The greatest Jewish theological revolution since the destruction of the Temple (70 CE) was brought about by Kabbalah. The greatest new idea about the relationship between God and humankind during the past 2000 years was introduced by Jewish mystics who boldly asserted that we humans have the ability to restore God’s wholeness and effect the end of God’s exile within the Divine Self.
Much of this new thinking was stimulated by Rabbi Isaac Luria (15th century, Safed) whose ideas about the origins of the universe led to the belief that the Jewish people has the capacity to create the conditions necessary for the coming of the Messiah.
Isaac Luria’s cosmology is powerfully innovative. He explains that when God contemplated creating the universe the Creator realized that there was no room for anything except God’s Self, Who filled time and space.
To accommodate the new creation God underwent contraction (tzimtzum). Before the beginning God was light, and so God took away some of the light and placed it in giant vessels (keilim), but the vessels were not strong enough to contain the light and an explosion shattered the vessels (sh’virat ha-keilim) flinging the shards (kelipot) to the four corners of the universe. Trapped in the shards were sparks (n’tzitzot). Whenever a Jew performs a mitzvah (commandment), a spark is released from a shard. When all Jews perform all the mitzvot all the sparks are released, the Messiah is ‘awakened,’ and Tikun Olam (restoration/repair of the world) results. When this occurs God too undergoes Tikun and the holiest Name (YHVH or Yod–Heh–Vav–Heh) is reunified.
Jewish mystics explain that the Yod–Heh (the first two letters of the 4-letter Name) represents the “highest” and purest of God’s ten emanations (Sefirot), but were separated from the Vav–Heh (the third and fourth letters of the holy Name) when the vessels shattered. The Vav-Heh represents the “lower” Divine Sefirot. As such, the “upper” and “lower” worlds were split apart mirroring the brokenness of our own world.
Enter Abraham, who in this week’s Parashat Lech L’cha (Genesis 12:1-17:27) receives the Divine call. That call and Abraham’s receptive response was a necessary stage leading to the unification (Yihud) of God’s holiest 4-letter Name. How so?
In Genesis 12:2 we read of God’s promise to Avram :
“I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and You shall be a blessing (Veh’yeh b’rachah).”
Note that God’s 4-letter Name (Yod-Heh-Vav-Heh) is comprised of the same 4 letters as Veh’yeh (“…and be a blessing”), but appear in a different order (Vav-Heh-Yod-Heh).
Rabbi Levi Yitzhak of Berditchev (1740-1809, Ukraine), teaching that nothing is to be overlooked in Torah and every word and letter have deeper metaphysical significance wrote:
“The letter Yod-Heh [the ‘higher’ Divine emanations] in the word Veh’yeh is an allusion to God, whereas the letters Vav-heh [the ‘lower’ Divine emanations] is an allusion to the Jewish people. As long as Abraham had not existed, there had not been a human being who tried to ‘awaken’ God’s largess to be dispensed in the lower regions. God’s largess, whenever the Eternal One dispensed it for the good of humankind, owed this exclusively to the Creator’s goodwill [i.e. meritless Grace]. As soon as Abraham became active on earth, there were deeds on earth that ‘awakened’ God to dispense the Divine largess as a result of acts performed by human beings. In other words, prior to Abraham, God’s Name could be spelled in the order Yod-Heh-Vav-Heh, whereas this order had now been reversed and God’s Name could be spelled as Vav-Heh-Yod-Heh… The reversal of the sequence of the letters Vav-Heh hints at this largess having its origin in the ‘lower,’ rather than the celestial regions.” (Kedushat Levi, translation and commentary by Rabbi Eliahu Monk, Lambda Press, volume 1, pages 43-44)
What is the meaning of this complicated understanding of the 4 letters in God’s Name? Until Abram appeared, Levi Yitzhak taught, there was no mutual relationship between God and humankind. However, with Abram all that changed. Abram’s capacity to “hear” God’s call (i.e. prophesy) and respond augured well not only for the future spiritual development of the Jewish people but signaled the beginning of Divine Tikun.
The Torah’s reversing the order of the letters represents Abram reversing the direction of largess that had exclusively come from God to humankind to a new paradigm that moved from humankind to God.
The idea that Jews can affect the internal life of God is revolutionary, not only in Judaism but in the history of religion. This is why, according to Jewish mystics, Abram was the world’s first Jew. As a Jew, each of us carries a burden, responsibility and opportunity to work towards tikun olam, the restoration/repair of a shattered universe. When that occurs so too is there a Tikun Shem M’forash (a restoration of God’s holiest 4-letter Name).