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Tikkun Olam and the Secret of Tzimtzum

Tikkun Olam and the Secret of Tzimtzum

The ultimate explanation to why things are so messed up—and what we are supposed to do about it


Before the Beginning . . .

Before the beginning, there was nothing but light. Infinite light. The notion of a world was absurd. Even a brilliant, shining, glorious world would be fully consumed within the intensity of that light, a light that knew no bounds.

So He hid the light. All of it. There was absolute darkness.

And now there could be a world.

How does darkness allow a world? Because in darkness you know only yourself.

When there is light, you see that you stand within a greater whole, that you are only a small being, a single iteration of that whole. Before, it was impossible to imagine a world. Now it is impossible to imagine anything but world. When you feel the primal light that projects you into being, your very sense of self begins to dissolve. Within infinite light, you are not a thing at all.

But in darkness, a world can exist, a world that can say “I am.”

And it does. To the point that it cannot imagine anything other than its own existence.

In effect, a radical reversal has occurred. The background has become foreground, and the foreground has become background. The light has receded into darkness, and the darkness has become the energy of being. Before, it was impossible to imagine a world. Now it is impossible to imagine anything but world. This world.

Which is all good, very good.

Etchings in the Sky

Return to that radical first step towards our creation. What came before the darkness?

“When the King first desired a world,” says the Zohar, “He engraved its forms in the pure supernal light.”

The Zohar speaks in rich metaphor. It asks us to imagine engravings within pure light—that which can neither be seen nor known. Until the light is dismissed.

Think Think of a program for existence etched into a bright sky.of a program for existence etched into a bright sky, engulfed within endless light, but there nonetheless containing all that would ever be, awaiting its birth, its chance to become real.

With the removal of that infinite light, a trace of those engravings remained. And now a trickle of light burst through from beyond into the darkness, from a place where this great vacuum had never occurred, where it remained an absurdity, where there was still nothing but the infinite light.

As an electric force propels static code to dance and play upon your screen, so this stream of light breathed life into that trace left behind, those formulas and patterns, so that they became a reality and began to tell their story.

Surprised to Exist

What is our place in this story?

It is to latch onto that trickle of light and draw more and yet more into this darkness. Until the darkness is flooded with light.

For this we were given a Torah of light, with deeds prescribed to transform the darkness. Because the Torah comes to us from the very origin of that stream of light, from the bowels of the fountain from which it flows.

Our roleOur role is to reverse the reversal. To create something yet more radical. is to reverse the reversal. To create something yet more radical:

To make a world that is surprised at its own existence. A world that says, “Isn’t it wondrous that I am? That a rotting seed yields a great oak out of sunlight and thin air; that a newborn child cries out to catch its first breath; that a whole new world of life is reborn at every moment, where there is no reason that anything should be? Isn’t it wondrous that there is anything at all?”

Where once the light was the domain of prophets and lofty souls, attained by solitude and revelation, in the high places and the courtyards and chambers of the Holy Temple, we will have a world where “your sons and daughters will prophesy,” where even “the physical eye will see” that there is nothing else but G‑d.

The light will become the obvious reality, the natural state of life. As for this world, it will be a perpetual wonder.

No Return

Which answers a tough question: If the darkness was meant to be flooded with light, what was the point? We will simply return to where we started, when there was nothing but the infinite light.

No, there is no return. For two reasons.

First, because now there is already a world. And this world will remain. There will be a world, and the world will be filled with infinite light. Because it is through our efforts in this world that this infinite light has come to shine within it.

Second, because this infinite light will reflect a much deeper reality. The initial infinite light told of a Creator who is a source of light.We are almost there. Keep tugging. But this new light that we will draw will tell of a Creator of darkness and light, world and not-world, being and not-being. All of these can coincide and find union in His presence, for He knows no bounds.

We are almost there. Keep tugging on that stream of light. Just one more tug . . .

Maamar V’nachah Alav 5725

From the upcoming book Wisdom To Heal the Earth.

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman, a senior editor at, also heads our Ask The Rabbi team. He is the author of Bringing Heaven Down to Earth. To subscribe to regular updates of Rabbi Freeman's writing, visit Freeman Files subscription. FaceBook @RabbiTzviFreeman Periscope @Tzvi_Freeman .
Sefira Ross is a freelance designer and illustrator whose original creations grace many pages. Residing in Seattle, Washington, her days are spent between multitasking illustrations and being a mom.
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TwoCentsBob Australia August 31, 2017

The Psalmist tells us that He wraps Himself in darkness. Perhaps to hide the light from those He did not want to reveal Himself to, & so that His Glory would not break out against those He did want to reveal, particularly the Patriarchs before and after the flood. But after Moses this ceases; G-d becomes tired of striving with man.

By the best intentions we strive & from experience I can tell you, that unless G-d is in it, that cave the woman is digging, will surely collapse! Our place is to wait on Him & then we can proceed in doing what He wants us to do. "Because it is through our efforts in this world that this infinite light has come to shine within it" Last time I read the first book of the Torah it said that G-d created the light. Whom He chooses to do whatever is up to Him, just because G-d parted the Red Sea for Moses does not mean He will do it for me. Your putting the cart before the horse to use an old phrase; everything we do outside the will of G-d is vanity! Reply

Adrienne hyser August 28, 2017

That was overwhelming to provoke thought. I noticed the comment from Oregon "that was over my head", and I understand why from an American point of view. I was thinking so is the world messed up because me and others don't take our light into the world? Or could it be that the world isn't messed up at all since there will always be perpetual light. I also was intrigued by the comparison to a Sonata because I played and studied sonatas for years. As. I read I felt the way I do when playing the sonata. It is something I feel so close to yet can't quite figure out. I now wish I understood how that article held my attention. Reply

Vicki Stone Portland August 24, 2017

ok. this is above my head. Reply

Anonymous Israel August 24, 2017

Thank you. Very inspiring. But it feels like poetry. I get a high but then followed by a low. What is lightness and what is darkness? What does it look like? What is the experience of transformation?

I think the key is that we need to take G-d's perspective and run with it within our perspective of reality. To feel like G-d and thus take pleasure in there being a world like "a newborn child cries out to catch its first breath" and making it more effective and efficient without any expectations of specific outcomes.

"As for this world, it will be a perpetual wonder". It always was. But for us to appreciate it, it would seem that we need to study science to experience awe of the infinite quality of the universe. Perhaps Torah then is the ultimate science as it includes the axiom of a fifth dimension of soul consciousness. Perhaps something like space-time-soul fabric? Perhaps we need to learn how to study Torah? Reply

Adrienne hyser August 28, 2017
in response to Anonymous:

Yeah this article is philosophical, and I always think of Torah as simple because He will speak to you in ways you understand. So a person doesn't have to be a scholar to have a relationship with the one above. It really made me think of the importance of scholarly people being Abel to relate to simple folk through faith and communicate effectively. If there were no written language how scholarly would we be. Would the oral tradition still maintain what is in our hearts, and how do we know when we did enough to share our individual light? For every one who studies science there is some one who looks at the stars, appreciates and understands. For every scholar there is some one who can't read but has the word in their mind and heart. And then there are some who have a little of both. Reply

nathan dunning elizabethtown August 24, 2017

Awesome Reply

Gershon Wachtel Jerusalem August 24, 2017

Tzvi, your talent for taking the esoteric and explaining in a way that anyone can understand (and from which can be inspired) is astounding.
May Hashem give you many blessed years to continue your work. Reply

Anonymous August 23, 2017

Every night I read couple of articles and I'm so passionate about learning,thank you so much for sharing amazing content! Reply

Reuven August 22, 2017

Beautiful. This is related to the black fire on white fire of Torah? Reply

Yochanan Ellis Houston August 22, 2017

Wow... Thank you the One and all his servants. Reply

Sheina London August 20, 2017

This is incredible!! Taking the deepest maamarim and transcribing the concepts into an English that is wonderful to read! Please keep writing!! Reply