A Guide to Jewish Meditation

 

(The image at the top of this page is an artist’s interpretation of gazing into the cosmic eye of God/Void/Cosmos. – Source)

Note: The following article is an excerpt from the book Eye to the Infinite and has been published with the author’s approval.

 

The way to nullify one’s physicality and ego,

to become included in G-d’s unity,

is through seclusion

  1. Nachmon of Breslav[1]

Why meditate?

Jewish meditation draws a person into the presence of G-d, to bask in His awe and love, to experience the ultimate spiritual consummation of the mystical union with the Creation (see Tehillim 28:4). As such, it is an essential component to the mesiloh ho’oileh beith E-l, the ‘path that leads to the House of G-d.’

For aeons, meditating on G-d was an essential discipline for spiritual seekers, ‘I set G-d before me always’ (Tehil. 16:8) the rallying cry of saints and mystics. Through hithbonenuth (deep contemplation) and hithbodeduth (mental seclusion), actions were imbued with mystical intentions, performed in quasi-prophetic states, inspired by the Divine Spirit. The fore-fathers, elders, prophets and sages, the Ge’onim, Early Saints and kabbalists, the Ari, Ba’al Shem Tov, and their saintly disciples, all taught how to attain knowledge of the Divine, to attach to the Supernal Realm, each according to their particular era’s spiritual climate.

Thus, at the bedrock of our ancient traditions are numinous meditations and esoteric doctrines, their fibres woven into the soul of Jewish law. (Which makes it all the more tragic that this subject is practically ignored, denied its place in the study-hall, bearers of our heritage starved of the richness of their birthright, the deep awareness and knowledge of the Divine, the result of mindful practice). Yet, besides a few notable exceptions, it is difficult to find clear references to meditative techniques in either Biblical of the early rabbinic literature.

This may be for several reasons. More than other areas of Torah, occult practices were closely guarded [2]. The sacred advanced methods to penetrate the higher realms necessitated precise instruction, from master to disciple [3]. After ‘discovering’ G-d through his own moral and devout conduct, a spiritual adept joined a school for neophyte prophets, to be individually mentored by an established prophet who empowered him with the Holy Spirit, facilitating access to higher, prophetic insight.

Furthermore, the Oral Law (recorded in the Mishnayoth (formalised Tannaic notes, c. 200 CE) and Talmud (Amoraic discussions, ca. 500 CE)) does not record or expound upon that which was lived and known. ‘G-d awareness’ was a mindset absorbed from the cradle, the meditative state an inevitable consequence of fulfilling mitsvoth. Whilst in some cultures, the meditative state was the goal, in Judaism, it was a by-product. Formalized instruction how to reach these states was deemed superfluous.

Regrettably, however, in today’s age of cyber reality, this awareness has been supplanted by sentimentalism, superficiality and an externalism that breeds mechanical performance. The endemic lack of clarity, the death of intellectual and emotional depth, symptomatic of postmodern Western culture, underscore the need for regular reflection. The shell of outer existence must be countered by an inner awareness, nurtured by ideas and bolstered with imagery created through private practice and applied knowledge. Only through conscious action suffused with meditation on G-d and His Presence, can the esoteric balance the exoteric. Else, with excessive emphasis on peripheralities, the core will implode.

Deveiquth and Mitsvoth

Jewish meditation combines purposeful thought of the mind with the passionate yearning of the heart. Coaxed and guided by the still voice of the soul, the conscious mind seeks the sublime depths of the Infinite, attaching, merging and dissolving, to realise the transcendent immanence of the G-d of Israel. This seductive, fugacious state is called deveiquth.

Literally ‘cleaving’, deveiquth, a state of divine union, is the result of overwhelming awareness of G-d. Cerebral attachment to the Infinite Essence, to the Eternal Divinity at the heart of creation, the Tree of Life in the centre of the Garden,[4] it is the quintessence of the mitsvoth, the essence of the Torah and the intended way of life, the result of following the Torah’s path with humility and intent.[5]

Essential to deveiquth is mind-imagery.[6] Words and actions influence thought but knowledge translated into mind-imagery is its director.[7] As the Rabbis say, ‘Words are secondary to intent’.[8]  Words direct the mind only to the extent of the mind’s visual vocabulary. This is especially important in prophetic meditation, where heart and mind must unite with the soul to truly behold G-d’s Presence.

Like anything worthwhile, deveiquth requires application and practice. Snatches of insight will not amount to much. Though this article (originally, book) presents the gen and exercises to build mind-imagery, it is for the reader to implement them. Time and effort must be expended to develop the right mind-set. ‘Seek G-d and His Strength; beseech His Face constantly.’[9] Through regular application, soul and heart will join in their focus on the Creator.

Though performance of action-mitsvoth uplifts and transforms the material to the spiritual, [10] eases the tension between spirit and substance, creating a visceral awareness of G-d’s Presence, this nebulous awareness will dissipate if not actively and constantly preserved and developed.[11]

The tentative consciousness engendered by mindful engagement in mitsvoth is an embryonic expression of Divine Will. Anchoring this inchoate spark of G-d’s Presence necessits effort and cultivation, through Torah-learning, contemplation and prayer. Each of these categories is indispensable. As King David says (Tehillim 28:4), ‘One thing I asked from G-d […]: let me dwell in G-d’s House all the days of my life (Torah), to gaze on the pleasantness of G-d (meditation) and to visit His Palace (prayer)’. Indeed, according to both Rabbeinu Yonah of Gerondi and the Shushan Sodoth, meditation on G-d is the condicio sine qua non for basic spiritual health, on a par with prayer and Torah-learning:[12]

“Every person should [be able to] cogitate and think deeply only on the Creator, blessed be He, not on anything else, [as] written in the Torah, in the Prophets and in the Writings…

Consequently, it is appropriate for everyone to be vigilant in learning how to remove all other thoughts from his heart besides those on the Creator of the World, blessed be He, for [only] when he knows Him, will he be able to serve Him…”

‘Think deeply only on the Creator … [Only] when [you] know Him, will [you] be able to serve Him.’ This is the soul and crux of Jewish meditation – and of deveiquth.

Mitsvoth train the ego to resonate with, and be party to, the soul’s perception of G-d. But only, says the Me’or Einayim, if performed with deveiquth. ‘If we do mitsvoth with deveiquth, our deeds have life: they have a soul. Otherwise, they are empty rituals, like bodies devoid of spirit.’[13]

An action-mitsvoh performed without deveiquth is as a lifeless body. It lacks essential vitality. Deveiquth breathes life into the shell, fusing together the deed and the Light, the external with the internal.[14] If act, soul and emotion align, man comes ‘home’, experiencing holy sublimity even whilst fettered to the corporeal realm: a return to Eden.

By grounding the soul’s sensitivity through performance, physical consciousness begins to comprehend spiritual reality, so that everyday action and speech become mindful and focused. The Divine is then experienced as more real and palpable than corporal existence.[15]

 

[1] Liqutei MoHaran, I, §52 (p. 60.)

[2] Sukkoh 49b (מה ירך בסתר, אף ד”ת בסתר); Chagigoh 13af; Gittin 60b; Qiddushin 71a. See also, R. Moshe ben Yosef of Trani (the ‘MaBYT’, 1500-1580), Kiryath Sefer, Intro., regarding the unique and holy character of the Oral Law, ‘… as it is hidden in the souls of the righteous… and that which is written, no longer has the same effect on the soul…’

[3] Shmuel I, 19:20-24; Chagigoh 12bff: ‘One may not expound on… ma’aseh bereishith (“Act of Genesis”) with more than one student [at a time], ma’aseh merkovoh (“Work of Chariot”) with even one student unless wise and understanding.’ (Also, Vayikro Raboh, 31:7.) The Talmud (13a) enlarges on the conditions. Secrecy is evident from the earliest records of transmission prophecy meditation techniques (see Tosefta Chagigoh 2:2), to the early kabbalists, the Ari, the Ba’al Shem, the Gra, their disciples, up to the modern era.

[4] Bereishith 2:9; R.Y. Yosef of Polnoye (1710-1783/4) Toldoth Ya’aqov Yosef, Bamidbor.

[5] See R. Moshe ben Nachmon (1194-1270), Ramban, Devorim 11:22; R. Elimelech of Lizhensk, Liqutei Shoshanim (437a); R. Levy Yitschoq of Berditchev (1740-1809), Qedushath Levi (vol. II, p. 471); Toldoth Ya’aqov Yosef, Intro.

[6] R. Menachem Ben Aharon (c.1310-1385), Tseidoh LaDerech, pp. 22-3; R. Moshe ben Maimon (1135-1204), Moreh Nevuchim 1:50; R. Yehudoh HaLevi (c.1075-1141), S. HaKuzari, Ma’amar 3; R. Yonah of Gerondi, Sha’arei Teshuvoh, 3:15; Talmidei Rabbeinu Yonah, Brochoth 4b (כל הסומך גאולה לתפלה); R. Shlomo Wolbe (1914-2005), Alei Shur, Ch. 16, p. 100, 104.

[7] ‘As a rider leads its horse, so intellect directs speech’; R. S.Z. of Liadi, Torah Ohr, p.64, col.3; R. Yitschoq DovBer Schneersohn, Siddur Tefilloh, p. 126.

[8] Regarding the mitsvoh of reciting the Shema, אחרי הכוונה הן הן הדברים – Brochoth 15a; see also, R. Bachya ibn Paqudoh, Chovoth HaLevovoth, Sha’ar Chesbon HaNefesh, Ch. 9.

[9] Tehillim 105:4 (see also v.3, regarding meditating on G-d’s name). See: L. A. Tanya, Chap. 3; Rabbeinu Yonah (of Gerondi 1200-1263) Mishlei, end of Chap. 2; Yosher Divrei Emeth, §12, p. 7b. Kabbalistically, ‘His Strength’ is a metaphor for the Shechinoh (Divine Presence) or Ohr Ein Sof (Light of the Infinite One), ‘soul’ of G-d. While beseeching the ‘Face’ of G-d, i.e. His manifestations, we focus on the Ohr Ein Sof and G-d’s Presence.

[10] There are two categories of mitsvoth: action and thought (see Ibn Ezra and Kli Yoqor, Devorim, 30-11-14; Ibn Ezra, Shemoth 20:2; Chovoth HaLevovoth, Intro.) Though Rashbo (Rav Shlomoh bar Adereth, 1235-1310), Brochoth 8a (ד”ה ארשב”י ) and No’am Elimelech list three categories:

 :’ נו”א פ’ לך לך, ד”ה והנה דבר ד’: ג’ מדריגות שצריך האדם לעבוד להשם ית

בדבור במעשה ובמחשבה. הדבור היינו התורה הקדושה, ומעשה הם המצות, ומחשבה הוא רוממות א-ל ית’ ויתעלה

. – ‘three levels with which a person should serve G-d: speech, through the holy Torah, action – through the mitsvoth, and thought – [contemplating] G-d’s greatness’ – when considering internal versus external, speech is categorized as action. (See Sanhedrin 65a. Also, the connection of speech and action in Shabboth 58b, 119a.)

[11] See, for example, L. A. Tanya, end of Chapter 3.

[12] Shaarei Teshuvoh, 4:21; 3:17; Shushan Sodoth (unknown disciple of Ramban) p.1. Also, Divrei HaYomim I, 28:9, Tanya, ibid; Kiryath Sefer, Hi. De’oth, Ch. 6 (a Torah mitsvoth to always attach one’s mind to G-d); R. Sholom DovBer Schneerson, Quntrus HaTefiloh, 2

[13] R. Menachem Nochum of Chernobyl (1730-1797), Me’or Einayim, VaYeiroh. Also, R. Yitschoq Luria (Ari z”1 (1534-1572)) Liqutei Torah, Eiqev. The Torah describes meal-offerings as a ‘sweet savour’ to G-d, to teach, ‘whether one does much or little, the main thing is directing one’s heart to Heaven’ (Menochoth 13:11). Though a mitsvoth’s details must be attended to, its ‘soul’ is directing one’s heart to the Holy One Who commanded us. Me’or Einayim agrees that one’s obligation fulfilled even without deveiquth; merely that it lacks life. Cf. R. Chaim of Volozhin (1749-1821), disciple of the Vilna Gaon (1720-1797), that though intent is an integral part of the mitsvoth, the main part is the deed (Nefesh HaChaim, Gate 1, end). Cf. ibid., end of 1:22, s.v. Ach sheyekayeim ish Yisroel kero’uy, and end of 2:2; similarly, Chovoth HaLevovoth, Intro.;Zohar, III, 261a. Cf. R. Shne’ur Zalman of Liadi (Torah Ohr, Bereishith, 1, col. 2): ‘Practical performance of mitsvoth purifies the mind and heart a thousand times more [than contemplation]’.

[14]Mitsvoth are vessels in which to draw down the Light of Ein Sof’: Toldith Y. Y., Intro.

[15] See R. Nachmon of Breslov (1772-1811), Liqutei MoHaRan 1:22, par. §5, 6.

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David Rubin
Position: Collaborator City: Age: Beliefs/System: Eclectic. various schools of [Jewish] meditation Domains of interest: Kabbalah, astrology, healing, hypnosis Website: http://jewish-meditation.weebly.com/
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