In the beginning, a simple divine light filled the entirety of
existence... When there arose in His simple will the desire to create the
worlds, He contracted His light, withdrawing it to the sides and leaving a void
and an empty space in its center, to allow for the existence of the worlds.
(However, this was not an absolute void, for there remained a residue of the
divine light within the void.) He then drew a single line of His infinite light
into the void to illuminate the worlds....Rabbi Isaac Luria (the "Ari")
First of all, [...] will marry [...] in accordance with the law of Moses
and Israel. They will not hide away nor conceal anything from each other. They
will live together in love and affection, as is the way of the world...From
the text of the tena'im (engagement contract)
A man without a wife, say our sages, is but "half a body." For man was
created in the image of G-d, and the divine image has both a male and female
aspect. As the book of Genesis states: "And G-d created man in His image, in the
image of G-d He created him; male and female He created them."
Man was initially created "male and female"--as a "single being with two
faces." Soon after, however, G-d separated the female side from the male,
recasting them as two distinct beings, man and woman.
G-d separated the female side from the male, recasting them as
two distinct beings, man and woman
From that point on, man seeks woman and woman yearns for man. In marriage,
the divine analogue is made whole again, as man and woman regain their original
state as a single entity.
The Splitting of the Light
The separation of the female from the male, creating the tension that draws
them to each other and to their ultimate reunion, is a theme that runs through
the entire process of creation, all the way to its very beginnings in the
primordial will of G-d.
In the teachings of Kabbalah, the act of creation is described as an
act of tzimtzum-an act of contraction, concealment and withdrawal. In
the beginning, the "light" of G-d (i.e., the manifest expression of His
omnipresence and omnipotence) filled the entirety of existence. A world such as
ours--finite, self-defined and independent, with the capacity to turn away from
and even deny its Creator--could not exist, for it would have been utterly
nullified within the divine light. In order to allow for the existence of the
world, G-d "contracted" His light, creating a "void" and "empty space" within
which His infinite being and power is not manifest. Into this void G-d then
allowed a single "line" (kav) of light to penetrate, through which
flows a divine energy that is meted out to every level of reality in accordance
with its capacity to receive it.
But the "line" is not the only source of divine energy in our world. For the
withdrawal of divine light that occurred at the time of the tzimtzum
was not absolute; rather, a "residue" (reshimu) of light remained
within the "void." This "residue" is the divine power of concealment and
limitation (as opposed to the power of revelation and infinite expansion
withdrawn by the tzimtzum). This divine energy does not contradict the
existence of our finite and material world; on the contrary - it is the very
source of its finiteness and materiality.
This divine energy does not contradict the existence of our
finite and material world; on the contrary--it is the very source of its
finiteness and materiality
In other words, the divine light, as the expression of G-d's infinite power
and perfection, also includes the divine capacity for finite self-expression. In
the words of the Kabbalist Rabbi Meir ibn Gabbai, "Just as He possesses
the power of infinity, so does He possess the power of finiteness. For should
you say that He possesses the power of infinity but does not possess the power
of finiteness, you are detracting from His perfection." What to our perception
was a tzimtzum--a contraction and concealment--was actually the
separation of the divine power of finiteness from within the omnipotence of
Originally, the divine light was utterly "simple" (i.e., not comprised of
components or parts): the power of finiteness was not a distinct force, but
simply a factor of the divine omnipotence. With the tzimtzum, the
manifestation of the divine infinity was withdrawn beyond the parameters of the
"void," leaving behind the divine potential for limitation and definition, which
is the source of finiteness and definitiveness of our reality.
Conquest and CultivationOur purpose in life is to undo the tzimtzum--to refill the "void"
with divine light. There are two ways in which this is achieved. One way is to
draw into the world the divine light that was withdrawn at the time of the
tzimtzum. This means increasing the intensity of the light that flows
through the "line" by gradually increasing our world's capacity to receive it.
Every time we do a mitzvah, we make the world more receptive to the
divine truth, stimulating a greater infusion of infinite light via the "line."
Ultimately, the world is elevated to the point that it can receive the full
intensity of the light coming from beyond the parameters of the "void," and the
area of the "void" is as saturated with the manifest presence of G-d as it was
before the tzimtzum took place.
Another way of undoing the tzimtzum is to uncover the divine light
already implicit in our world. Every time we exploit the very qualities that
make our world "unspiritual"--its finiteness, physicality and materiality-toward
a G-dly end, we bring to light its divine essence. The "residue" of the divine
light that remained behind at the time of the tzimtzum, concealed and
obscured by the coarseness of the worlds and the realities that derive from it,
is thereby revealed. The finiteness and physicality of our world is exposed as
no less an expression of the divine truth than the infinity and spirituality
that fills it from "above."
Male and Female
The power of infinity invested in the "line" is the male element in the
divine light; the power of finiteness implicit in the "residue" is its female
aspect. Originally they were one, a singular expression of the omnipotence of
the divine. Then came the tzimtzum, separating them into two distinct
Thus the endeavor to undo the concealment of the tzimtzum includes
both a "male" and a "female" dynamic. On the one had, we strive to overcome the
limitatins of our existence, to break free of the confines of the material.
On the one hand, we strive to overcome the limitations of our
existence, to break free of the confines of the material
We strive to impose a higher, spiritual truth upon our world, to infuse the
infinity of G-d into our finite lives. This is the "male" active/aggressive
effort to overcome the nature of reality, to expand its frontiers, to draw in
"new" G-dliness from the outside via the "line" that links our world to the
infinity of G-d.
But there is also another aspect to our mission in life, another source of
G-dliness for our world. A source that is to be found within, in the "residue"
of divine light that underlies our reality. This is the "female" endeavor to
seek the divine in what is, to stimulate our inner essence instead of
overwhelming it with light from without. To cultivate rather than to conquer, to
be rather than to do.
Ultimately, the goal is to effect the marriage between the male and female.
When the light that was withdrawn from the void is reinfused and the "residue"
of light left behind is revealed, the divine light will again be one. The "power
of infinity" and the "power of finiteness" in our world will again constitute a
singular expression of the quintessential truth of G-d.
According to Jewish custom, when a man and woman become engaged to marry, a
contract-called tena'im ("conditions")- is drawn up, in which the
obligations of each side to the other are specified. The traditional text of the
tena'im begins: "First of all, [...] will marry [...] in accordance
with the law of Moses and Israel. They will not hide away nor conceal anything
from each other. They will live together in love and affection, as is the way of
A marriage between two human beings is an analogue of the marriage of divine
forces that is the purpose of creation. This is alluded to in the opening lines
of the tena'im: the very first thing the parties promise each other (after
declaring their commitment to marry each other) is that "they will not hide away
nor conceal anything from each other." Here we have the male and female elements
of the cosmic marriage: that the divine light which was "hidden away" by the
tzimtzum-withdrawn from the void-should be restored, and that the divine light
which was "concealed" within the world should be revealed.
The achievement of these two aims will herald the era of Moshiach, when the
diverse forces of creation "will live together in love and affection, as is the
way of the world," in harmony with itself and its G-d, envisioned by the