Jewish Meditation Essay, Research Paper
“I know of a story where a 12 year old boy secretly studied the Kabbalah and meditation under a rabbi. So do not worry, you are in like company (Wallace).”
Mystical traditions hold a secret that not everyone can experience. Stories can be read, pictures can be seen, and accounts of mystics (those who practice these traditions) can be professed, but nothing will compare to emotion and passion in the experience itself. The mind of a mystic can be viewed as one gone mad. Or is that merely the title one gives the unexplained and not experienced?
Many of today’s so-called mystical experiences can be practiced in a single day. Sleep deprivation, raves, repetitive monotonous sounds, and so on can change a person. But for how long and how does a person feel? Quite a different question is asked of Jewish mystical tradition and meditation. That question can very well be what are the stages, what is to be risked, and what is to be received? What a turn this topic takes with the application of the Jewish model. “The West might be said to emphasize action. The East concentrates on perfection of the spirit. Judaism seeks to unite both
ideals (Weiner 111).
Jewish meditation is a spiritual insight with G-d. This process of getting close to G-d is called “devekut”. Devekut is not only getting close, but also actually melting into G-d. This requires much training and rules. It is said that one cannot even look at the Kabbalah (the Jewish mystical text) unless one is male and over forty years of age. A girl the age of twenty was afraid to touch the text let alone talk about it (Warner). The Kabbalah is both fear and love (“Kabbala” 271). Devekut is an actual metamorphosis of the self. Practicing individuals are receiving from G-d. There is no selfish goal for meditation but to be a chariot to carry the will of G-d. With this fastening, a presence is felt. Jewish meditation and the study of the Kabbala is that of a different level of reality that harmonizes with an incomparable spirituality.
It has been noticed that Merkava meditation practice can be dangerous. The Merkavah warned very real dangers of this practiced such as death, madness, and abandonment. The farther one goes, the more dazzling and more confusing the journey becomes. Here one can see the souls of the righteous and the souls yet to be
born (Hoffman 9). The story of warning is that of four sages. The first sage being Shimon Ben Azai’zl. It is written that when he entered this state, he gazed and died. Ben Azai so greatly studied the Torah and never married. His piousness was a legend. He died because he made no part of himself on the earth. He was not concerned with the world. Here it is learned that one must be completely grounded.
The second to enter was Shimon Ben Zoma z’l. He gazed and went insane. He had strict discipline. His wisdom was greater than his actions. He was only complete on one level. He could not receive the light nor go back. He got stuck.
The next to enter was Elisha Ben Abuya Aher. What he saw made him abandon the Torah. He was considered one of the greatest sages. He was absolutely complete. Here he made a great error though. He thought that the supernal unity and the lower unity were separate. Once he achieved the higher of G-d, he abandoned the lower. He did not realize he was doing something bad. The subtlest danger is related to what is received in meditation. The is halahkah and Kabbalah. Know this. (Baxbaum 10)
The sage’s stories are so others that practice know what happened and know how to proceed. The worst opponent is found within the self.
Where do such practices come from? What is the basis of such mystical practices? What is the mystical text? The biblical version can be found in Ezekiel Chapter 1 1-26. This shows our connection with the deity. These were the texts kept by the most pious of Jewish scholars. But not everyone is called to be intellectualized. This alienated many from this establishment. From this came Ba’al Shem Tov, a holder of the good name. He taught of Kabbalistic prayer and meditation, which would give a personal experience of G-d. The intellectuals mocked this practice as foolishly pious. Those who were following the teachings of Ba’al Shem Tov were called the “pious ones”, i.e. Hasid. (Bar Tzadok) But those were the ones that had the opportunity to see what could otherwise not be seen and feel what the intellectuals could not feel. This caused persecution. Here are excerpts from Ezekiel:
1. Now it came to pass in the thirtieth year … the heavens opened and I saw visions of G-d.
4. And I looked, and, behold, a whirlwind came out of the north, a great cloud, and a fire infolding itself, and a brightness was about it, and out of the midst thereof as the colour of amber out of the midst and fire.
Text can also be found in Isaiah Chapter 6 1-8.
1. In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, his train filled the temple.
8. Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me.
These texts allow for both the calling and the mystical dangerous aspect of the Jewish merkava meditation practices. When one enters the practices, they enter the chariot from which Ezekiel speaks of. Here they are taken to G-d.
Here it is also seen why it is important to be properly trained in this practice. One cannot be thought in the presence of more than two people. For this would be profane. The seriousness of the teaching must be kept personal and one must be led on the journey
The Jewish Kabbalistic side of meditation is that of bringing all thought within. Our normal state is filled with conflicting thoughts and ideas. “Within each human are all the warring nations” quotes Rabbi Nachman Bratslkav (Hoffman 92). But control and resolution needs to be sought. One is able to rise out of this isolation of conflict. The Kabbalah states that we are born with neshamah (transcendental self that years to rise above). With neshamah, one has control. There sis always a way out of this isolation. The answer lies in meditation. Once one reaches the inner realm, everything is transformed.
Meditation beginnings are very specific. One margin of meditation is the repetition of a holy “Name”. Correct names must be spoken in a correct manner in order to focus mind and concentration. This can be seen in the term “mind over
matter”( Bar Tzadok). One must be full and ready for the metamorphosis that comes with this walk with holy Names. It is truly a transformation of the mind. From here, one can become of G-d.
Man must meditate on Name using his entire essence. Another great example of this is visualization. Visualization of letters is like the Periodic Table, each elements represents one thing (Hoffman 104). The system used by Biblical prophets is the concentration and visualizations of letters in the Hebrew language. This system of visualization comes mostly from the teachings of Rabbi Avraham Abulafia. His works were censored by large parts of the Torah community for centuries. These techniques were first written and entitled in the Sha’arei Tzedk. Another text was written concerning the practices and those who were practicing.
In this text, one was to visualize the holy name, YHVA. Yod, the first letter of the holy name, represents the purely holy and spiritual. Hey, the second letter in the holy name, represents pure mind and thought. The third letter, Vav, is the realm of emotions. The final Hey represents the physical earth Meditation beginnings are very specific.
It is not just concentration though. The actual image in meditation can explode with meaning. Blemishes can be found. If the letters appear black, red, white, or fire, one can find where the blemished of their lives are held and then work inward to remedy them. YHVA soon opened a new world to those who practiced its visualization.
The same holds true for the focus of the letters. A blemish can also be seen in the misalignment of the letters. Here held a higher sense of enlightenment. Here is a means to the end; perhaps this is what makes it dangerous. This is Merkavah meditation.
One must be completely in tune to thoughts and meanings of the study and in an area of quiet. Recite the name. Visualize G-d. Fatigue will come, as one is deeper into oneself. Do not slow down. Do not doubt. Senses must be abandon for higher intellect to occur. Imagination allows lines to be crossed. Here one faces oneself. This shock will be overcome. Strange thoughts sometimes hinder this process. But focus on the Tree of life may aid this. The Tree of Life is that of richness and beauty. To combat these images that seem strange, place them on the Tree of Life (Hoffman 111). These images are a different realm. One can become that between G-d and earth.
And today. What is to be said about this practice today? The ability to receive such prophetic spirit is still an important aspect. It is reserved for a few. It is the prophets that are netting for the word of G-d. G-d sees a certain disposition in people. It could be said that this mystical meditation practice is preparation of a prophet. The practice of the Holy Names is important. One must learn to look above and travel to this place of G-d. But, as seen by the mistakes of the sages, the body-soul connection must never be broken. Without this connection, a prophet is dead. The prophet is hence a man of action and his mind is kept with the here and now.
One way or another, it is important that the prophet is connected to the earth. It was professed with the promise of Abraham to be bonded to the land and the image of the burning bush that was connected to the earth. The story of Kayin is the story of such a relationship:
G-d refused Kayin’s offering, and Kayin killed his brother, Hebel. Even so, the Torah shows us that Kayin was still able to speak with
G-d. By definition, this communication was a prophetic experience. Yet, Kayin’s punishment, for killing his brother, was to be banished off the land, meaning he would loose his natural holistic connection with the earth. With this, the Torah says, Kayin is banished from before G-d’s Face. We thus see that the two are integrally connected. When Kayin lost his union with the earth, he lost union with G-d. What was the first thing that Kayin did after this? He started a family and built for them a city. The city was the symbol of the archetypal removal from the earth. Here they would depend on each other instead of G-d. When the ultimate city of Babel was finished, creation was in jeopardy. G-d had to personally intervene and topple the Tower of Babel and disperse the people.
The prophet acts as a vehicle so G-d does not have to personally intervene. They
are G-d’ s Merkevah, chariot (Bar Tzadok).