kabbalah is closely related to the metaphysical teachings. He goes on to say that from the five figures mentioned above, proceeded five souls one of them being (Spirit) or nefesh, the second one was (wind) or n other words Ru’ach, the third on the list was known as Neshamah or (soul), Chayah or (life) was the fourth and Yechidah or (singular) was the fifth. The nefesh is the lowest while the Yechida is the highest. A Man’s soul is the main cord that joins the infinite to the finite and because of that, it is of many characters. All the souls that would be alive in the human race were created together with the varied organs of Adam.
It is therefore true that as there are superior and inferior organs, so are the souls also. There are therefore different souls including; souls of the brain, souls of the eye, souls of the hand and so on. Every soul is a spark (nitzotz) that comes from Adam. It is the first sin of Adam that brought about the mix up of the various classes of souls and as a result the superior was mixed up with the inferior or good with evil. Therefore even the cleanest of souls became contaminated with evil (kelipoth) as Luria would call it. This mix up will stop when the Messiah sets up a morally upright system.
Gilgul – Reincarnation of the Soul
Unless the messiah comes, the soul of man cannot return to its original source because of the multiple shortcomings that it has. It is because of that reason that the souls of men have to roam through the ‘tents’ or bodies of men and of animals and also through other things. Luria also taught about a theory of incarnation. In this theory, if a soul had failed to accomplish its earthly responsibilities, then it had to return back to the earth and find somewhere to stick itself or the soul of a living man in order to fulfill its responsibilities that it had failed to accomplish.
In other instances, the dead soul of a man that has been freed from sin can appear on earth to help one that may be feeling weak or discouraged from performing its work. It is also important to add that the union of such souls is only possible between souls that are homogeneous in character. What that means is that the union can only take place between souls that belong to the same Adamite organ.
In Lurianic Kabbalah, there are several symbols that can be used to identify the nature of a man’s soul with regard to the degree and class that it falls in. This is also true for the relation that may be in existence between it and the superior world, the roaming it has already experienced and the means through which it can help in building of a new world that is morally upright.
Contemporary Traditional Lurianism
The study of the Kitvei Ha’Ari or writings of the disciples of Luria continue presently among traditional Kabbalistic groups and in some parts of the Hasidic movement.
The two sections of the Hasidic-Mitnagdic schism endorsed the theological opinion of the Lurianic Kabbalah. It is a misunderstanding to view the Rabbinic as contrary to Hasidic Judaism in its past origin as deriving from adherence to rationalist medieval Jewish philosophical techniques.
The head of the opposing side to the mystical Hasidic rise was closely associated with the Kabbalah following Lurianic theory. The head was a man called Vilna Gaon. Because of that, he was able to accomplish very Kabbalistic writings while at the same time scrutinizing medieval Jewish Rationalism. One of the followers of Vilna Gaon, a man called Chaim Volozhin differed from Hasidism over the translation of the Lurianic tzimtzim. The Hasidism insisted on the immanence of God while the Mitnagdic Judaism was inclined to transcendent tzimtzim.
Hasidism, the biggest scale Jewish development was based on the Lurianic teaching although it incorporated Kabbalah to its own thought. Joseph Dan once described the Hasidic-Mitnagdic Schism as a battle between two ideas of the Lurianic Kabbalah.