Kabbalah has a long tradition, with origins stretching back at least a century prior to Jesus. One influential leader was the Medieval Rabbi Isaac Luria, known as Ari (the Lion), who lived in the 1500s. The Ari said that at creation the divine light filled ten vessels, some of which shattered under the weight of such glory. Fragments of light from these shattered vessels scattered throughout creation, along with fragments of darkness. It is now the responsibility of humans to help end chaos by gathering together these divine sparks of holiness in an effort to help repair the world (tikkun olam).
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This is very similar to John’s view of the pre-incarnate Logos, the Word that became flesh in Jesus (1:14). He was the light that was coming into the world to enlighten every human (1:9). John (or Jesus) even said that, when the full light comes (the good news of Messiah Jesus), those who have lived by the truth (the light they have received) will step into the light so all can see the works they have done were because of the Logos (3:19-21). Second century apologist Justin Martyr further developed John’s Logos Christology in a way similar to the Ari’s scattered fragments of light. Justin said the seeds of the Logos are scattered throughout creation. Wherever we discover truth (or goodness) in the world—whether in the Bible, in culture, or even in another religion—it is there because it is a seed of the Logos.
Unlike the Ari’s view that there were only ten vessels for this light, Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4 that, through the gospel of Jesus, the light of creation shines in the darkness of our hearts. We do not need to fear that we are damaged “jars of clay,” however. The stress cracks, the flaws, even the brokenness of our lives—they are all simply opportunities for the light of Christ to stream out of us. In our weakness, all can see that his light and life are the true source of our strength and our hope (2Co 12:7-10). Elsewhere, Paul tells us the world groans for the sons and daughters of God (that is, the kings and queens of the kingdom) to be revealed. Creation cries out for us to be ever more conformed to the image of Jesus, so that our actions reflect his and we join him as co-creators in the work of restoring the world (Rom 8:14-30) and redeeming the beauty and truth scattered throughout all cultures (Rev 5:8-10).
While the Ari saw this gathering of the light centered in the individual, through ascetic practices, prayer, and Torah observance, two centuries later Rabbi Israel ben Eliezer took these ideas in a different direction. Called the Baal Shem Tov (Master of the Good Name, abbreviated Besht) by his followers, he led many Jews to embrace Hasidism (ecstatic piety) in the midst of anti-Jewish riots and severe poverty. Without denying Torah observance, rituals, and rules, the Besht emphasized the importance of embracing the inner, mystical Torah. This loving embrace of God could come from any Jew, whether they were a Talmud scholar or not. Because God is immanent, he taught we can worship God through our everyday actions, whenever these acts are done in joyful thanks to God and loving service to others.
As Elie Wiesel notes, the Besht took the Ari’s idea of gathering the scattered sparks and turned it into a communal experience. When we are isolated and alone, we can study the Torah and observe it well, but all that is nothing if it is not for our neighbor, for our community (Souls on Fire, 32-33). Just as embers die out when separated but kindle hot and bright when gathered together, the Besht emphasized the need for community.
Certainly, Christians can hear the call of Paul to love one another and overcome selfish ambition (Phil 2:1-5), as well as Paul’s emphasis that gifts are nothing unless they are used in service for the community (1Co 13). We can also agree that everyday tasks can be acts of worship, for the most mundane tasks of life are transformed into moments of worship by Jesus. The drudgery of walking along a road became a new way of thinking that caused two disciples’ hearts to burn (Lk 24:13-32). The daily task of drawing water from a well became one woman’s opportunity to find living water (Jn 4:1-30). A routine task of mending fishing nets became a lifelong calling to follow Jesus (Mk 4:21-22). The same Jesus who encountered these people is living and active in each of us through his gift of the Spirit (Eph 3:14-21). Paul’s invitation to give our lives as living sacrifices is not a call to grandious actions (Rom 12:1-2). We are to consider every moment a moment of prayer, a moment of service, just as he sang praises in a dark prison cell after being beaten with rods (Ac 16:22-25). But where the Besht seemed to limit this community to fellow Jews, Jesus pushes us far beyond our own community. He calls us to love enemies (Mt 5:43-48) and reconcile divisions (Col 3:11-17).
So let us be co-creators with God, making the world a better place. In humility, we should love our neighbors and rejoice in our labor. May we pray that God’s kingdom come on earth, and may we do our part to bring all things under the feet of King Jesus. “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Mt 5:16).
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