Tikkun ha-Olam: The Restoration of the World
By Sanford Drob, 2001
The symbol of Tikkun ha-Olam embodies the most distinctively Jewish, as well as the the single most important ethical injunction of the Kabbalah: the command that humanity must restore and redeem a broken and fallen world (see Shevirat ha-Kelim). As articulated by Isaac Luria in 16th century Safed, Tikkun is a symbol with both metaphysical and theological implications. Luria and his disciples understood every event in the created universe, indeed the very act of creation itself to be an introduction and prelude to Tikkun ha-Olam. For them it is only as a result of the world’s restoration that both cosmos and God can be said to be complete.
A wide array of Kabbalistic symbols informs the Lurianic understanding of Tikkun ha-Olam. Each of these play a pivotal role in Lurianic thought, and each provide us with insight into the conduct of a meaningful and ethical life.
The Unification of God and His Shekhina: An erotic union between the masculine and feminine aspects of God is an important Kabbalistic symbol which predates and was incorporated into the Lurianic symbol of Tikkun. The Zohar holds that God’s feminine aspect is exiled on earth as the “Shekhinah” and that she must be reunited with “The Holy One Blessed Be He.” The unity between the masculine and feminine aspects of the godhead was broken by the sins of mankind, and the exile of the Jewish people, and is maintained by the “Other Side”. Through the observance of the mitzvot and divine worship, humankind is able to reestablish the union between God and His Shekhina, symbolized as the union between the Sefirot Tiferet and Malchuth. [Tiferet is the union.]
The unification of divine masculine and feminine aspects of the godhead can be understood as symbolic of the blending of the opposites, which, according to the Kabbalists, is part of the perfection and harmony of the universe. In psychological terms it can be understood as the reunification of the feminine and masculine aspects of a divided self.
The Trees of Life and Knowledge: According to Midrash HaNeelam in the Zohar, the Sefirot were revealed to Adam in the form of the twin trees of Life and Knowledge. Through his sin, Adam separated these trees, thus placing a division between life and knowledge. This division resulted in a fissure within both God and the world, and prompted Adam to worship the tenth Sefirah (the Shekhina, God’s manifestation on earth) without recognizing its unity with higher, more spiritual forms. By worshipping the Shekhina, Adam became attached to the temporal, material world, represented by the Tree of Knowledge (of good and evil), and ignored the “Tree of Life” (the sefirotic values embodied in the Torah).
The goal of Tikkun ha-Olam is to heal the fissure between life and knowledge. Through observance of divine commandments, the individual reattaches himself to the Sefirot (Godly values) and hence effects a reunification between “knowledge” and “life.”
The Transition from Exile to Redemption is an important metaphor for Tikkun ha-Olam. The exile of Adam and Eve from the garden of Eden, the exile of the Jewish people in Egypt, Babylonia and later throughout the world, were understood by Luria and his followers as manifestations a cosmic process.
At various points in history (the sinaitic revelation being the most prominent among them) the Jewish people had an opportunity to complete Tikkun ha-Olam, however, on each of these occasions the Jewish people chose to align themselves with the Other Side and failed in their mission. Currently, the purpose of the Jewish diaspora is for Jews to collect sparks from all over the world. When this occurs, both historical and cosmic exile will be overcome, Zion will be restored, and the evil Kelippot eliminated.
The Mitigation of Judgment by Kindness: The development of the world is understood by the Lurianists and other Kabbalists as a dialectical blending of opposites. One opposition, which plays a critical role in the Lurianic conception of Tikkun ha-Olam, the moral dichotomy between Chesed (Kindness) [Mercy] and Din (Judgment) [Geburah] was singled out by the Kabbalists for special consideration.
According to the Zohar, earlier worlds were destroyed because the aspect of severe judgment within them was not mitigated by kindness and beneficence. The temperance of judgment by kindness (and vice versa) is the foundation of the Sefirah Rachamim (Mercy, Compassion) which the Kabbalists came to equate with Emeth, “Truth.” The pursuit of a balance between Kindness and Judgment (a balance which according to Cordovero must be weighted slightly in the direction of kindness), is a critical aspect of Tikkun ha-Olam.
The Raising of the Sparks (Netzotzim): The symbol of a divine spark encased in earthly matter is an ancient Gnostic symbol, which takes on new life in the Kabbalah of seventeenth century Safed. In the Gnostic version, a spark of divinity is entrapped in an alien and evil world, and imprisoned in the soul of man. According to the Gnostics, the individual’s knowledge (Gnosis) of the spark within himself results in its being liberated from this world, and the Gnostic adherent abandons both body and self to join the infinite pleroma.
In contradistinction to the Gnostics, Luria held that when the spark of divine light is freed, the world is reintegrated and restored, rather than escaped and discarded. According to the Hasidim it is the individual’s divinely appointed task to not only liberate those sparks that are entrapped in Kelippot within his own body and soul, but also those sparks in the world that he or she encounters along life’s way.
Through proper ethical and spiritual conduct the individual is able to free the holy sparks from the Kelippot which contain them, enabling the exiled divine light to return to its source, thus promoting the completion of Tikkun ha-Olam. The “raising of the sparks” implies that there is something of spiritual value in all things, and it is man’s daily task to discover and bring out the value in the material world, thereby transforming that world into a spiritual realm. Tikkun ha-Olam will only be complete when the last spark has been raised and the entire world informed with spiritual meaning and value.
Source: New Kabbalah.com
Tikkun Olam: The Spiritual Purpose of Life
From Joseph Naft
Isaac Luria, the renowned sixteenth century Kabbalist, used the phrase “tikkun olam,” usually translated as repairing the world, to encapsulate the true role of humanity in the ongoing evolution and spiritualization of the cosmos. Luria taught that God created the world by forming vessels of light to hold the Divine Light. But as God poured the Light into the vessels, they catastrophically shattered, tumbling down toward the realm of matter. Thus, our world consists of countless shards of the original vessels entrapping sparks of the Divine Light. Humanity’s great task involves helping God by freeing and reuniting the scattered Light, raising the sparks back to Divinity and restoring the broken world.
We meet similar concepts in other religions. Christ promised to return with the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven and exhorted people to prepare through love, wakefulness, and charity. In Buddhism, the Bodhisattva vows to forgo final liberation until all beings have been freed from suffering. The Gnostics held that a spark of Divinity resides entrapped within the soul of humans.
Tikkun olam encompasses both the outer and the inner, both service to society by helping those in need and service to the Divine by liberating the spark within. As we are, the Divine spark lies hidden beneath our layers of egoistic self-centeredness. That spark is our conscience, through which the promptings of the Divine Will flow toward us. By pursuing spiritual inner work to strengthen our soul and purify our heart, we grow more able to bear that spark without shattering, more willing to act on what we know to be right, less willing to act in harmful or grasping ways, and more able to notice the quiet presence of conscience beneath the din of our chattering minds and reactive emotions.
The work of transformation, of building a soul creates a proper vessel for the Divine spark, for our unique share of the Divine Will, returning that spark to the service of the One Who made it. By working to perfect ourselves, perfect our soul, and serve society, we each contribute in our own unique way to the perfecting of the world. This is our duty and our calling as human beings.
To contemplate and enter the process of tikkun olam, repairing or perfecting the world, we need to understand the concept of world. All the major religious traditions present a hierarchy of worlds or levels of being, from the one we ordinarily inhabit to the ultimate world of Divinity.
In Kabbalah, for example, the worlds include Asiyah or Action, Yetzirah or Formation, Beriyah or Creation, and Atzilut or Emanation. Beyond and permeating all these is the Ein Sof, the One God, the Boundless and Unconditioned. Each of the worlds corresponds to a progressively higher level of spiritual energy and will, and the related level of soul.
The world of Action utilizes the sensitive energy, from which the nefesh soul forms. The world of Formation is built on the conscious energy, the basis of awareness, from which the ruach forms. The world of Creation and Light works with the creative energy, from which the neshama forms. The world of Emanation and Divine Presence brings the high energy of love, from which the chaya forms. And corresponding to the ultimate Ein Sof, touching the yechida soul, we have the transcendent energy.
The basic principle of Kabbalah is that the seeker pursues spiritual practice to transform his or her being and rise through the levels of worlds, to bring his or her own will back to the Divine will, while opening a way for the higher energies to flow down to this world, and thereby advancing the great process of tikkun olam.
For millennia Kabbalists have sought to serve this process, for example by meditating on and opening to the higher energy, the Divine Light, the Light of the Shechina above their head. They allow the Light to spread through them as if sitting in its midst and draw the Light down for the Earth, for life, for their own soul. The possibility of opening to the Divine Light stands within reach of us all, if we are prepared to do the necessary inner work.
For those who can, yet another possibility presents itself, one discussed by Luria’s chief disciple Chaim Vital. With a pure heart and a quiet mind, the person enters contact with the Divine Light and raises the Light up to the Ein Sof, offering the Light to the One God in a sacred act of service wholly hidden in the higher worlds. Only then does the person open the channel for the Light to flow down through his or her soul into our world.
Tikkun olam places our spiritual practice at the heart of the epic, unfolding history of the universe: the evolution and spiritualization of the whole of creation. With each small act of kindness, with each moment of presence and practice, with each effort to see, cleanse, and integrate our inner life, with each heartfelt prayer opening to the higher energies and the higher will, we build the new world and serve the Divine Architect of meaning. Rather than view tikkun olam as a return to the perfection that existed before God created the universe, we consider the spiritualizing action as reaching toward a new and greater perfection than existed before, toward perfecting this flawed world by imbuing the whole of it with the Divine Spirit.
Because of the freedom God necessarily placed into the world, we can infer that the outcome of the whole process truly remains uncertain, that our free choice to serve the Divine and our planet through fulfilling our highest destiny really matters, that despite our insignificant size with respect to the universe our personal inner work makes a difference. If we can raise ourselves to the station where the Divine can see and act through us, then we complete the momentous work of restoring at least one part to the Whole. And so, with the great Kabbalist, we discover a vision of unbounded meaning: perfecting ourselves, perfecting the world, and helping God.