Although he accepted the typically "neoplatonic" idea of a sequential emanation of sefirot and Worlds - which was a fundamental theme in most previous Kabbalah - Rabbi Luria's creative genius introduced a new and very important element. He introduced a complex process of precreation Fall and Restitution, showing striking similarities to certain schools of Hellenistic Gnosticism.
According to Lurianic Kabbalah, the sefirot were originally of the nature of pure unmanifest Light. They only aquired a "vessel", or manifest characteristics, in the lowest of the Adam Kadmonic worlds, the World of Speech, or the Bound World, so called because all its ten Lights resided in a single vessel. This was only a prelude to the "World of Chaos" (Olam ha-Tohu) or "World of Points" (Nekudot), the first World to be emanated from Adam Kadmon and thus have actual manifest existence. The word Tohu refers to the state of the original Sefirot, as unformed and unordered points. It comes from Genesis 1:2, "And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep." The "World of Points" was so called because at this time the sefirot did not relate to each other, but were in the form of unorganised (chaotic) atomistic separateness (hence the term World of Points). The Sefirot, apart from the first three, were not organised in three columns as they are in the present world of Atzilut, but in a single row, making it impossible for them to interrelate.
So when the pure Light of Adam Kadmon shone down into them, these atomistic sefirot could not take the strain, and they shatterred and fell (the socalled "breaking of the vessels"). The fallen vessels became the klippot or "husks" of evil, which held trapped the sparks of sefirotic light.
The Nekudot were also characterised by an excess of Din; a Kabbalistic term meaning Severity, Judgment, limitation, rigidity. In Lurianic Kabbalah, Din is not only the cause of the Fall, but the ultimate cause of all creation, including the Tzimtzum (as in Kashmir Shaivism, all creation and manifestation is seen as the limitation of an original unmanifest and unbounded Absolute).
This was a World characterised by an excess of Nefesh (Desire soul or lower passions) or Din (Severity). In addition, it is said that the lights of these Sefirotic vessels is "thick". Thus the Sefirot of this World were unable to tolerate the influx of Light from the higher Source. The result was the socalled "Breaking of the Vessels" or "the death of the kings"; the latter term being derived from a reference in the book of Genesis to the "seven kings of Edom who died"; and the origin of evil. This process is described as effecting the different Sefirot in different ways. As the eighteenth century Kabbalist Moses Luzzatto explains:
"...The effect on the first three Sefirot was only that of annulment, rather than debasement. Only the rear portion of the first three Sefirot "fell"; and even this rear portion did not descend any lower than the world of Emanation (Atzilut)...." [Moses Luzzatto, General Principles of the Kabbalah,]
So the vessels assigned to the upper three Sefirot (Keter, Hokhmah, and Binah), being closer to the Source and thus of a purer nature, managed to contain the great downpouring of light that flowed into them, but the six lower Sefirot from Hesed to Yesod were weaker, and thus unable to hold the light. So one after another these vessels broke, a process referred to as "The Breaking of the Vessels". The vessel of the last Sefirah, Malkut, also cracked but not to the same degree.
Through this supernal Crisis then, the lower worlds came into being:
"...In this fashion, the innermost part of each vessel descended into Creation (Beriah); the interior part descended into Formation (Yetzirah); and the exterior part descended into Action (Asiyah)...."
So the lower Worlds are here described as coming into being through the fall of the seven lower Sefirot of the World of Points, while the fragmented parts of the first three Sefirot; i.e. the rear portions of the Netzah, Hod, and Yesod of Keter (each Sefirot itself has a full complement of ten subsefirot), and the complete Netzah, Hod, and Yesod of Hokmah and Binah; became the rest of the world of Atzilut.
Some of the light that had been in the vessels managed to retrace its path to its source in the world of Atzilut, but the rest scattered and fell down with the vessels themselves, and from their shards the Klippot ("husks") or forces of evil (or sitra ahra, the "other side") took on form. These shards are also the source of gross matter; another classical Gnostic motif.
back to Kabbalah main page