April 1, 2008 · Print This Article
Kabbalah – Jewish Mysticism
Kabbalah is the Jewish mystic tradition. Its roots are very deep and its practices somewhat secret. Originally, the esoteric practices of Kabbalah were known only to a few select Rabbis and passed down through an oral tradition to ensure authenticity and prevent mis-use.
Today, information is more accessible, and with this accessibility comes diverse doctrines and opposing viewpoints. However, the purpose of studying an esoteric tradition is to understand God more completely, and His relationship to you and the world. In this way, to establish yourself as a seeker on a spiritual path, all you need is a desire to know the Truth. The details will unfold as you delve into the mysteries of the mystic tradition.
Kabbalistic View of God
Kabbalah is similar to the other mystic traditions, like Sufism, in its belief that God, in His entirety, is unknowable. However, this general viewpoint begs the question: If God is unknowable, then how can I know Him?To deal with this question, Jewish mysticism also has a knowable aspect of God who is the creator and sustainer of the Universe and also interacts with us. This interaction can be seen when God appears to Moses as the burning bush.
Furthermore, in the Jewish Mystic tradition, we are all linked to God, and possibly, God is all that exists–God being beyond the world, yet including all things.
The Hasidic tradition of Jewish mysticism believes that God’s presence is in everything and therefore, one should serve God in every thought, word and action.
Kabbalists and Hasidic Jews have 72 Names of God and this leads us to…
There are many methods upon which to base your practice of Jewish meditation. At the heart of Jewish meditation is the belief that the realization of God cannot come from concentration alone. Concentration without knowledge leads to delusion. Therefore, it is essential that one take up study, learning and analyzing Kabbalah and Hasidic philosophy.One following the Jewish mystical path should utilize the three faculties of Chochma (wisdom), Binah (understanding), and Daas (concentration) to attain realization of God.
First, one acquires knowledge of the tradition and philosophy. Then concentrates (daas) upon that knowledge, which leads to wisdom (chochma), an insight into a concept that was previously unknown. Concentration (daas) on this wisdom leads to refinement of knowledge, or true understanding (Binah).
Enlightenment begins with…
Study of the Torah
Study of the Torah is essential to understanding God, for it is God’s Holy Word. The drawback to this practice is understanding Hebrew. If you were born into Judaism, this may not be a concern. But for non-Jews, learning Hebrew could be an obstacle.The reason for this is because the essential qualities of God’s Word lose some of their subtlety and power when translated into English. If you’ve ever studied a second language, you understand this. Some things just can’t be translated easily, or their meaning changes in the process. This can be seen by the Christian translation of the Old Testament. The Torah uses 72 different names to describe God. What does the English translation use? Only two: Lord or God. Do you see the problem here? Lord or God is a big under-statement, (and if you’re a Christian, you might feel a little cheated. I know I did when I learned about the richness of the Jewish tradition).
Despite those feelings, I admit that I attempted to learn Hebrew, but didn’t have enough discipline to stick with it. Perhaps you’ll have more success. Visit Hebrew for Christians to get a taste of the language and its significance to spiritual understanding.
Repetition of the Name
To practice repetition of the Name, choose a name of God from the 72 Names of God. Sit comfortably and in a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed. Close your eyes and repeat the name with the understanding that you are repeating a word that represents a divine quality or conceptualization of God (remember, God in Her entirety is unknowable according to Jewish tradition). Try to feel the meaning of that word within you with as much feeling and power as you can muster.For example, repeat the Name, Elohim, meaning: “He who is the object of reverence and in whom the fearful take refuge,” with the pure awareness that the word Elohim means this. Allow those qualities to come forth, and imagine such a One who is worthy of reverence, and a God in which you can take refuge when fearful. In this way, you connect with God.
Focus intently on the Name to the exclusion of all other things. If thoughts arise, or you find yourself daydreaming or thinking about something else, return your mind to the repetition of the Name.
As you deepen your practice, your experience of the Name will unfold naturally and spontaneously. The Name of God contains an aspect of divinity; just as God is a part of everything manifest, God is also a part of all words. So the name itself contains an aspect of God, which can be experienced through the repetition of His Holy Name.
Focusing on a Shviti
A Shviti is a mystical Jewish graphic that is meant to induce a higher state of consciousness. Many Jewish bookstores will carry a copy that you may purchase and frame for use during your meditation. For an example of this, visit Jewish Healing, a site dedicated to the Jewish Spiritual Tradition for the healing of physical and mental disorders.Once you have your Shviti, find a quiet place in your house and get comfortable. Relax by practicing deep breathing. Focus your attention on the Shviti, and allow your gaze to become soft, as if you are looking at it, without focusing on it. Take in the Shviti in its entirety. Then you may choose to focus on one symbol or aspect of the Shviti. Hold that symbol, and its meaning in your mind. Steadily focus on this one symbol and its meaning, to the exclusion of all other things. If you find yourself distracted, or thinking about something else, start over. Bring your attention back to the Shviti, and from the Shviti, focus in on one particular symbol.
Practice this for short periods to start (3-5 minutes), and work up to 15-20 minutes.
Meditation on a Flame
Meditating on a flame is a powerful experience. I have done it often and intuitively. However, there is a very specific and esoteric Jewish practice for meditating on a flame that is taught by Rabbi Goldie Milgram. In this method, you focus on the 5 levels of the flame, which correspond to the five levels of the human soul. Each level takes you deeper into an experience of the divine.At the outermost layer is the body. Focusing on the body, we recognize we are not the body.
Moving one layer deeper into the candle, from the body to our feelings, we recognize too, we are not our feelings.
Beyond our feelings, and deeper into the flame, is our personality. Recognize that you are not your thoughts or memories. Who you are is beyond those limited concepts.
Another layer into the candle is your intuition. This allows us to move through life in the light of God’s will, and meditating here takes us one step closer.
Beyond our intuition is our connection with God, the very heart of the flame. It is here that you rest in unity with God. Just as a drop of water loses itself when it touches a river, so too, the individual self loses itself when it merges in this divine realm of unity with God.
I am not an expert in Kabbalah. Nor have I formally studied Kabbalah. The information I have provided for you as a starting point for more serious and focused study.The basis of this study for all mystic traditions is to find a spiritual teacher who has walked the path, and thus may impart his or her knowledge and understanding to you directly. Jewish Mysticism is no different. If you are interested in Jewish Mysticism, begin by seeking out a Jewish Center in your area and ask about classes in Kabbalah.
Mindy Ribner, Rabbi David Cooper, Rabbi Rami Shapiro and Rabbi Shohama Wiener, who specializes in spiritual healing, are all good resources to begin your search for a teacher of Kabbalah.
Or you may choose to visit The Center for Jewish Spirituality to learn about Jewish Spiritual Retreats, or visit Kabbalah Center, made famous by people like Madonna and Rosanne Barr, who both studied Kabbalah at the center.
The Kabbalah center is highly controversial, (did you expect anything less from people like Madonna and Rosanne Barr?). Read more about the Kabbalah Center in this USA Today article.Then decide for yourself whether or not it’s for you.