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Who Kept a Record of the Primordial Man

One of the great record keepers of Kabbalah didn't shy away from critiquing the most well regarded Jewish Kabbalists, including R. Issac Luria, the Ari himself.

 

One of the most fascinating lessons found in the writing of famed Rabbi Issac Luria is the lecture on Lesson on the Primordial Man. It is a basic exposition of Luria's , also known as the Ari's philosophy regarding the process of creation. According to this lecture God began the process of creation by "contracting" (tzimtzum) his infinite light to allow for a vacuum in which finite and seemingly independent realms could exist.


At this point time began and the root of “strict justice” (din) was secreted into this vacuum, mixed with the remnants of the Divine Light (nitzotzot) still remaining in it. The goal of humanity is to salvage these spiritual lights and in doing so, to bring about the restoration (tikkun) of the spiritual lights which have fallen under the dominion of the forces of evil called “shells” (kelippot).


 

 
The Kabbalistic Cosmos as the Primordial Man, by Isaac Myer


​Much of what we know of this lesson is thanks to Menahem de Lonzano (1550 – 1624) was a scholar of the Mesorah, aimed at determining the precise text of the Torah, as well as of Kabbalah, the Jewish tradition of mysticism.

In De Lonzano's manuscript, "Derushim", or  lessons, he recorded from the writings of two famous Kabbalists from Safed. R. Hayyim Vital and R. Joseph b. Tabul, who passed on the mystical teachings of their teacher, the Ari. It is important to note that the Ari himself didn't put most of his teachings down in writing. Much of what we know of his lessons come from Hayyim Vital's records and subsequently De Lonzano's.

Within these "Derushim" is the Ari's Lesson on the Primordial Mani. The book is full of de Lonzano's comments, often times quite critical. Although he was ill, impaired, and almost blind, he was not deterred from composing books in which he attacked his fellow Rabbis.

 

De Lonzano, 'Derushim', detail with 'Bereshit' (Genesis), Fol. 218, detail, NLI


 

It is debated whether he was born in Italy or Turkey, but his movements were well documented. He moved to the Land of Israel, first to Jerusalem in 1575, and then to Safed. He eventually left the Land of Israel and traveled to Turkey, Egypt and Italy, only to return to Jerusalem in 1618, there he died in 1624. 

This article was put together with the help of Dr. Milka Levi Rubin, the curator of the General Humanities Collection at the National Library.