Friday night we discovered a new (to us) San Francisco arts venue: Intersection for the Arts. Established in 1965, ITA pioneers the intersection of art, community, and development, and they attempt to bring people together across boundaries. Through April 6, they are presenting Aaron Davidman's one man show "Wrestling Jerusalem." For 82 minutes Davidman, a Berkeley native, captivatingly relates his personal quest to come to terms with Zionism as well as the perspectives of diverse characters he's met on all the familiar flash points in the Israel/Palestine conflict. The ITA's intimate performance space in the San Francisco Chronicle building at 5th and Folsom seats about 75 as configured for this show.
Davidman wraps his play around a Kabbalist story found in the Zohar of the divine light that breaks the bowls wherein it was contained in the void, scattering shards throughout the world.
Alexander Gorlin, an architect, looked to this story for inspiration when he was commissioned to design a Synagogue in King's Point, New York. He collected his efforts in a book: Kabbalah in Art and Architecture. Here is Gorlin elaborating on the story in Architizer, a web site that highlights architectural projects from around the world:
In an effort to explain the apparent disorder and chaos of the world, great Kabbalist Rabbi Isaac Luria of Safed, Israel, … in 1570 [spoke of ]… “breaking of the vessels.” The ten glowing vessels in the void eventually cannot contain the Divine light flowing into them, so they explode, breaking into myriad shards.
In the Kabbalah, the shattering of the vessels is part of the cycle of creation and destruction that began long before this universe. … In Judaism there is a long history of broken things, such as Moses breaking the first set of Ten Commandments and the destruction of the first and second Temples. In the Book of Isaiah, it was written: “And he shall break it as the breaking of the potter’s vessel that is broken in pieces; he shall not spare: so that there shall not be found in the bursting of it a shard to take fire from the hearth, or to take water with out of the pit.”
Like the Big Bang theory of the beginning of the universe, these containers shattered, and their contents spilled helter-skelter into the void. One Kabbalistic theory is that the light of the vessels was unstable, combining good and evil in a volatile mixture that blew up. This idea contends that the first emanation of the Divine light was a means for God to purify himself of the evil that was mixed in with the good. Evil is therefore construed to be an original part of the Divine, and was released when the vessels broke. In the Book of Isaiah 45:7. God says: “I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things.”
The shattered shards of light are an appropriate metaphor for Davidman's tale of fractured peace. On the next two Thursdays there will be a discussion with the playwright following the performance; following the Sunday matinees, The New Israel Fund hosts a post play "Peace Cafe."
As with everything in the Kabbalah, nothing is simple, so of the ten vessels of light, which correspond to the ten Sefirot, the upper three, being stronger, did not break. The lower seven bowls were completely shattered. Clinging to the broken shards, klipot, are sparks of the light left over from inside the bowls. These precious sparks are to be gathered and restored to their original place, higher in the cosmos. A broken world that must be repaired, or tikkun, is a Kabbalistic theme that that has reverberated throughout the centuries. And it is especially current today.
Check out Davidman's show if you can, or keep on the lookout for an upcoming event at Intersection for the Arts.