Isaac Luria - Nefilat ‘appayam
Type of Spiritual Experience
A description of the experience
Lawrence Fine – [in seeking the Favour of God an anthology] The Practices of Isaac Luria
Isaac Luria took a great interest in the ritual of nefilat ‘appayam as described in the Zohar. According to him, having raised his soul up to the highest spiritual ‘world’ known as Atsilut (Emanation) as a result of praying the Amidah, and having unified the ‘Four Worlds’ that make up the cosmos, the male adept cleaves, as in an act of sexual intimacy, to the divine feminine, the Shekhinah.
From this extraordinary state of strength and exaltation, the adept – while still praying nefilat ‘appayim – imaginatively
“descends below to the farthest end of the lowest world of Assiyah (Making) as a person who throws himself from the top of the roof to the ground below”.
That is he hurls himself into the lowest depths of the world, the scene of material existence and the home of evil, the realm of the qelippot or ‘shells’, in the language of Lurianic mysticism.
Importantly, Luria compares this process to what the rabbis of the Talmud taught regarding the fate of the righteous following death. They descend to the underworld (Gehinnom), the site of the soul’s punishment after death, grasp the afflicted that are found there and retrieve them.
This is made possible by the fact that at the moment of their death, righteous individuals unify the divine masculine and feminine, endowing themselves with the spiritual power with which to extricate sinful individuals from the consequences of their deeds.
Luria thus likens the imagined death and ecstatic moment of nefilat ‘appayim to the actual death of various individuals.
Such a parallel makes it clear that Luria considered the descent into the realm of evil akin to a genuine act of offering up one’s life, at least momentarily.
The Adept aspires to such a death since this is the only way by which to rescue certain divine sparks (found within those trapped in the underworld) from the grip of evil.
In this paradoxical construction, then, death is a redemptive act, calling back to life those souls trapped in the place of death – the Lurianic adept is not doing penance for his own sins as much as he is seeking to redeem the souls of departed individuals whose transgressive behaviour has led them to Gehinnon.