In the heart of the Jewish mystical tradition, there is the parable of primordial light and the creation out of nothingness, en sof:
At the beginning of creation G-d spoke Jehi or let there be light
This refers to the primordial light that assisted Him in creating the universe and its fullness
When the inner decision was made to create the human being with his and her ability to choose, lehafdil
To differentiate between good and bad, the holy and the profane He needed as it were to silence this light
which had been created before the sun the moon and the stars were fashioned
G-d therefore assembled this light and put it in casks
He then proceeded to breath in, Tsimtsum, to be completely absent even for the smallest moment
In order to allow space to exist in which the human could develop her G-d-like essence independently
As expressed in the Divine intention
Let Us create Adam according to Our Image
Utter darkness reigned and tore with unending force at the just created human frame
And broke the vessels
All creation threatened to fall asunder
And G-d breathed out again and filled the universe again with His splendor
In that smallest entity of time when darkness was complete and all creation run the risk of returning to Chaos again
The human being was formed in its fullest potential
The rays of light which escaped from the broken vessels seemed however to be lost forever
But now the fusion between the Divine intention and the newly created human potential came into being
The human is able and thus commanded to retrieve the wandering rays of light, which came entangled into
The most unlikely hidden corners of existence by the performing of mitsvot deeds of kindness
By being human in the most inhuman circumstances
Thus the banishment of Jews to all the corners of the Earth is a blessing in disguise
Jews are able to encounter the rays of light everywhere
Every time a ray is discovered through deeds of kindness it returns immediately to its original source of being
And when thus all rays have been retrieved the Messianic time of peace and righteousness is upon us.
This parable had a particularly powerful, comforting influence during the long, ever-recurring period of exile the Jewish people had endured. In our time its power has not diminished; on the contrary, it now allows all human beings an insight into the fabric of existence where the physical and the spiritual are intertwined, and to act upon it.
Gershom Sholem, the greatest searcher into the depths of Jewish mysticism, ventured the question at the end of his life: what will be the new parable that will express our bewilderment after the Shoa and the new reality of a world threatened by extinction?
Holistic concepts have arisen in recent years, such as the Earth Charter, the Charter for Compassion, and the Universal Statement on Spirituality, in which the Golden Rule is the binding principle. Ecological integrity, care and respect for the whole community of life, social and economic justice, democracy, non-violence, and peace are rightfully seen as bound together. In the symbolic figure of Adam Kadmon, the primordial man, mystics have attempted to show the interconnectedness of the physical and spiritual realms.
The translation into responsible living as world citizens is alluded to in the images used in various traditions. The world community is one body. When one part of the body aches, the rest of the body feels the pain. The moment this no longer occurs, the beginning of death sets in. The technological advances in the field of communication have only enhanced this consciousness. This has always been part of the human condition. Ever since the human was banished from the Garden of Eden, the golden cage, we have been challenged to repair the world, the tikkun olam, thereby restoring creation to its divinely intended meaning.
In a letter to a young friend who was in hiding during the German occupation of the Netherlands, my father of blessed memory defined this ultimate purpose as a world filled with cooperation, love, truth, and righteousness. Olam, the Hebrew word for universe, has a double meaning: infinite time and boundless space. The essence is interaction.
In the words of the Earth Charter, we stand at a critical moment in Earth's history, a time when humanity must choose its future. The choice is ours: form a global partnership to care for the Earth and for each other, or risk destroying ourselves.
In the biblical account, right after the flood, the surviving community achieved the goal of unified action. They used it to build the Tower of Babel. Their mistake was not that they tried to make a name for themselves, but that the process of building was misguided. Stones became more important than people. When a human being fell, he or she could be replaced by the next on the ladder. But when a stone fell , it had to be carried up all the way from the bottom. The opportunity to foster a global partnership was squandered and humanity was dispersed all over the Earth, with no understanding among them anymore. Ours is the time to attempt again to collect the physical and the spiritual energies within infinite space and infinite time to be fused together.
All is in the hands of G-d except the reverence for Him. Our choice in this moment of utter forlornness will change the form and the content of the universe. We are truly living the birth pains of the Messianic time. The rays of light will be retrieved when the whisper of truth that science and spirituality share is amplified, and the broken vessels are healed.
An invited contribution to the Ervin Laszlo Forum on Science and Spirituality.