Friday, February 11, 2011

Restoring the Divine Sparks to Their Source

   We live in a world which can be understood as the result of random forces which happen to act at a certain time in history.  Those forces may or may not have been subject to some law of motion or some other law in the universe; however, there was certainly no grand plan for the creation in mind.  If one believes this that would certainly directly impact their worldview and their understanding of why certain things happen (bad or good).  These events are simply the result of chance. 
   There are those who believe that the universe was created as part of a Divine plan; however, once the architect of this plan made sure that everything was in place, this creative force simply got the universe started and then withdrew.  From time to time, this creative force may intervene in what is going on in creation, similar to the way a watchmaker might need to wind a watch from time to time to keep it running.  However, as far as having any direct/personal involvement in creation, those who accept this belief would argue that the creator was simply the force who got everything started and the rest is up to us.
   Others believe that this force, which is known to them as God, not only got the universe started, but also intervenes, to one extent or another, in creation. The universe has laws such as gravity, which it operates within, and the suspension of those laws is known to those who accept this teaching as a “miracle”.  There are some who believe that God is directly involved in the lives of his creatures on a continuous basis so that nothing happens in their lives which was not directly either allowed or caused by God.  
   One understanding of God’s connection to His creation is seeing God as a Divine conductor.  In this scenario, the universe is understood as a grand/majestic orchestra and God is the conductor who is keeping the time of the music following and allowing each section of instruments to enter into the grand masterpiece at the proper time.  If one listens to each section individually it might sound like a cacophony of noise; however, when taken as a whole it is a beautiful melody where each instrument is making its own unique contribution and the music flows at a very steady pace.
   Unlike other animals, human beings are capable of asking such profound questions as “How did I get here?” and “Where am I going?”  There are numerous mythical accounts of how and why human beings were created.  First, let me say a few words regarding the issue of myth.  A myth is a story meant to convey a truth, even if the content of the story may not have taken place exactly the way it is stated in the story.  For example, the accounts of creation in the Book of Genesis (Gen 1:1-31 and 2:1-25) were each meant to convey a truth regarding the creation of human beings.  In the first account, after God had created the animals and everything else He created mankind in His own image and likeness.  Up until this point, God had stated that all of His creation was “good”; however, after creating man and woman, God declared on the sixth day that creation was “very good”. 
   The second account of creation not only introduces us to the Garden of Eden, but also speaks of God casting a deep sleep upon Adam, removing one of Adam’s ribs, and creating Eve out of Adam’s rib.  It was also here that God introduces us to the idea of marriage. 
    In our modern culture, we are taught that if something is stated which cannot be historical proven, it must be fiction.   This was not a concern for the authors of the Book of Genesis.  They were making the point in the first account of creation that mankind was the pinnacle of God’s creation and in the second account the point was being made that men and women are equal in God’s eyes. 
    In the sixteenth century, Rabbi Isaac Luria (1534-1572) left us an enduring vision of creation.  The Lurianic view embraces the totality of creation: from the brokenness of the world to the divine light that permeates the world. Luria taught before creation began, the Infinite One, Ein Sif, filled all that existed.  Before God began creation, God withdrew, contracting to leave a vacuum of space to serve as the location of creation.  This withdrawal is called tzimtzum, a Hebrew term that is translated in the context of Luria’s writings as a “self-contraction.”  Into the vacuum, the Infinite One shined a ray of divine light, an emanation of divine being.  The vessels crafted to receive that light could not contain the intense power and shattered.  Most of the light returned to its source, to Ein Sif.  Left behind were shards from the broken vessels and lost bits of divine light.  Those divine sparks remain present in every material manifestation of the creation.1
From the moment of the initial act of creation, chaos ensues as vessels are shattered and divine sparks are scattered.  Yet, from the chaos arises beauty, as the divine sparks sustain every element of creation, from a rock to a plant to a child.  This account of creation of the world contains a radical concept.  Human acts are needed to liberate divine sparks, freeing them from matter to reconnect with the divine source.  Also, God depends on our human acts to assist in the work of collecting sparks.  The Luria creation story tells us that in the brokenness of the world we can discern our purpose.  We are called on to do the work of healing the broken world, known in Hebrew as tikkun olam.  If our world were perfect, we would not be obligated to undertake its repair.  However, our world has never been perfect, not even from the very first moment, when time and space began.2
    There might be some people who may say, “Why can’t things return to way they were at the beginning of creation, when everything was of peaceful and serene?”  Rabbi Luria is making the point that those days never existed.  He is not alone in his belief that order came out of chaos.  This was a very common belief among many early Greek philosophers, including Pythagoras, Heraclitus, and others.  The role of mankind in repairing the world, tikkun olam, gives a view of creation in which the actions of the creator were not simply random, but were part of a divine plan in which we play an active part.
    The idea that there are divine sparks scattered throughout creation may be considered a given by some; however, the question which is likely to be asked is, “How does one go about taking his or her active part in creation and help to collect these divine sparks so they can be returned to their source?”  For the mystics, deeds of goodness, including ritual acts, literally raise sparks to their source. Today, deeds of kindness are works of tikkun olam, from parents who honor a child’s memory by supporting medical research to the person who listens with compassion and brings comfort to a friend in pain.  We are at once broken into bits and yet are containers for sparks of divine light.  Our shattered seIves may take comfort in this truth: that in being shattered, we discover a deeper capacity to do the work of repair, and therein, we find our calling, our purpose.3
   Being made in the image and likeness of God means that we are meant to enter into the very life of God and assist Him in His acts of creation and redemption.  We truly are called to be co-creators and co-redeemers with God Himself.  While it is true that we may come across various individuals throughout our lives who show little to no interest in being of service to others, but appear to be here simply for the purpose of using others to achieve their own end, the fact is that there are many good people who are willing to do whatever they can to assist others. 
    If someone came to Earth from a different planet and attempted to get a sense of what human beings are like based solely upon what this being saw on the local evening news, the impression given is that human beings have not ceased being hunters; however, instead of hunting wild animals for food we are hunting one another for what might appear to be the most foolish of reasons.  Someone honks their car horn at another driver; the other driver retaliates by taking out a gun and shooting the person who was honking his horn.  Someone is walking in the street and happens to casually glance in someone else’s direction.  The second person resents being “stared at” and punches the other person in the face.
   These are not actions designed to return sparks of divine light to their source. As humans, we have the capacity for overwhelming love and compassion.  We are capable of the most inspiring acts of love and devotion, including giving up our life for someone we love or even sacrificing ourselves to save someone we never even knew.  It is these acts which help to repair our broken world and serve as signs to others of the presence of God in our midst. 
   We can be part of the problem or part of the solution.  The choice truly is ours. The idea of “random acts of kindness” can easily sound rather trite; however, they are contagious and can be a great witness to our children.  Most human behavior is more caught than taught, meaning that children respond more to what their parents, grandparents, or guardians do than what they say.  A parent can tell a child repeatedly about the importance of being kind to others; however, if the child routinely sees that parent acting rudely toward others or mistreating them, the child will come to believe that it is perfectly acceptable to mistreat others.
   Obviously, the world is not perfect.  The causes of depression, despair, and even desperation which may plague us are unique to each individual.  However, our individual stories of despair share a common bond.  For each of us, the descent into darkness results from a convergence of a multitude of factors, like the heavy burdens which weigh us down over the course of our lives as we take on the trials and tribulations which come with being alive.  These are times when we can relate to the words of the psalmist: “For my wrongdoings are…as an onerous burden; they are too heavy for me…I am bent and bowed down greatly; all day in dark melancholy, I go.” (Ps. 38:5, 7)4 It is at these times that we need to reach out to others and allow them to help us lighten our own burden while giving them an opportunity to play their part in the repairing of the world.
   It is possible that the person you choose to share your pain with might not have the capacity to be able to deal with it.  This does not mean that you do not share your burden with anyone; you simply have to choose rather carefully who you wish to share such information with.   A good friend is a tremendous gift from God.  He or she can support you when you feel like you are ready to fall and be there to help restore you when your world comes crashing down.  This is someone you can share your very self with and know that they will remain faithful.  If you are fortunate enough to know someone like this, hold on to them, for they are a treasure greater than silver or gold. 
   We can also be such a friend to someone else.  More often than not, others are not looking for answers, but simply to be heard.  They want to know that someone is truly listening to them and allowing them to give voice to their feelings.  Compassionately listening to someone can profoundly change their life forever and helps to restore those sparks of the divine to their source.  This helps to give meaning and purpose to our lives and benefits us as much as it benefits the person we are helping.

                                                                End Notes

1)Lawrence Fine Physician of the Soul, Healer of the Cosmos: Isaac Luria and his Kabbalistic Fellowship (CA: Stanford University Press, 2003)
2)Elie Kaplan Spitz Healing from Despair: Choosing Wholeness in a Broken World (VT: Jewish Lights Publishing, 2008) p. 20
3)Spitz, p. 21
4)Spitz, p. 21

Lawrence Fine Physician of the Soul, Healer of the Cosmos: Isaac Luria and his Kabbalistic Fellowship (CA: Stanford University Press, 2003)

Elie Kaplan Spitz Healing from Despair: Choosing Wholeness in a Broken World (VT: Jewish Lights Publishing, 2008)

No comments: