One morning last week, my studies in Lurianic Kabbalah centered around the development of “partzufim” - i.e. spiritual forces which have at first been broken, then reconstituted, to grow and developed into a fuller expression of their inner potentials. Rabbi Chaim Vital emphasizes that this dramatic flowering of spiritual growth and development does not occur to the lights, only to the vessels. Why? The lights are already perfected. They just need perfected vessels, vehicles to express their vast potential.
This is highly reminiscent of Chassidic teachings which explain the soul’s descent into the earthly realm. Mainly, the soul does not descend for her own growth and development, but, rather for the sake of building a body. In her pure “soul state”, fixing herself is not possible because she’s not the broken component. The body is. The body’s capacity to lend her a new basis of expression on a lower realm seduces her. She wants to partake in this very special opportunity to grow as she can’t on her own. Only by working through a body does she ultimately acquires her “rabbinic garb”, her passport into an even higher paradise.
The idea behind this “garb” is that the goodness the person has done, spoken or even thought of during his/her earthly journey, fashions a new garment around the soul. With this garment, the soul upon her ascension to paradise is allowed access to higher spiritual lights she has never before tasted - all while being shielded from the searing overexposure that an encounter with such powerful lights can inflict. It’s kind of like wearing sunglasses on the high noon of a very bright day.
By finding as much expression as possible in the body, the soul …
a) more fully inhabits her output of goodness, building a higher quality “rabbinic garb”.
b) will more fully inhabit the body during the resurrection - when body and soul reunite.
c) can become a greater influence on other people (as her wisdom and sensitivities become more manifest).
d) find satisfaction in imitating the Creator ways - especially in the area of giving to the needy.
The growth and development of a vessel to serve as a vehicle to express more and more deep potential latent within a light reminds me of the differences between a zygote, a baby and an adult. A newly fertilized egg is called a zygote. The full presence of a human soul hovers around it. Yet, her powers can’t be brought into expression. There are no ears to manifest her sense of hearing. There are no eyes to manifest her sense of sight. There are no nerve endings to manifest her sense of touch or of taste. There’s no nose to manifest her sense of smell. This is what the case of “a light with an inadequate vessel” actually looks like. “Tikkun” is the process of building the vessel, so the light’s latent potentials can properly manifest.
In this example, the body is the vessel and the soul is the light. During the “tikkun” process the body develops, allowing the full latent potential of the soul to come into earthly expression. This is a process that occurs in many stages. In each stage more and more of the soul is born into expression and brought from a state of hovering around the body into earthly manifestation. In the language of Kabbalah, “surrounding light” enters the vessel to become “inner light”.
Obviously, by the time a zygote develops into a child, the soul’s basic powers for bodily function, along with her five senses have become manifest. Still, the process of the soul manifesting more and more of her potential continues on - as there’s a very long way yet to go. As the child grows towards adulthood, more and more of the soul’s intellectual capacity manifests. For the most part, the growth and development of the body on the levels of sensory function and intellectual capacity have little to do with a person’s free choice and have more to do with involuntary biological enhancements than with true spiritual aspirations.
Besides biological enhancement, there’s a whole area of manifesting the soul’s potential which is in the person’s own hands. A basic level of this, has to do with living according to the Torah. When one lives according to the Torah, the physical body gets re-molded in closer alignment with the soul, even if not totally transformed. The person suddenly has sensitivities and understandings that s/he never before had. This is the deeper meaning of the declaration by the Jews at Mount Sinai “We will do and then understand”. By “doing” we reshape ourselves to “understand”, i.e. by building the vessel we can take in the light. With greater states of manifestation, more of the soul is able to participate in every thought, speech and deed.
Then there’s an inner level to take these effort to even higher levels and manifest even more of the soul. This has to do with following one of the voluntary pathways of spiritual growth that Judaism offers, such as Mussar, Kabbalah, Chassidus, etc., each according to his/her soul root in the higher realms. These pathways bring even more of the soul to bear on the body and transform the body even further to become a vessel for the soul; allowing even more of the soul to participate in good deeds to acquire “rabbinic garbs” for those soul levels as well.