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Shevirat ha-Kelim (Breaking of the Vessels)

According to Luria, the ten vessels that were originally meant to contain the emanation of God's light were unable to contain that light and were hence either displaced or shattered. As a result of this cosmic catastrophe, the Sefirot, the archetypal values through which the cosmos was created, are shattered and out of place, and the world within which we reside, is composed of the shards of the these broken values. It is significant that for the Kabbalists, only 6 of the 10 Sefirot (from Chesed to Yesod) were fully shattered (Malchut, the final vessel was broken partially). Had all of the vessels, including, Keter, Chochmah, and Binah, been shattered, the universe would have been thrown back into the state of complete and utter chaos, the toho and bohu prior to creation. As it is, the three highest Sefirot, which represent Will, Wisdom, and Understanding, remained intact; only the six Sefirot representing the spiritual, moral, aesthetic and material values were broken, and are, hence, in need of restoration or repair (Tikkun). Nevertheless, the Breaking of the Vessels is a truly cataclysmic event. Will, Wisdom and Understanding remain, but all other values, particularly those embodied in the cultural and symbolic order of mankind, have been shattered. Further, while certain forms (may) remain, their embodiment in matter, is chaotic and confused. The Breaking of the Vessels is, according to the Lurianic Kabbalah, a clearing of the decks, a fresh start, and a challenge to the structures that we equate with our own civilized life. It is, in short, an eruption of chaos into the heart of our spiritual, conceptual, moral and psychological structures.

There is also a decided erotic aspect to the Breaking of the Vessels. The vessels, as described by Luria's most important disciple, Chayyim Vital, are envisioned as being located in the womb of the feminine Partzuf, the Cosmic Mother, an expression of the age-old symbol of the feminine as "vessel", "receptacle" and "container". Further, the shattering of these vessels brings about a state of affairs in which the masculine and feminine aspects of the cosmos, which had hitherto been in a "face to face" sexual conjunction, turn their backs upon one another and become completely disjoined. The "chaos" brought about by the Shevirah ("breakage") leads to an erotic alienation, a condition that can only be remedied through a rejoining of opposites through a renewed coniunctio of the sexes. At the same time, like the water that breaks signaling the birth of a new human life, the Breaking of the Vessels also heralds a new birth, that of a new personal and world order to be completed by man in the process of Tikkun.

The Breaking of the Vessels has a variety of important implications for theology, philosophy, human development and psychology (on the Shevirah and psychotherapy see "This Is Gold" on this website. These topics are the subject of Chapter 1, pp. 26-29, 37-39 (re: deconstructive philosophy) and Chapter 7, pp. 294-329 of Symbols of the Kabbalah. Chapter 8 of that work discusses the implications of Shevirat ha-Kelim for the problem of evil. The significance of the Shevirah symbol in the context of Jungian thought is discussed in Kabbalistic Metaphors, pp. 336-40 (see also "Jung and the Kabbalah" on this website.) Both Symbols of the Kabbalah and Kabbalistic Metaphors also provide discussions of the Breaking of the Vessels in the context of dialectical and Hegelian philosophy. The relationship between the Breaking of the Vessels and contemporary deconstructionism is an important topic that will be the subject of a later posting.

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