Shabbatian Versus Beshtian Hasidism (Kabbalah)

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  • Topic: Kabbalah, Isaac Luria, Judaism
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  • Published : May 15, 2013
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Shabbatian Versus Beshtian Hasidism (Kabbalah)
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JUS 435

The Lurianic concept of Tikkun will be briefly analyzed and comparisons will be drawn to address the influence of said concept on Jewish religious practice among the Shabbatian movement and Beshtian Hasidism.

Following centuries of flourishing political, cultural, and social life in Spain, the Jews were expelled in 1492 CE; tens of thousands of Jews seeking refuge migrated to Muslim countries of North Africa, to Italy, and to various parts of the Ottoman Empire.1 In 1517 CE, the Turks succeeded in extending their territory in the East by gaining control over Egypt, Syria, Palestine, and the Arabian Peninsula, as a result Jews were able to settle in the land of Israel under highly favorable and secure conditions.2 For a variety of reasons Safed, located high in the Galilean hills, experienced the largest increase in population, in part, on account of the far greater economic opportunities there than in Jerusalem.3

The region around Safed was the burial place of numerous Talmudic sages, including the grave of Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai, traditionally ascribed as author of the Zohar.4 “Under these relatively stable conditions, a rather extraordinary community began to develop from about 1530 CE forward. Safed attracted an unusual array of scholars and rabbis. Religious life took on a vitality the Jewish community in the land of Israel had not experienced for centuries, as Safed emerged as a great spiritual center…academics, piety and learning flourished.”5 The mystics of this community were activists who were convinced they held in their hands the power to alter history and heal the cosmos, this espoused the Safed world view of the bitterness of exile and the dread of sin on the one hand, and the anticipated redemption and joy of serving G-d on the other.6

Tikkun Ha-Olam

It is this tension between death and rebirth, between exile and redemption which results in the ingenious formulation by the Lurianic school of Kabbalah of the tikkun, the “mending of the broken vessels.”7 The Lurianic myth of divine, cosmic, and human history contains the blueprint for the achievement of messianic deliverance, in which each individual participates and has to contribute spiritual and physical powers for its successful culmination.8

Luria introduced into Kabbalah a series of terms representing his concepts of the drama and myth characterizing divine and earthly processes.9 The first occurrence, before everything, was zimzum, the divine withdrawal from space in order to allow for the creation of other beings, resulting in the evacuation and exile of the infinite divine power, the characteristic of all existence.10 Then flowed divine light into the empty space intending to create the divine entities, conceptualized as the ten sefirot, as described in early Kabbalah; this process failed because some elements hidden in a potential manner within G-d rebelled and refused to assume the constructive function designed for them, resulting in in a primordial catastrophe described in Lurianic Kabbalah as “the breaking of vessels.”11

The shevirah (the breaking of the vessels) caused the emergence of a dualistic divine existence in which the lower part is dominated by the rebellious elements having assumed the character of the powers of evil, a demonic realm striving to destroy the holy realms in the higher parts of formerly empty space.12 Everything happening from the shevirah to the present and all future occurrences until complete redemption is achieved is part of the tikkun.13

After the “breaking of the vessels,” the emanation of the divine realms, the creation of the universe, the creation of humanity, the choice of Abraham, the giving of Torah to Israel represent divine attempts to bring about tikkun, all in vain and some attempts, like Adam’s sin, ended in renewed catastrophe; the process continued while the Lurianic circle in Safed confident the time of...
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