Lent Day Twenty

From Annie Dillard: "For the Time Being" Vintage Books USA

page 50: following some discussion of Luria and the Rabbi Baal Shem Tov and Hasidism... (I used a quote from Elie Wiesel on Day Eleven. As a teenager, he studied Hasidism and the Zohar, and apart from random quotations from the Rabbi Baal Shem Tov was my introduction to this spirituality.
For me, this page from Annie Dillard has resonances with Jacob's dying farewell and blessings of his sons. (Genesis 48 and 49; readings for Evening Prayer this week.)

ISRAEL: "In the beginning, according to Rabbi Isaac Luria, God contracted himself—zimzum. The divine essence withdrew into itself to make room for a finite world. Evil became possible: those genetic defects that dog cellular life, those clashing forces that erupt in natural catastrophes, and those sins human minds invent and human hands perform.

Luria's Kabbalist creation story, however baroque, accounts boldly for both moral evil and natural calamity. The creator meant his light to emanate, ultimately, to man. Grace would flow downward through ten holy vessels, like water cascading. Cataclysm - some say creation itself, disrupted this orderly progression. The holy light burst the vessels. The vessels splintered and scattered. Sparks of holiness fell to the depths, and the opaque shards of the broken vessels (qelippot) imprisoned them. This is our bleak world. We see only the demonic shells of things. It is literally sensible to deny that God exists. In fact, God is hidden, exiled, in the spark of divine light the shells entrap. So evil can exist, can continue to live: the spark of goodness within things, the Gnostic-like spark that even the most evil tendency encloses, lends evil its being.

'The sparks scatter everywhere,' Martin Buber said: 'They cling to material things as in sealed-up wells, they crouch in substances as in caves that have been bricked up, they inhale darkness and breathe out fear; they flutter about in the movements of the world, searching where they can lodge to be set free.'

The Jews in sixteenth-century Palestine were in exile - 'a most cruel exile,' Gershom Scholem called it. They had lived in Muslim Spain a thousand years - far longer than any Europeans have lived in the Americas. In 1492, Christians expelled Muslims and Jews. About ten thousand Spanish Jews moved to Palestine. In Safad, they formed the core of the community of the devout. Here, unmolested, they contemplated their exile, which they understood as symbolizing the world's exile from God. Even the divine in estranged from itself; its essence scatters in sparks. The Shekinah - the divine presence - is in exile from Elohim, the being of God, just as the Jews were in exile in Palestine.

Only redemption - restoration, tikkun - can return the sparks of light to their source in the primeval soul; only redemption can restore God's exiled presence to his being in eternity. Only redemption can reunite an exiled soul with its root. The holy person, however, can hasten redemption and help mend heaven and earth."