Shabbat in Kabbalistic Thought, Part One

The story of Shabbat begins with the creation of the world. Most people look at creation of the world as a positive thing; before there was nothing, now there is something. However we are going to demonstrate that, Kabbalistically, this is not all that clear.

Infinite Implications
There are two words used for creation in the Torah: yotzer and barrah.

Being that the Torah is a document given over by the Infinite God, each word is exact and applicable in some way at all times, and nothing is by coincidence. This leads us to ask the obvious question: What is the difference between these two words for creation? If there are two different words for creation, it must be that they come to teach or imply two different ideas.

Two Modes of Creation
Imagine I was to shine a flashlight onto the floor—I would have created a spot of light on the floor. This is positive creation, something from something. This is one kind of creation.

Now, if I were to put my hand between the flashlight and the floor, I would create a shadow. However, this mode of creation is very different than the creation of the spot of light. The creation of the shadow is not caused by me putting forth something that was not there previously. Rather, the shadow is created by me holding back the light that was already there. This is negative creation—creation by negation. This creation by default can be referred to as something from nothing; the shadow results due to the lack of light caused by my hand blocking the flashlight.

In the Jewish sources, positive creation is referred to as yotzer, and the negative creation is referred to as barrah.

The World's Creation
According to the Torah, the world's creation was a barrah creation—a negative creation. In a sense, there was "light"—i.e., clarity that God is all there is—and our world's creation makes God-perception blurry; it is darkness.

One of the paradigms of Kabbalistic thinking is that everything in our physical world is a parallel to a spiritual reality. That is to say, what we see and experience in our physical lives is a physical manifestation and projection of a deeper spiritual reality. In fact, the word KaBbaLaH itself shares its Hebrew root with word for parallel, MaKBeeL, indicating the connection.

That is to say, just as light illuminates resulting in one's ability to see, the spiritual concept of light is spiritual illumination resulting in one's ability to see spiritually. Before the world's inception all was illuminated; it was clear that the Infinite God is all there is. With the creation of the world, we now have a perception of an "other," of something other than God, and now it is unclear whether there is God, what my purpose is, etc. With the creation of the world comes a spiritual state of darkness.

So, is the world's creation good or is it evil?

At this stage in the conversation, the world certainly seems dark, purposeless, and lacking in clarity . . .

Tune in next week to find out how Kabbalah turns this bleak picture on its head to discover a world that is not only founded in goodness, but founded in greatness.