Tikkun ha-Olam: The Restoration of the World
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.
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 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
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
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) and
Din (Judgment) 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
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.
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