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2. Rabbi Yitzchak Luria:

Basic Kabbala Teachings

by Rabbi Moshe Miller


Although Rabbi Yitzchak Luria (the Arizal) wrote relatively little himself, as mentioned in the "Works" section, his teachings were nevertheless systematically recorded by his disciples, primarily by Rabbi Chaim Vital. It is from these teachings that the startlingly innovative teachings of the Arizal have been given to posterity.

Following the era of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and his disciples a long line of distinguished kabbalists focused their teachings on one or more of the themes already found explicitly or implicitly in early texts such as Sefer Yetzira, Sefer HaBahir and Zohar, and in the works of their immediate predecessors and contemporaries. They set out to clarify and compare these teachings, and ultimately to transmit them to a disciple or small group of select disciples. In this sense the work of the Kabbalists after the Tannaitic era (i.e., until the 4th or 5th century CE) was primarily classificatory, with very little by way of innovation.

The Arizal, however, was clearly an original thinker. Although he also set out to explain the most abstruse parts of the kabbalistic literature available at the time, particularly Zohar, his analysis of those texts and the innovations he subsequently taught his disciples, were unparalleled, and therefore may be regarded as an entirely new school of kabbalistic thought.

There are five areas of focus in the Arizal's teachings that may be regarded as the primary innovations of his system: the concept of tzimtzum (G-d's self-contraction, so to speak) through its various stages; the process of shevirat hakeilim (the shattering of the vessels in the world of Tohu); the tikun (rectification) of that shevira through birur hanitzotzot (elevating the sparks), the concept of partzufim (literally, "visages" - compound structures of the sefirot into arrays that interact with each other); the nature of the soul and the purpose of its descent into this world, and its relationship with the higher realms, and ultimately with G-d.

This article will deal with with the first and fifth of these main topics. For the full article, go to our KabbalaOnline website.

Buy books about the Holy Ari and the ancient masters of Kabbalah at the Kabbala Online Shop.

2a  Arizal Teachings - Creation

2b  Arizal Teachings - Soul

Rabbi Moshe-Leib Miller, a guest teacher at Ascent when he lived in Israel, was born in South Africa and received his yeshiva education in Israel and America. He is a prolific author and translator, with some twenty books to his name on a wide variety of topics, including a new, authoritative, annotated translation of the Zohar. He currently lives in Chicago.


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