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I've begun learning the sefer Kedushas Levi and I keep coming across the concept of nitzotzos. I don't have much of a background in Hasidism, so I don't quite understand what it is.

As far as I can tell, it's something like holy sparks that have fallen to earth. It seems to symbolize more than that, though - e.g. see here in the beginning of Parshat Behaalotcha where he discusses putting nitzotzos onto the menora, and here in Parshat Shelach where he says that nitzotzos can become embarrassed.

Does anybody have further explanation? I'm looking specifically for a primary source.

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    you can read about shvirat hakeilim (the shattering of vessels) and the sparks the fell to this creation and need to be elevated here: chabad.org/kabbalah/article_cdo/aid/380568/jewish/… -- It is a kabbalistic concept mentioned in the zohar and elucidated by the arizal. It is one of the kabbalistic foundations of creation.
    – Menachem
    Jun 25, 2020 at 3:44

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So here it brings the following which will serve as a good introduction:

In line with the kabbalistic tradition, R. Israel Ba'al Shem Tov (the Besht), the founder of Hasidism, perceived everything to be infused with Divine sparks: "It is a great principle that there are holy sparks in all there is in the world. Nothing is void of sparks, even trees and stones." (As related in Besht, Zava'at ha-Rivash, photocopy (Brooklyn: Otsar Hahasidim, 1991), section 141, p. 54 (Hebrew). Many of the sayings in this book are probably not attributable to the Besht but to R. Dov Ber, the Maggid of Mezeritch, his main disciple.) He further taught that such sparks are also in "all of man's actions. Even in man's sins there are sparks resulting from the breaking of the vessels." This panentheistic worldview, which sees elements of the Divine in everything, should not be confused with the panthe-istic doctrine that G-d and nature are identical.

So it would seem that a fundamental tenet of Chasidus is the notion that every being retains some spark of the Divine and the challenge of a Jew's existence is to unlock and access these sparks through the 'breaking of the klipot' which essentially means shrugging off the weight of materialism to pursue a more spiritually aware life. This breaking is done through our mitzvah performance which refines us with each one that we do. Rabbi Norman Lamm notes that through these acts it serves to create a 'tikkun' bringing us back to a more perfect state as seen when the world was first created. (Rabbi Norman Lamm provides a good breakdown here refer to footnote 4). Also look here for a good outline.

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I’d encourage you to look at the Sefer שפתי חן. It is a contemporary Sefer that serves As an introduction to learning chassidus and explains many Kabbalistic concepts in an understandable fashion.

In chapter 3 he explains that during the first stage of tzimtzum (contraction) the lower 7 sefiros (vessels) broke due to the overwhelming light being filtered through them, resulting in kelipos (shells) from the shards of the vessels and nitzotzos (sparks) which are a remnant of the light that was being filtered through the vessels. There is an idea in kabbala/chassidus that we are tasked with gathering together these sparks of holiness that have fallen.

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I make it my goal to explain these things, in the spirit of my main teacher, Rabbi Manis Friedman, in a way that is non technical and can be understood in every day language.

In life, there are many things that are exciting and powerful, but not good. Anger is a good example to work with for this. Anger is one of those aspects of life and creation that contains an energy, a passion, that itself is not bad. However, that energy and passion belong to anger, which is bad (exceptions not included).

The evil and bad are going to be gone forever when Moshiach comes. Our goal, before that happens, is to rescue those energies and passions that are currently in the hands of the "dark side" and bring them over to the good side.

Given that there are so many different "sparks", and each has its own character and method, it's hard to cover all bases, but I will give a couple of examples:

When it comes to anger, this is one way in which we rescue its spark. Imagine a husband and wife who love each-other to the maximum degree their hearts can love. Then they have a fight, and a lot of anger comes out. When they deal with that, and make up, they love each-other more; more powerfully, more passionately, than they did before the fight! Where did this extra love come from? It came from the passion and energy of the anger. It has been rescued from that bad force and brought to a good purpose, just like Hashem wants!

Another example is Hitler yemach shemo. He was very evil, no question. Yet there was an energy in his evil, let's call it "insanity", that itself, is not specific to evil. He was insanely evil. Who is insanely good to match Hitler? Whoever is has rescued some very powerful spark...

We live in a world where evil gets all the sparks, unfortunately. The manifestation of this is that doing good is dull, boring, takes effort. Evil on the other hand is exciting, powerful, and has a lot of momentum and draw that good simply does not have.

This is a result of the Kabbalistic concept of the vessels having been shattered. The normal is that good should have this type of draw, energy, momentum and excitement and evil should be dull, boring and stupid. By rescuing sparks, which is predominantly achieved through resisting temptation, and teshuva, we bring those sparks back to the good side and when the Moshiach comes we will have a world where good truly has won, and has defeated evil utterly and completely, and good itself is enhanced by this and we can enjoy the reward of that for eternity.

I have based this, as mentioned on Rabbi Manis Friedman's explanations because he is an expert in both the technical chassidus and the art of translating it into every day understanding. This shiur in particular covers these points. The other answers have brought good sefarim that deal with these ideas in the original.

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