Modern science tells us that before the universe existed, around 15 billion years ago, there was nothing, and that the universe began in a single point. This point, which had no measurements, contained space, time, and matter within it. It then exploded, causing the “Big Bang,” releasing the energy that eventually became the stars, galaxies, and planets.
While science is concerned with the how of the story of creation, Kabbalah focuses on the why. And it is interesting to note that both modern science and Kabbalah’s teachings about the steps of creation from thousands of years ago are similar.
1. First, there was the Light.
The great 16th century kabbalist Rav Isaac Luria, the Ari, told the story of creation as follows:
Regardless of what one’s spiritual or religious beliefs are, we cannot deny that there is some sort of energy in the universe that is the source and power of all life. Kabbalah tells us that energy source is called the Light. Before the Big Bang, before our universe and planet, the Light was the only thing that existed. Think of the Light as an eternal and omnipresent force of energy that contains within It limitless and infinite joy and fulfillment, encapsulating anything and everything positive.
This Light has been called by many different names: God, Goddess, Source, and the Creator, for example. The reason we call it the Light in Kabbalah is because just like a single ray of light has within it all the colors of the rainbow, the Light has within It every possible type of fulfillment anyone could ever desire. The Light is not the Creator Itself; rather, it is the energy that radiates from the Creator. And it only has one desire: to share Its essence endlessly and continuously. This endless energy of giving we call the Light is known in Kabbalah as the First Cause.
2. The Light created the Vessel to receive Its essence.
The Ari explains further:
In order for the process of giving and receiving to occur, two participants are needed.
The nature of the Light is that of endless giving. As such, in order to share Its essence, It needed to create something to receive all Its beneficence. So, the Light created what in Kabbalah is called the Vessel. And that Vessel is us; all souls, past and present, were (and are) part of that Vessel.
Since the Vessel itself was created to receive, its inherent desire, therefore, is to receive – and to receive infinitely – just as the Light’s essence is infinite. There is a corresponding Desire to Receive that goes with every kind of gift the Light has to share. For example, a body of spring water is part of the Light, and the desire for a drink of water is part of the Vessel.
We then had the infinite cycle of giving and receiving, or cause and effect. Therefore, like the Light is called the First Cause, the Vessel is called the First Effect. This led to a beautiful and perfect unity in which the Light shared Its essence and the Vessel received unending, limitless fulfillment.
3. The Vessel was not happy just to receive; it wanted to create, as well.
The Vessel absorbed so much of the Light that it took on the nature of its Creator; as such, it was no longer happy just receiving all of the time, and wanted to be a creator, too. It wanted to share, and be the cause of its own fulfillment. Simply being the receiver caused what in Kabbalah is called Bread of Shame, the shame that comes from receiving that which is not earned; it’s like winning the Super Bowl trophy without ever having played a single game. Fulfillment cannot be derived from the victory, because it was not earned.
This one desire of the Vessel went unfulfilled, as there was no one to share with, thus preventing it from experiencing the endless joy it was created by the Light to receive.
4. The Light contracted and the Vessel shattered.
Next, the Ari tells us:
Why? The Light wants to give us everything, and did not create the Vessel for it to experience this lack of fulfillment. So, the Light, which filled up every possible space of existence with Its essence, realized It needed to step back and give the Vessel room to grow, allowing for the removal of Bread of Shame. Therefore, as a means of giving the Vessel room to grow, It restricted its blessings and contracted into itself, separating itself from the Vessel, causing the Vessel to shatter.
5. The Vessel shattered and caused the “Big Bang,” creating the universe as we know it.
When the Light contracted into itself, separating itself from the Vessel, the Vessel shattered, giving birth to the universe as we know it. This is known in Kabbalah as shvirat ha’kelim, or the Shattering of the Vessels. And it is that moment of restriction that is known as the Big Bang; kabbalists call it Tzimtzum.
A way to understand why the Light did this is to look at how a parent teaches their child to walk. Even though they know their child will fall, they still step away so their child can learn; it’s the only way. So, too, is it with the Light. The Light had to step back from the Vessel so that it could learn how to share and create on its own, because that is what the Vessel wanted: to earn its own fulfillment. But, in the Lights’ withdrawing Itself, a void was created so that the Vessel could have the opportunity to reveal its own Light. It is this space of emptiness that is our universe.
When the Vessel shattered, the shells know as klipot fell down to earth. These klipot are metaphysical barriers between ourselves and the Light that keep us from receiving all the blessings that are meant for us, from feeling happy, certain, or fulfilled all of the time. Additionally, some sparks of Light that did not return to their Source fell down to earth and got infused into the klipot. This gave them life, causing the source of all evil in the world, what we call in Kabbalah the Sitra Achra, the Other Side.
But the Ari tells us that these sparks of darkness were not supposed to be a problem, because the Creator had a plan for repairing the world through a being whose soul was made up of all the parts of the Light. This being was named Adam Ha’Rishon, the First Man; we all know him as Adam. The plan was for Adam’s soul to absorb all remaining sparks, thus drying up the klipot and allowing humanity to see the world as it truly is, not as we see it through the illusion of the Other Side.
Yet, as we know, this did not happen. Adam did not separate the sparks from their klipot and make the universe whole again. They have remained trapped in their shells; humanity, ever since, working to remove them.