February 16, 2010


From Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, “Meditation and the Bible” (Samuel Weiser or Jason Aronson edition), Chapter 8, “The Link,” pp. 93-94.

The End of Prophecy

[M]editation played a key role in the careers of the prophets, and was an indispensible element in attaining prophetic enlightenment. With the destruction of Solomon’s Temple and the Babylonian Exile, however, the prophetic schools lost their influence, and prophecy virtually vanished from the scene.

A number of reasons are given for this. One is that it is well established that true prophecy can only take place in the Holy Land. While the more general enlightenment of Ruach HaKodesh can be attained anywhere, actual prophecy, where a distinct message can be discerned, requires special conditions (Mekhilta on Exodus 12:1; Sifri on Deuteronomy 18:15, et al.). Since the majority did not return to the Holy Land after the Babylonian Exile, prophecy, in its formal sense, no longer could be attained (Yoma 9b; Kuzari 2:24).

Although the prophetic schools never admitted initiates indiscriminately, after the exile they actually became secret societies. The leaders had seen that the open quest for prophecy and the mystical experience had led many people to engage in idolatry and sorcery. In a large measure, it was this that led to the exile, and the leadership was determined that this would not recur. They therefore “nullified the lust for idolatry,” restricting all mystical teachings to very limited schools, consisting only of the most spiritually advanced individuals (Yoma 69b; Sanhedrin 64a).

The entire focus of Judaism was thus altered. Where the quest for prophecy and mystical enlightenment had played a key role in the general life of the populace, it was now regulated to the background. The focus shifted, and now the Oral Law, with all its intricacies, became the focus of national life, reaching its zenith with the compilation of the Talmud. The mystical activity that existed remained the domain of a few small restricted secret societies. The general rule was: “One may not teach the secrets to two people at a time. One may not teach the mysteries of the Chariot (Merkava) even to one, unless he is so wise that he can understand by himself” (Chagigah 11b).

An important ramification of this was found in the area of prayer. During the time of the prophets, there was no real formal worship service, and each person would pray in his own words. If a special prayer was needed to channel a particular level of spiritual energy, such a service could be led by one of the prophets or their disciples, who knew how to word the prayer to channel the required forces. It is for this reason that a prayer leader is called a Chazan, from the same root as Chazon, meaning a prophetic vision (Likkutei Moharan I, 3).

When prophecy ceased, however, this was no longer possible. A formal system of worship, including all of its mystical elements, had to be formulated. This was done by the Great Assembly, under the leader of Ezra, shortly after the return from the Babylonian Exile. It is significant to note that a number of the last prophets took part in compiling these prayers.

Many of the prophetic traditions were transmitted to the sages of the Talmud and beyond. An excellent account of this is provided by Rabbi Chaim Vital in his introduction to the Gates of Holiness (Sha’arey Kedushah).


From Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, “Meditation and the Bible” (Samuel Weiser or Jason Aronson edition), pp. 94-96; excerpt from Rabbi Chaim Vital, “THE GATES OF HOLINESS” (Sha’arey Kedushah), Author’s Introduction. (Footnotes have been omitted or restored to the text.)

The Mystic Path

“I have seen men of elevation and they are few" (Talmud: Sukkah 45b). Certain individuals yearn to ascend, but the ladder is hidden from their eyes. They contemplate the earlier books, seeking to find the path of life, the way they must go and the deeds they must do in order to elevate their souls to their highest Root, to bind themselves to God. This alone is the eternal perfection.

This was the way of the prophets. All their days they would bind themselves to their Creator. As a result of this attachment, Ruach HaKodesh (the Divine spirit) would descend on them, teaching them the path leading to the Light. This would then open their eyes to the mysteries of the Torah, this being the subject of King David's prayer, “Open my eyes, and let me gaze at the wonders of Your Torah” (Psalms 119:18). They would be led along a straight path, prepared by the “men of elevation,” so that they should reach their goal.

After the prophets came the Early Saints (Chasidim Rishonim; see Talmud: Berakhot 30b, et al.), who were also called the Pharasees (Secluded Ones) (Talmud: Chagigah 18b, et al.) They sought to follow the ways of the prophets and to imitate their methods.

These individuals would travel to rocky caves and deserts, secluded from the affairs of society. Some would seclude themselves in their homes, as isolated as those who went into the deserts.

Day and night, they would continuously praise their Creator, repeating the words of the Torah, and chanting the Psalms, which gladden the heart. They would continue in this manner until their minds were strongly bound to the Supernal Lights with powerful yearning. All their days they would do this consistently until they reached the level of Ruach HaKodesh, “prophesying and not stopping” (Numbers 11:25).

Even though these individuals were on a much lower level than the prophets, we are still ignorant of their ways and methods. We do not know how these holy men served God so that we should be able to emulate them.

In the generations following these individuals, people's hearts became smaller and understanding was reduced. Masters of Ruach HaKodesh went to their final rest and ceased to exist among us. They left us bereft, hungering and thirsting, until hopelessness grew in the hearts of men and they ceased to seek out this wondrous discipline. All that were left were “two or three berries on the uppermost branch” (Isaiah 17:6), “one in a city, and two in a family”(Jeremiah 3:14). “They seek water and there is none”(Isaiah 41:17), “for every vision has been sealed off” (Daniel 9:24). All this is because there was no book teaching the method of how to come close and approach the innermost sanctuary.

Some bound angels with oaths, making use of Divine Names. They sought light, but found darkness. The angels with which they communicated were very low angels, overseers of the physical world, who combined good and evil. These angels themselves could not perceive the Truth and the Highest Lights. They therefore revealed mixed concepts, consisting of good and evil, truth and falsehood, as well as useless ideas involving medicine, alchemy, and the use of amulets and incantations (see Sefer Chasidim 205, 206).

These too “erred with wine and were confused with strong drink” (Isaiah 28:7). What they should have done was spend their time studying the Torah and its commandments. They should have learned a lesson from the four spiritual giants who entered into the Mysteries (Pardes), where none escaped whole other than the pious elder, Rabbi Akiba (Talmud: Chagigah 14b). The angels even wanted to strike him down, but God helped him, and “he entered in peace and left in peace” (ibid. 15b).

These individuals sought very high levels, close to actual prophecy, and it was for this reason that they were injured. But even we, today, can be worthy of the lower levels of Ruach HaKodesh. This can be through the revelation of Elijah, to which many were worthy, as is well known. It can also consist of revelation of the souls of saints (Tzaddikim), which is mentioned many times in the Zohar. Even in our own times, I have seen holy men attaining this.

There are also cases where a person's own soul becomes highly purified and is revealed to him, leading him in all his ways. All these are ways of approaching God, and they can be attained even today by those who are worthy. But this requires much discipline and many temptations before one arrives at the Truth. If one is not sufficiently prepared, another, unclean, spirit may enter him...

I am therefore writing a book in which I will explain these mysteries . . . as I learned them from the lips of the saintly Rabbi Isaac Luria (also known as the Arizal). Since these involve the deepest secrets and most hidden mysteries, for every handbreadth that I reveal, I will hide a mile. With great difficulty, I will open the gates of holiness, making an opening like the eye of a needle, and let him who is worthy pass through it to enter the innermost chamber. God is good and He will not withhold this benefit from those who walk in righteousness.


Below are several translations from the Maggid’s teachings on “Nothingness (Ayin)” from Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan’s “Meditation and Kabbalah” (Samuel Weiser), pp. 300-303.

As Rabbi Kaplan later shows in his ground-breaking book, this mystical theme is picked up by the Maggid’s illustrious disciple, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev in “Kedushas Levi.” It is also central to the thought of another towering disciple of the Maggid, Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk, in “Pri Ha’aretz.” In recent years, these concepts have served as the foundation for a revival of Chassidic meditation in Jerusalem.

Nothingness (Ayin)

The many levels of the mind include the thinker, thought and speech. One is influenced by the other.

Speech exists in time. Thought is also in time, since a person has different thoughts at different times.

There is also an essence that binds the thinker to thought. This is an essence that cannot be grasped. It is the attribute of Nothingness. It is often referred to as the Hyle [the state between potential and realization].

An egg becomes a chicken. There is, however, an instant when it is neither chicken nor egg. No person can determine that instant, for in that instant, it is a state of Nothingness.

The same is true of the transition of thinker to thought, or of thought to speech. It is impossible to grasp the essence that unites them … In order to bind them all together, one must reach the level of Nothingness.

Moses thus said, “If Nothingness, erase me” (Exodus 32:32). [The Israelites had bowed down to the Golden Calf and] had been blemished by idolatry. What Moses wanted to do was elevate them back to their original level. He therefore brought himself to the level of Nothingness, and [wishing to go still higher he prayed, “erase me” [Rabbi Kaplan here references the Abulafian technique of “erasing (mechikah)” all mental images from the mind.] When [Moses] reached the highest level, he was able to bind all things on high (Maggid Devarav le-Yaakov #96).


Think of yourself as nothing, and totally forget yourself when you pray. Only have in mind that you are praying for the Divine Presence.

You can then enter the Universe of Thought, a state that is beyond time. Everything in this realm is the same, life and death, land and sea.

... But in order to enter the Universe of Thought, where all is the same, you must relinquish your ego, and forget all your troubles.

You cannot reach this level if you attach yourself to physical worldly things. For then, you are attached to the division between good and evil, which is included in the seven days of creation. How then can you approach a level above time, where absolute unity reigns?

Furthermore, if you consider yourself as “something,” and ask for your own needs, then God cannot clothe Himself in you. God is infinite, and no vessel can hold Him at all, except when a person makes himself like Nothing (Maggid Devarav le-Yaakov #159).


In prayer, you must place all your strength in the words, going from letter to letter until you totally forget your body. Thinking how the letters permute and combine with each other, you will have great delight. If this is a great physical delight, it is certainly a great spiritual delight.

This is the Universe of Yetzirah, [the world of Speech].

The letters then enter your thoughts, and you do not even hear the words that you pronounce. This is the Universe of Beriyah, [the world of Thought].

You then come to the level of Nothingness, where all your [senses and] physical faculties are nullified. This is the Universe of Atzilut, [which parallels] the Attribute of Chokhmah‑Wisdom (Maggid Devarav le-Yaakov #97).


Nothing can change from one thing to another [without first losing its original identity]. Thus, for example, before an egg can grow into a chicken, it must first cease totally to be an egg. Each thing must lose its original identity before it can be something else.

Therefore, before a thing is transformed into something else, it must come to the level of Nothingness.

This is how a miracle comes about, changing the laws of nature. First the thing must be elevated to the Emanation of Nothingness. Influence then comes from that Emanation to produce the miracle (Imrey Tzaddikim [Ohr ha-Emes] 19c).


When a person gazes at an object, he elevates it to his thought. If his thought is then attached to the supernal Thought, he can elevate it to the supernal Thought. From there it can be elevated to the level of Nothingness, where the object itself becomes absolute nothingness.

This person can then lower it once again to the level of Thought, which is somethingness. At the end of all levels, he can transform it into gold (Imrey Tzaddikim [Ohr ha-Emes] 19cd).


God is boundless. This means that there is nothing physical that can hinder His presence. He fills every element of space in all universes that He created, on all levels, and there is no place devoid of Him (Imrey Tzaddikim [Ohr ha-Emes] 23d).


When a person ascends from one level to the next, but still wants to attain more, then he has no limits and is literally like the Infinite. This person then has the attribute with which to grasp the seed transmitted from the Infinite Being.

But when a person says, “That which I can grasp is sufficient for me,” he then only aspires to the straw and chaff, which are the Husks (Ohr Torah 72a).


Man is primarily his mind. It would be natural for something which is mind to only bind itself to mental concepts.

One should therefore keep in mind this thought: “Why should I use my mind to think about physical things When I do this I lower my mind by binding it to a lower level. It would be better for me to elevate            my mind to the highest level, by binding my thoughts to the Infinite.”

Even physical things must serve the Creator in a spiritual manner. It is thus taught, “They are My slaves, and not slaves of slaves” (Imrey Tzaddikim 18c, citing Bava Metzia 10a).


Love is not restricted by limitations. For love does not have any bounds, being an aspect of the Infinite Love.

If one has love for something physical, then this physical thing becomes a vessel [that limits] his love.

But when one has love for the Infinite Being, then his love is clothed in the Infinite. Both the love and its vessel are then boundless. The same is true of all other attributes (Imrey Tzaddikim 18c).


When a person repents and directs his love toward God, his thought is , “Why did I expend my love for physical things? It is better for me to love the Root of all Roots.” His love is then rectified, and he draws the Sparks of Holiness out from the Husks (Ohr Torah, Bereishis 2d).


[God is called] the Endless One (Ain Sof) and not the Beginningless One. If He were called the Beginningless One, it would be impossible to even begin to speak about Him. But to some extent, it is possible to comprehend Him through His creation. This is a beginning, but it has no end (Imrey Tzaddikim 28b). 

February 12, 2010


Translated by Dovid Sears

Rabbi Elimelekh of Lizhensk, No'am Elimelekh (Likkutei Shoshanim, 105b)

"Fortunate are those who dwell in your house..." (Psalms 84:5). "Fortunate is the people unto whom are such [blessings]" (ibid. 144:15). [The latter verse could also be translated homiletically as: "Fortunate is the people that calms down / subsides unto Him" -- but I'm not sure if this reflects the author's intention. DS]

It seems to me that concerning the Gemara's remark: "The early Chasidim (pietists) used to meditate for one hour [before prayer]..." (Berakhos 4b), their intent was to purify and clear their minds in order to bind themselves to the higher worlds (cf. Noam Elimelekh, Korach, 79d) -- to a degree that approached transcendence of the physical, as mentioned in the Shulchan Arukh (Hilkhos Tefillah, 98).

However, afterward during prayer, the holy speech of their prayer automatically became garbed in their prior [exalted] state of consciousness. This is the meaning of the Gemara's [teaching], "God combines a good thought with action" (Kiddushin 40a). That is, the "good speech" of prayer is considered action when compared to thought.

During prayer, they also would contemplate the supernal worlds and cleave there, as if they no longer existed in this world. Thus, [the verse] is self-understood: "Fortunate are those who dwell in Your house" -- meaning, who dwell in the higher worlds -- "they will praise you all the more, sela" (ad loc.), that is, even while engaged in their prayers.

"Fortunate is the people unto whom are such [blessings]..." For the Holy One, blessed be He, endowed the righteous with the power to cancel Heaven's decrees and to mitigate harsh judgments [by virtue of their spiritual ascents during prayer].

February 11, 2010


From Rabbi Perets Auerbach’s “The Science, Art and Heart of Hitbodedut.” This work-in-progress may be purchased by contacting the author by email: peretsz@gmail.com. We thank Rabbi Auerbach for permitting us to present excerpts from his writings here. All notes were omitted for this online version, except one explanation that was too important to leave out.

Although this excerpt begins by discussing prayer in general, it is especially relevant to Rabbi Nachman’s practice of hitbodedut.

The Wings of Prayer

“Take these broken wings and learn to fly again.” The Zohar teaches that love and fear are the two wings with which tefilah and all mitzvot can soar above. The soul sitting in rapture, in love and fear of God, is lifted out of her limitations to fly to supernal realms.

“And in order to tell of My praise throughout the whole world” (Exodus 9:16). The whole world was made to thank and praise God. “Give thanks to God for He is good—for His lovingkindness is forever” (Psalms 136:1, et al.). Psalm 136 counts off thirty-two blessings/salvations/miracles to give thanks for. It is not enough to appreciate in a general way all the great things that happened so that we have made it to this moment; it is necessary to give thanks for each step by itself.

Moreover, it is necessary to appreciate that each step is a complete deliverance unto itself. “If He took us out of Egypt, but did not split for us the sea—dayenu, it would be enough. If He split for us the sea but did not give us the Shabbat—dayenu, it would be enough. If he had given us the Shabbat but did not give us the Torah—dayenu, it would be enough...” We might wonder: The Midrash states that the world was created for the sake of the Torah (Bereishit Rabbah 1,6; 12,2; et al.). How could it have been considered “enough” if the Jewish people had not received it? Nonetheless, the Haggadah teaches us that even if (for whatever reason) things had been left lacking in the overall picture, each rung of goodness is so precious that the whole world was worth creating just to reach it!

Each person should make his own set of “for His lovingkindness is forever's and “it would be enough”s. Go through your life and count your blessings in detail before God. Appreciate how each stage is an eternal goodness unto itself.

Giving thanks is the main thing that we will do in the world-to-come (Likkutei Moharan II, 5; cf. Osiyot de-Rabbi Akiva). The Gemara teaches that the Shemoneh Esreh, the highest formal prayer, begins with praise. Then come requests, and then the conclusion is again with praise (Berakhot 34a). This comes to teach a prayer principle that in general should always be utilized: one should begin the hitbodedut session by counting his blessings—very specifically. Thank God for the air, the water, the meals that you eat. Don’t forget the roof over your head, your bed, pillow, and blanket. These are types of things that hopefully a person has on a regular basis—but just because they are constant, they should not be taken for granted. Then there are every day particular yeshu’ot (salvations) that every person has, which also should not be taken for granted. To express appreciation and gratitude before God for them is most important. Not because God needs to hear it—we need to say it. “Who is the sage that will guard these [ideas—to always give thanks] and who will think deeply into the loving-kindnesses of God” (Psalms 107:43).

This touches upon the essence of prayer. Tefilah means connection, as in “naftulai niftalti [I was connected, certainly connected] with my sister...” (Genesis 30:8) (see Likkutei Moharan II, 84, and end note below). The point of praying is not to be answered. The point is to plug into God. This itself is the real answer to everything and anything, the main “savior of all saviors.” When someone recognizes that God is the Source of All, and not only that individual, but the entire universe is constantly dependent upon Him—this awareness itself is one major step of liberation.

This idea underlies Rabbi Nachman’s teaching (ibid.) that tefilah depends upon yirah (fear); as it is written, “A woman who fears God—she shall praise” (Proverbs 31:30). The Maharal (Netivot Olam) tells us that the essence of yirah is for the effect to know that it comes from its cause: to look at oneself and all of existence and to acknowledge that the whole thing comes from the “Cause of All Causes.” This yirah is the foundation of being able to get up and praise and pray to the Source of All. This links with the idea that yirah is a motion in the soul of constriction, contraction, and nullification. The yeshut (‘somethingness’) of the nefesh ha-behamit (animalistic soul) and the world at large separate the self from God-awareness. Yirah comes and cuts through the “somethingness,” removes blocks, silences the static—affording the nefesh Elokit (Divine soul) the opportunity to connect above, unhindered. In simple terms, the “chattering monkey”/internal dialogue/ego divert the self, and keep it preoccupied and in a drunken stupor, which separates it from its Creator. Yirah comes to the rescue and save us from all this.

This is why it is necessary to precede the speech part of hitbodedut with meditation (Sichot HaRan 232). “A woman who fears God [first—then she is ready] to praise” (Proverbs 31:30). A simple contemplation of the existence of God, being in His Presence and realizing that all comes from Him, opens the heart to be able to express thanks and ask about all the necessary details. The more true awareness one has that God is the Source, Provider, and Giver of all, the deeper the effect the ensuing engagement in tefilah will have. “You prepare their heart [to pray]—Your ears [then] hear” (Psalms 10:17). The effort to get ready before tefilah draws Divine assistance.

Coming into hitbodedut from this awareness saves from what the Gemara calls “heartache”–“iyyun tefilah” (Shabbat 127a). Iyyun tefilah means constantly waiting to be answered, looking for concrete results of one’s prayer, and openly revealed deliverance from one’s troubles. However, the test of this world requires that there always be free will. This means that, to varying degrees, there is always a cloak over what is really going on. One of the main ways that this takes shape is that prayer does not always seem to be answered, or even heard. In general, Rabbi Nachman warns against being stubborn (Likkutei Moharan I, 196). The main thing is always to present one’s requests with the honor of God in mind. But when it comes to prayer, one must be stubborn in the sense of not giving up. As Rabbi Nachman says, it may seem as though heaven is not paying any attention to you. They may seem to be pushing you away. Therefore, you must argue with God that it is fitting for Him to bring you close to Him, even to the extent of respectfully complaining about this. You may try to serve God in truth for years, without seeing any improvement. Nevertheless, you have to do your part and continually pray, supplicate and beg to come close to Him (ibid. II, 48).


Naftulai niftalti…” (Genesis 30:8). This verse speaks of the holy jealousy that Rachel had of her sister Leah, because Leah had children, which Rachel had not yet merited. Rachel is Malkhut/Kingship, the lower realm; Leah is Binah/Understanding, the upper realm (Zohar I, Vayeitzei). The lower world is jealous of the superior connection, illumination, and results that the upper realm seems to have over it. Yet we find “And Ya’akov loved Rachel” (Genesis 29:18). “Rachel [mentioned first] and Leah, that they both built the house of Israel” (Ruth 4:11). The verse speaks of “the children of Rachel, the wife of Ya’akov” (Genesis 46:19), whereas of Leah it just says, “These are the children of Leah” (ibid. 46:15). This reflects the principle that “the Holy One blessed be He wanted a dwelling in the lower realms” (Tanchumah, Naso 7:1). The main concern is to bring the light, revelation, and shefa (flow) to the lower realm. On the surface, it would seem that Leah is higher because she comes from a higher source. But the tikkun of Rachel is, in general, more important for us to focus on, because the whole point of creation is to elevate what is low. So one must seek in hitbodedut to attain the highest levels. But one must be happy with the simple delight of relating to God, even about asking Him to have a button sown on one’s coat. The Rachel/Leah themes are united when a person prays for simple things from an expanded state of consciousness—and when one understands the Divinity enclothed in the world all around.


The following meditation is from eighteenth century kabbalist Rabbi Pinchas Eliyahu Horowitz of Vilna’s Sefer HaBris (Book of the Covenant), Part II, Ma’amar 11. This encyclopedic work is an expansion of Rabbi Chaim Vital’s classic Sha’arey Kedushah (Gates of Holiness), the third gate of which concludes with a similar meditation (posted elsewhere on this website). However, Rabbi Horowitz’s version provides more detail and thus is more practical, although it presupposes a good deal of kabbalistic knowledge— which he provides throughout Part II of his book. “Ru’ach HaKodesh,” literally, the “holy spirit,” is sometimes described as the lowest level of prophecy and represents a degree of enlightenment. As Rabbi Horowitz cautions, its attainment requires much spiritual preparation.

Meditation and Ru’ach HaKodesh

Translated by Dovid Sears

In section 6, the author lists the preparations one must make before embarking on this meditation. These include teshuvah, i.e., repentance for one’s sins and whole-hearted return to G-d; guarding one’s eyes from improper gazing; carefully fulfilling the laws of the Torah; reciting all daily blessings with mental focus, and not merely by force of habit; studying the Torah for the sake of G-d alone, and not for personal gain; arising at midnight to mourn the destruction of the Holy Temple and to pray for the immediate rebuilding of Jerusalem (tikkun chatzos); limiting indulgence in physical pleasures; and especially purging oneself of all evil character traits. In addition, he mentions the importance of immersing in the mikveh (pool or ritual bath) when necessary (such as after marital relations); regularly practicing hisbodedus (secluded meditation and prayer); mentally visualizing the Divine Name YHVH constantly, so that one will be G-d-fearing, and one’s deeds will be for the sake of heaven; and cleaving to G-d in one’s thoughts with great love—in the knowledge that G-d is the source of all goodness that one may experience in the world and in the World to Come. In a word, the practice described below is only meant for someone who “lives the life,” and is not for dabblers. (So if you’re not up to it, hold off until you’re ready.)

The meditation itself is described in section 7. We have added our own commentary to explain some of the author’s terms.

Sefer HaBris: One should confess, and then immerse [in a mikveh]. After this, he should seclude himself in a room where he will not hear even the sound of birds chirping, and all the more so human voices, so that he will not be distracted. If it is possible to do so after midnight, even better. One should light many candles; and if [he wishes to meditate] by day, the best time is before noon, while garbed in talis (prayer shawl) and tefillin (phylacteries). One should close his eyes and remove his thoughts from all mundane matters, as if he no longer existed in this world. Afterwards, he should begin to sing praises to G-d from the praises of David [i.e., Book of Psalms] with great fervor. Then he should contemplate the supernal worlds, the hidden lofty levels, from below to above, and picture the upper worlds in his imagination; he should begin to imagine that his higher soul is ascending higher and higher according to its soul-roots in the Adam de-Nishamos of the heavens of the World of Asiyah/Action.

Commentary: Confession of sins and immersion in a mikvah are both necessary preconditions for performing this meditation in a state of purity. Otherwise, the entire endeavor would be like pouring vintage wine into an unclean cup.

In Sefer HaBris, Part II, Maamar 8, section 1, Rabbi Horowitz defines “Adam de-Nishamos” (literally, the “Man of Souls”) as the collectivity of each of the five components of the individual soul (called nefesh, ru’ach, neshamah, chayah, yechidah) on each of the “Four Worlds,” plus the fifth and transcendent level of Adam Kadmon/Primordial Man. Based on Ezekiel’s vision of the Merkava (“Divine Chariot”), the kabbalists speak of four “worlds,” or levels of reality: Asiyah/Action. Yetzirah/Formation, and Beriah/Creation, in ascending order; the fourth and highest world is that of Atzilus/Emanation, in which “lights and vessels are one.” Thus, Atzilus is described as the “world of unity.” Each world is made up of ten sefiros, which form an integral whole, and each is the source or root of one of the components of the soul. The term “Adam” as related to each of the three lower worlds appears in the Tikkuney Zohar, Tikkun 19 and Tikkun 69. (This is probably the symbolic meaning of the three giants carrying a tree that the Viceroy encounters in the desert in Rabbi Nachman’s tale, “The Lost Princess.”) “Adam de-Nishamos of the heavens of the World of Asiyah/Action” represents the collective root of the lowest level of the soul, which is called “nefesh.”

The author of Sefer HaBris specifies the “heavens of Asiyah,” because Asiyah subsumes the entire physical universe, but more essentially it is the spiritual corollary of the physical universe we inhabit. This spiritual aspect of Asiyah is its “heavenly” dimension.

The term “soul roots (shorshey neshamos)” reflects the kabbalistic principle that each level of reality, or “world,” derives from the level above it in the seder ha-histalshelus, the process of causation through which all things come into existence in an orderly process of devolution from unity to multiplicity and incorporeality to corporeality.

The reader should note that although he is instructed to “picture the upper worlds in his imagination,” no such description is given. Since the upper worlds don’t resemble what we are used to seeing, it doesn’t matter how one chooses to visualize them. When the shefa eloki (divine influx) rests upon the meditator, these images will cease.

Sefer HaBris: That is, at first one should envision himself reaching the root of his soul in the Malkhus/Kingship of the Adam de-Nishamos of the heavens of Asiyah/Action. He should intend to cleave to the sefirah of Malkhus of the Adam de-Nishamos of the heavens of Asiyah, and intend to combine the sefirah of Malkhus of the Adam de-Nishamos with all other sefiros in the “Adam de-Sefiros” [i.e., the total structure of the sefiros on that plane], mentally combining the Divine Names YHVH and ADNY. [The unification of these Names corresponds to the unification of sefiros that the meditator wishes to accomplish.]

Commentary: The Name YHVH (Hebrew: yud-heh-vav-heh) is associated with the six sefiros of Chesed/Kindness through Yesod/Foundation and represents the masculine principle, while the Name ADNY (Hebrew: alef-dalet-nun-yud) is associated with Malkhus/Kingship and represents the feminine principle. Their unification brings harmony to each “world” in question.

The terms Adam de-Sefiros and Adam de-Nishamos both correspond primarily to the World of Asiyah/Action; while in the next passage, “Adam de-Malakhim” corresponds primarily to the World of Yetzirah/Formation; and Adam of the Quarry of Husks corresponds primarily to the World of Beriah/Creation. (There are no klippos/husks in Atzilus, the “world of unity.”) However, just as there are three general worlds of Asiyah, Yetzirah, and Beriah, so each world is subdivided into Asiyah-of-Asiyah, Yetzirah-of-Asiyah, and Beriah-of-Asiyah, etc. Accordingly, the various “Adams” correspond to each of these sub-categories in ascending order: e.g., there is also an Adam de-Nishamos on the level of Yetzirah and an Adam de-Nishamos on the level of Beriah/Creation, as well. Thus, the various “Adams” exist in each of the worlds.

It is interesting that although this meditation primarily reflects the kabbalah of the ARI, the terminology of the various “Adams” is more common in the works of the early kabbalists, who lived prior to the ARI.

Sefer HaBris: After this, he should intend to merge the entire Adam de-Sefiros into the Infinite One [which animates the sefiros from] within, again combining the Divine Names YHVH and ADNY. Then, he should intend to draw forth great illumination from the Infinite One to the sefirah of Malkhus of the Adam de-Sefiros, and from thence to the sefirah of Malkhus of the Adam de-Nishamos; from thence to the sefiros of the Adam de-Malakhim [i.e., the domain of the angels]; from thence to the “Adam of the Quarry of Husks”; and from thence to the Firmaments (Rekiyim) themselves. And he, too, should intend to receive his portion, last of all.

Commentary: “Adam of the Quarry of Husks” indicates the point of origin of the klippos (“husks” or “shells”). These are the forces that conceal Divinity and lead to the emergence of evil in creation. The klippos originate in the World of Beriah/Creation, which is where separateness and multiplicity first become manifest, however subtly. (This is also the “world” in which Sheviras HaKeilim, the “Shattering of the Vessels” at the beginning of creation, took place, as described in the Eitz Chayyim of the ARI.) The “firmaments” allude to the highest World of Atzilus/Emanation, which transcends all division, and the ineffable realms above Atzilus, which are are termed tzachtzachos (“pure lights”). The meditator has the kavannah (intention) of receiving his portion last, so that his entire spiritual undertaking remains altruistic, free of craving after personal gain.

Sefer HaBris: After all this, he should meditate in the same way upon the sefirah of Yesod/Foundation of the Adam de-Nishamos [and visualize the entire process of ascent]. Then he should meditate similarly upon the sefirah of Hod/Splendor of the Adam de-Nishamos of the heavens of Asiyah/Action; and so on, until he meditates upon the sefirah of Keser/Crown. He should perform the unification of YHVH and ADNY, and pray that the sefiros combine with one another and be illuminated in unity by the Infinite Light that inheres within them, with an abundant influx (shefa rav). And from thence the shefa should be transmitted to the Adam de-Nishamos of the heavens of Asiyah/Action. And through the roots of [the meditator’s] soul there, shefa should be drawn forth to the Adam de-Malakhim beyond, and from thence to the Adam de-Klippos beyond, and from thence to the Firmaments themselves; and he should receive his portion last of all.

Commentary: Thus, he will have visualized this process of unification as it relates to each of the ten sefiros of Adam de-Nishamos of the World of Asiyah in ascending order. Keser/Crown is the highest sefirah in the array of each set of ten sefiros, transcending the rest. Thus it is identical with Malkhus/ Kingship, the lowest of the ten sefiros of the next level in the cosmic chain.

Sefer HaBris: In this manner, he should concentrate on the roots of his soul in Yetzirah/Formation and in Beriah/Creation. However, upon encountering the Quarry of the Husks in each world, he should contemplate [this realm] swiftly, so that he passes through it right away. In all of these things, he should intend that with his descent from one level to the next, everything reflects the unification of YHVH and ADNY—for this is a true and universal unification. Even though the particular unifications and efficacious prayers relative to each individual place are unknown to us, nevertheless, “the Merciful One desires the heart” (Sanhedrin 106b). After one’s decent, he should contemplate that the divine influx (shefa ha-eloki) has reached his faculty of imagination, and he should visualize the spirit of God resting upon him; and it should rest upon him for however long, until the time comes for His word [i.e., spontaneous, divinely-inspired speech].

Conclusion: The chapter concludes by saying that if this meditation has no effect, one must assume that he is unworthy and return to his spiritual preparations until he feels ready to attempt another ascent. At first, one must question any illuminations he receives, in case they come from the Sitra Achara (“Other Side”)—or they may come from the side of holiness, but are a mixture of truth and falsehood. This is surely the case if any such illuminations contradict the Torah, whether the Written Law or the Oral Law. The author also states that typically one will receive insights of a trivial nature until he becomes more adept at this form of meditation. Then he may achieve states close to prophecy, particularly if he is fortunate enough to live in Eretz Yisrael. In all this, Rabbi Horowitz seems to be speaking from personal experience.

February 7, 2010


Judaism is overwhelmingly a world-affirming religion, even in its mystical dimension. However, as this excerpt from an academic survey of the Kabbalah shows, there is a place for renouncing the world in Jewish tradition, too—in the mystic’s quest for knowledge and in order to bring about various tikkunim (spiritual reparations).

From Moshe Hallamish, “An Introduction to the Kabbalah,” State University of New York (SUNY) Press, 1999 (trans. Ruth Bar-Ilan), Chapter 6, pp. 84-85.

Gerushin: Divorce From the World

Another technique that is partly connected with graves is known as gerushin (wanderings in exile). This practice branches out into several intertwined offshoots. One is that the Kabbalist detaches himself from his family for a certain period of time and goes out to nature. The narrative episodes in the Zohar therefore often take place in nonpopulated areas. R. Elijah de-Vidas (Introduction to Reshit Hokhmah) . . . and many others attest to the practice among their contemporaries. There is withdrawal from the world in order to ascend to the Root, and participation in the suffering of the Shekhinah, who, like the people of Israel, is in exile. The close identification with the Shekhinah helps one to attain secrets, for the Shekhinah is “the gate of heaven.”

Another offshoot is walking in the desert or visiting the graves of the zaddikim in order to establish spiritual contacts with them and achieve union with their souls. Many descriptions of this practice appear in Gerushin by R. Moses Cordovero and in Sh'ar Ru'ah ha-Kodesh by R. Hayyim Vital. It should be noted that Cordovero explicitly states in several places that the Kabbalists used to stand barefoot beside the tomb of the zaddik, as an indication of mourning for the exile of the Shekhinah and sharing her sorrows.

Still another offshoot of this practice of gerushin is related to the Rabbi Moses Cordovero and his circle. Cordovero describes “what I and others have experienced in connection with gerushin, when we wandered in the fields . . . discussing verses from the Bible suddenly, without previous reflection. On these occasions, new ideas would come to us in a manner that cannot be believed unless one has seen or experienced it many times” (Ohr Ne’erav, part 5, chap. 2).

Though the Kabbalist is willing to drop some hints about what has occurred, he insists that only the person who has either experienced it himself, or at least witnessed it “many times,” is capable of truly and thoroughly understanding it. The Kabbalist runs out to the field, where a biblical verse or a talmudic saying comes out of his mouth spontaneously, without any deliberate preparation on his part. And all of a sudden he finds himself producing a discourse that revolves around this intuitive utterance “and the words of Torah were shining in us and the words were spoken of themselves” (Sefer Gerushin, par. 4).

Here are some detailed descriptions of this striking experience:

“We were still in the study of R. Simeon bar Yohai [i.e., the structure build upon his grave site in Meron] when I concluded my exposition on the subject. Then we fell down [in prayer] in the sepulchre of Rabbi Simeon and Rabbi Eleazar, and with my lips still moving I said a short prayer from the depths of my heart. Then my master arose and expounded [several verses from Deuteronomy] in a manner different from his previous explanations, and so did some other participants. I stood up and looked. I was facing southto my right was the tombstone of R. Eleazar; to my left, that of Rabbi Simeon, of blessed memory. And I opened my discourse by explaining the verse . . . and I said . . . “ (ibid., end para. 17, beg. para. 18).

After mentioning the discourse of Rabbi Solomon ha-Levi Alkabez, which was held by the tomb of Rabbi Yehudah bar Illay, R. Cordovero adds: “And all of this was said by my teacher, for it was the gift of R. Yehudah bar Illay with whose assistance we expounded . . . and we also elaborated on this” (ibid. para 10). In other words, the spirit of the deceased assists the Kabbalists in penetrating mysteries. This is implicit in the following description: “And we, some of the companions, entered into the cave [of the tannaitic rabbis in 'Akhbara] and recited a short prayer and then we went into the field to the rock, where we expounded a scriptural verse…” (ibid., end para. 33).

By entering into the cave and praying there, they were endowed with a special power that enabled them to spontaneously produce an insightful discourse.

February 1, 2010


The Chasidic Rebbe of Pinsk-Karlin sometimes spends time in hisbodedus by the sea, meditating and reciting Tehillim. Pictures courtesy of bhol.co.il.

January 5, 2010


This essay is an excerpt from an unpublished work tentatively entitled “The Seven Beggars’ Gifts” (previously “The Chandelier of Imperfections”—and who knows, maybe the old title will be restored if the book ever gets published). End notes have been eliminated from this online version, although source references have been restored to the text.

Letting in the Light

Based on Likkutei Moharan I, 172

By Dovid Sears

In this brief lesson, Rabbi Nachman further develops what scholars call the Baal Shem Tov’s panentheism, the belief that G-d is present within all things, despite His ultimate transcendence. And he zeros in on our most practical concern, namely how to penetrate the illusion (or at least quasi-illusion) of the world and glimpse the Divine Essence within all things. The Rebbe explains:
“Whatever one lacks, whether concerning children, livelihood, or health, everything is from the side of the person himself. For the light of God flows upon one continuously; however, through evil deeds, each person makes a shadow for himself, so that the divine light does not reach him. According to one’s actions, a shadow is cast which obstructs the light of God. The deficiency is proportionate to the deed that created the shadow.

“Now, a shadow is produced by a physical thing that stands before a spiritual entity (i.e., something of a more subtle nature)—just as a physical stick or stone placed opposite the light of the moon or sun will cast a shadow. Likewise, a solar or lunar eclipse is due to the shadow of the earth. Moreover, the sun itself is physical in relation to that which is above it, and casts a shadow against it.”

Therefore, according to one’s materialistic attachments and actions, one creates a shadow within him that prevents God’s light and bounty from reaching him. However, if a person nullifies himself and no longer exists in this world at all, he no longer casts a shadow, and receives the light of God. To continue:

“The essence of the divine light is glory; for ‘all that the Holy One, blessed be He, created, He created for His glory,’ as it is written (Isaiah 43:7): “For My glory I created it…” (Avot 6:11).

“This is the meaning of ‘The entire world is full (mi-lo kol ha’aretz) of His glory’ (Isaiah 6:3). That is, if one is ‘not of the world altogether [mi-lo kol ha’aretz, a play on words]’ and has no part in this world at all—then he receives the light of God, which is the divine glory.

“This, too, is the meaning of ‘The wise will inherit glory’ (Proverbs 3:35), for ‘wisdom comes forth from nothingness (ayin)’ (Job 28:12). Therefore, the wise, who are ‘nothing (ayin),’ are granted a perception of glory. Having overcome all materialism, they do not create an obstructing shadow.”

The concluding paragraph of Rabbi Nachman’s lesson introduces the idea that mystical perception also depends on one’s emotional state:

“When God, may He be blessed, displays a joyous face (panim), this brings life and good to the world; and the opposite is also true, God forbid. Similarly, when the tzaddik displays a joyous face, it is good; and vice-versa. This is the meaning of the verse ‘See, today I have placed before you [lifneykhem, which is related to the word panim, meaning “face”] life and good, as well as death…’ (Deuteronomy 11:26); that is, lifneykhem, according to your face.”

At a glance, this may seem to have only a tenuous connection to the previous theme. The linchpin is the Rebbe’s reference at the beginning of this teaching to both a solar and lunar eclipse and the cosmic hierarchy.

Let’s take a closer look at his words:

“Likewise, a solar or lunar eclipse is due to the shadow of the earth. Moreover, the sun itself is physical in relation to that which is above it, and casts a shadow against it.” In kabbalistic terms, the sun and moon correspond to mashpi’a, the “giver” or source of influence, and mekabel, the receiver. On the one hand, the tzaddik is like the moon, being a receiver in relation to God. On the other, he is like the sun, being a giver in relation to the world, particularly to those on lower spiritual levels. Only a perfect tzaddik can attain total bittul, absolute nullification of ego that eliminates every trace of the shadow. Thus, in order to fulfill our potential, we who occupy lower levels must receive illumination from the tzaddikim.

With his last remarks, Rabbi Nachman lets us know that this illumination is conditioned by our approach, the “face” we display. God’s “face,” or manner of revelation, depends on our “face,” meaning our spiritual state. Rebbe Nachman interprets the verse “And Hezekiah turned his face to the wall” (Isaiah 38:2) to mean that he turned his awareness within, “for one’s true ‘face’ is his state of mind” (Sichot ha-Ran 39). If we wallow in coarse materialism, we block the light. If we detach ourselves from worldly vanities and let go of our all-consuming self-interest, we immediately become receptors for Godliness—and, by implication, the light of the tzaddikim, who transmit the divine light to us, just as the sun illuminates the moon.

Elsewhere, Reb Noson adds that he heard a slightly different version of this teaching from another disciple of Rabbi Nachman. This version is even more lucid:

“You must nullify each of your negative traits until you have annihilated the ego completely, as if it were utterly non-existent.

“Begin with one negative trait and nullify it completely, until not a trace remains. Then work on your other negative traits, one at a time, until they no longer exist. As you nullify the ego, God’s glory will begin to shine through and be revealed. God’s glory is like light, as the verse states, ‘And the earth is illuminated with His glory’ (Ezekiel 43:2).”

After reiterating the analogy of the physical object placed before the sunlight that casts a shadow, this second version of the teaching concludes:

“Thus, it is written, ‘The entire world is full (mi-lo kol ha’aretz) of His glory’ (Isaiah 6:3). When there is nothing to cast a shadow and thereby obstruct the light, His glory is revealed through all the earth (Sichot ha-Ran136).”

This corresponds to the path of hitbodedut Rabbi Nachman delineates in Likkutei Moharan I, 52 (“Ha-Ne’or ba-Laylah/One Who Remains Awake At Night”). Through hitbodedut—going out alone at night to a secluded place where people do not usually go even by day, and speaking to God in one’s own words—one may systematically nullify all negative personality traits until one attains bittul, total self-effacement. The Rebbe’s descriptions of this process in both lessons are almost identical. By removing these negative traits, we remove the shadow, allowing the light of God, who is the “Imperative Existent,” to shine forth. (We should add that bittul is not to be confused with low self-esteem or self-hatred, traits that are merely the “flip side” of self-importance. We are supposed to recognize and eliminate our evil traits, but not become morbidly obsessed with ourselves in so doing. Rather, bittul denotes transcendence of the ego—seeing through the illusion of the self as something that exists apart from God.) Thus, it seems that the most basic way to put this teaching into practice is through hitbodedut.

December 15, 2009


From Rabbi Perets Auerbach’s “The Science, Art and Heart of Hitbodedut.” Explanatory notes have been omitted from this online version. This work-in-progress may be purchased by contacting the author by email: peretsz@gmail.com. We thank Rabbi Auerbach for permitting us to present this and other excerpts from his writings here.

Rooftop Hisbodedus

Rabbi Nachman says, “Living in the upper storey of a house is good for serving God” (Sefer HaMidot, “Bayit,” II, 1). Maybe this relates to the idea of going outside of the city for hitbodedut. A place outside of it all allows one to come to bitul (self-nullification) more easily, so being off the ground also helps this. A plane ride, too, can be an excellent opportunity for hitbodedut. Mountains have both advantages. In order to find the Lost Princess in Rabbi Nachman’s story, the Viceroy went outside of civilization by taking a “path to the side.” The “side” can also be vertical. (The Lost Princess represents the soul’s source in the Shekhinah. As in the story, she is found through yearning for her during hitbodedut, whenever one has time.)

Looking down from a roof is a good analogy for the “makif,” or encompassing perspective of looking down on the activities of the world and seeing them as one. It can enable one to see life from this perspective. From the encompassing outlook, what seem to be separate, unrelated, diverse happenings suddenly merge into one holistic picture. Try to enumerate different occurrences, people, and loose ends of your life and pray for this head-set while practicing hitbodedut on the roof.

Every person has a “makif (surrounding) light” and a “pnimi (internal) light.” Things that are well understood are in a state of pnimi. Things that are a step beyond are makifim (Likkutei Moharan I, 22). A spiritual person is constantly seeking to learn more and bring the makifim within. There is a law that requires a fence to be built around a roof (Deuteronomy 22:8). This figuratively represents building a barrier around the mind to prevent it from reaching for makifim that are too high. Each person should only reach for the rung immediately above him. Trying for more can result in falling off the roof and dying—going “aroys funn di keilim (out of the vessels),” as the saying goes, and losing one’s mind. There are also makifim that are beyond time; all the time of this world would not be enough to explain them. They also need to be avoided (Likkutei Moharan II, 7:6, 8).

Roof-hitbodedut helps to internalize the makifim properly. They bring innovations—new ideas, outlooks, and feelings. Each makif is a fresh, never glimpsed before light.

In the Torah, the mitzvah of building a parapet or fence is juxtaposed to that of the “kan tzippor (bird’s nest)”—the law of sending away the mother bird when you want to take the chicks. The place where the Mashiach (Messiah) dwells in heaven is called the “Palace of the Kan Tzippor” (Sefer HaGilgulim, chap. 72; Arba Me’ot Shekel Kesef, 68b). This mitzvah is mentioned in the Tikkuney Zohar more than any other. It hints to the concept of the Shekhinah (Divine Presence, which is the source of all souls) being like a mother who goes with her child in exile to protect him. The Sefirah of Binah (Understanding) is the maternal aspect. Mashiach is related to this, and therefore frequents the place where this mitzvah is rooted above. Roof-hitbodedut helps one ponder the plight of the Jewish people in exile, together with the Shekhinah. One can come to feel this protective, soothing, comforting maternal divine energy accompanying him in all difficult places.

The Arizal teaches that the Mashiach will have the singular, unique, special privilege of reaching “yechidah she’b’yechidah”—“oneness of oneness,” the highest level of the soul (Arba Me’ot Shekel Kesef, 68b). Yet everyone possesses an aspect of Mashiach (Likkutei Moharan II, 32). This point lies dormant in one’s innermost recesses. Even though it only fully manifests in the actual Mashiach, each individual according to his spiritual efforts can access this inner point to some degree. It is a level of complete nullification to Eyn Sof, the Infinite One. Yechidah literally means “singular.” The self is swept away with only absolute yearning for God, to the exclusion of all other desires.

The roof is the Keter (Crown) aspect of the house. It draws from the highest makifim. It can serve as a good base for one to access his personal Mashiach-yechidah aspect. Thus we find that in the Mussar yeshivah of Novhardok, they would go on the roof and scream “Hashem (YHVH) Hu HaElokim (ELHYM)!” (I Kings, 18:39). (The Novhardokers were also known for going to the basement and spending the night in a coffin in order to get a sense of what it’s like to die.) Yom Kippur is the holiest day of the year. The entire day we spiritually ascend through the five prayer services. These five services correspond to the five levels of the soul, which we climb throughout the day. The grand climax is the end of the Ne’ilah prayer, corresponding to yechidah. We finish this prayer by declaring “YHVH is ELHYM!” (“Transcendent and Immanent are one!”) And the reshimu, or imprint, of this highest connection can be awakened daily by shouting it on the roof.

Rooftops are not only for barbeques (or for depressed people to jump off of, God forbid). One good thing about the city is that it is a gold mine of unharnessed natural resources: there are so many unused rooftops! Climb to the roof so that you can reach the heights of prayer.

PS: If you think raising your voice might upset the neighbors or distract the police from their appointed rounds, Rabbi Nachman’s advice about the “silent scream”—crying out to God in your imagination—also works very well!