Luria, Rabbi Yitzchak (The Ari)

June 15, 2006

Rabbi Yitzchak Luria Ashkenazi was the leader of a small group of scholars who delved into the mysteries of the Kabbalah in Safed, in the sixteenth century. Though the impact of Lurianic Kabbalah upon the Jewish World, particularly the World of Chassidut, has been tremendous, his personal literary output was relatively meager. When one of his students asked him about this oddity, he replied, “It is impossible, because all things are interrelated. I can hardly open my mouth to speak without feeling as though the sea burst its dams and overflowed. How then shall I express what my soul has received, and how can I put it down in a book?” He was a visionary. The hidden world of Kabbalah was as clear to him as were the streets of Safed. He saw spiritual life in everything that surrounded him, and he did not regard as fixed the boundary between organic and inorganic life. For him, souls were everywhere.

One member of this select group of Kabbalists was Rabbi Moshe Cordovero, author of “Tomer Devorah,” who was slightly older than Rabbi Luria. But Rabbi Yitzchak Luria was considered the “Ari SheBaChaburah,” the “Lion” of the Group.

One of the major ideas of the Kabbalah of the “Ari” is that of “Tsimtsum,” generally meaning “concentration” or “contraction,” but here the meaning is “withdrawal” or “retreat.” The “Ari” asked a number of questions. Simplifying greatly, they were “How can there be a World if G-d is everywhere?” and “How can G-d create the World out of nothing if there is no ‘nothing!’ ” He answered that G-d was compelled to make room for the World by abandoning, as it were, a “region” within Himself, to which He would return in the Act of Creation. This withdrawal of G-d is a metaphor for Exile.

Lurianic Kabbalah can be described as a mystical interpretation of Exile and Redemption, reflecting the deepest religious feelings of the Jews of the time, as they recovered from, and contemplated the implications of the blow of Expulsion from Spain in 1492. For them, Exile and Redemption were great mystical symbols, pointing to parallel processes in the Divine Being. And this implies a new moral idea of humanity – the man of spiritual action who, through the process of “Tikkun,” or Perfection, ends the Exile, the historical Exile of the People of Israel and the Exile of the Creator.