Explaining Kabbalah

Explaining Kabbalah

Eric Herschthal’s article on Harold Bloom contains an astonishing leap of logic (“Bloom’s Day, Or Year,” April 22).

He writes: “The strand of Kabbalah Bloom championed — Lurianic Kabbalah — was formed in direct response to the Jews’ expulsion from Catholic Spain, not in reaction to other rabbis.”

How the statement that a political act — the deportation of a portion of the Spanish population at the end of the 15th century — directly caused the development of a theological narrative one or two generations later in Safed, at the opposite end of the Mediterranean Sea, cries for the conjunction “because” and some exposition of the connection between disparate ideas.

Luria’s conception involves four propositions: (1) the humanly unknowable essence of Divinity [Ain Sof] withdrew within Itself; (2) the constrained Divine energies [Sefirot] burst forth into the space [pleroma] from which these had been, to be caught in vessels that proved unable to contain them; (3) the vessels burst, causing most of the Divine energies to go on to create the cosmos — as related in the opening verses of Genesis [a kind of theological “Big Bang” theory]; (4) some of the Divine energies ended up imprisoned in the netherworld [Klippot] and it is a Divine purpose to bring those imprisoned Divine energies back to Ain Sof to restore the pre-existing Divine equilibrium — a purpose that human beings may assist by the doing of holy acts [mitzvot].

Kabbalah is an effort to restore the sense of immediacy in the connection between human beings and Divinity that is recorded in the Bible. (That desire is mostly alien to our era. We are children of the rationalism of the Age of Enlightenment.)

The answer to the question of what comes after the conjunction “because” is the word “exile” — the loss that the deportees felt as they left the Spain in which their forefathers had spent at least a millennium, and Luria then transmuted the concept into the Divine Sphere.

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