This voluntary contraction on the part of God, the En-Sof in this case, is the act which causes creation to come into existence. Without this act there would have been no universe. Because the En-Sof was limitless, in all things and all places, a plenum of divinity, it was necessary that a primordial space, tehiru, be established. It was necessary therefore that the En-Sof's first creative act be a withdrawl or contraction into Himself. In so doing He permitted to come inte being the primordial space which was necassary for the creation of the finite world. But space created was not entirely empty. In much the same way that fragrance of perfume lingers in an empty bottle, so too did a divine presence remain behind in primordial space. Once this space existing outside of and separate from the En-Sof was established, the second act of creation began to take place.
The first act of creation was an act of limitation: te second, that of emanation. At this time the En-Sof rayed out a singel beam of light to form the first configuration ever fashioned, the body of Adam Kadmon, from which there then burst forth from his eyes, mouth, nose and ears the light of the Sefiroth. The Sefiroth, themselves light concentrated from the original beam, were at this stage totally undifferentiated, without the qualities presently assigned to them. In this form they did not require special light-made bowls to contain them. The plan of creation that the En-Sof had in mind demanded that the Sefiroth become differentiated and contained so that they might receive the more heavily concentrated beams of light emanating from the eyes of Adam Kadmon. Since these bowls or vessels were constructed out of varying mixtures of ligh, the heavier lights streamed forth from the primordial man's eyes and were recived without difficulty into the first three Sefiroth: Kether, Binah, and Hokmah. When it came time to fill the bowls of the lower Sefiroth the light suddenly burst forth with such intensity that it broke the vessels designed to contain it.
This bring us to Luria's second doctrinal principle: the shevirah, or braking of the vessels, which has its roots back in an Aggadahic saying that before the creation of this world God had created and destroyed many other which had not been to his liking. Moses de Leon employed the information of this saying as an explanation of Genesis xxxvi, 31: 'And these are the Kings that reigned in the land of Edom, and who died.' According to Mosesde Leon's interpretation there was a time when God employed only the forces of Gevurah, the Sefirah of stern judgment, and by so doing caused the destruction of those worlds by the excessive weight of the Sefirah. As he points out, the world may only exist in a state of balance, a condition of equilibrium brought about by the modifying of stern judgment with the compassion of mercy or grace, represented by Sefirah Hesed. This is the state of things as they are now.
In this doctrine, Isaac Luria equates the bursting of the vessels with the death of the primordial kings of Edom. This death, Luria adds, came about because of lack of harmony between the masculine and femenine elements of the Sefiroth, the light which composed the vessels themselves shattered into sparks and fell into the realm of the demonic kelippoth or shells, the evil powers created out of the residual waste of the primordial kings.
With the breaking of the vessels everything suddenly fall into a state of chaos. The light from the eyes of Adam Kadmon rebounded upward or crashed downward into the realm of the shells. The devine machinery came to a stop and a new blast of light issued forth from the En-Sof. This light then bursted forth from the forehead of Adam Kadmon in an attempt to stop the chaos from blossoming and re-order the elements which had been torn asunder by the catastrophe.
Instead of the original plan, therefore, according to which the whole of creation would have been illuminated by the light of En-Sof, now only certain portions are lit by the sparks, and other portions are left in total darkness. This darkness is the realm of the shells, the evil in creation which would have been redeemed if all had gone as planned. Instead, the sparks which fell into the darkness become ensnared by the shells. This mingling of the sparks led to the present reality where there is no evil which does not contain some good, no good which does not contain some evil. It is at this point, the point where the En-Sof streams forth again, that the Sefiroth take on the attributes they now have. This reformation of the Sefiroth begins the work required of the tikkun, the restoration.
The only way in which the sparks may be retrieved from the dark realm of the shells is by the work of tikkun, part of which is undetaken by God. But restoration of the original order became complicated by the Fall of Adam. All the souls that were ever to exist existed in Adam's soul, and after the Fall his size was siminished to the size of man. His soul was exiled from his body; so too are our souls in a state of exile. They are that sparks hidden in the darkness of the shells. The recovery of the original unity cannot come about without the aid of man, for which purpose he was created and sent down into the place of the shells which is our world. The restoration of the original unity is a collective venture each individual must set out and accomplish for himself, for the restoration of his exiled soul is his own responsibility.