The following is an excerpt from Dr. Moshe Idel’s seminal essay, “Hitbodedut as Concentration in Ecstatic Kabbalah,” which was first printed in his pioneering “Studies in Ecstatic Kabbalah” (SUNY). Rabbi David Ibn Zimra was the teacher of the illustrious kabbalist, Rabbi Isaac Luria, also known as the holy ARI.
R. David Ibn Zimra and Hitbodedut
One should note the influence of the interrelationship among hitbodedut, Holy Names, and the attainment of the Holy Spirit [ru’ah ha-kodesh] upon the approach of Rabbi David ben Solomon Ibn Abi Zimra (RaDBaZ, 1479-1573). This Kabbalist, who was acquainted with the system of Abulafia, writes in his book Magen David. “I have already seen one who wrote that through the concentration on the Holy Names in holiness and in purity, one may reach the stage of the Holy Spirit, even in our times, and this is a matter with which the enlightened man will not be in doubt about the matter of the Holy Names” (fol. 49b).
The author goes on to develop this idea more fully elsewhere; but, as opposed to what is said in this passage, which sees the acquisition of the Holy Spirit as possible in the present, the RaDBaZ explains the phenomenon of the Urim and Thummim [the oracle worn on the breastplate of the High Priest in the Holy Temple] as reached by means of hitbodedut:
"The matter of the Urim and Thummim ... is that one of the Holy Names, known to the priest, was contained in the folds of the breastplate, and the priest would direct his attention and thought and intentions towards that Name and concentrate upon it, and be adorned with the Holy Spirit by that same name, and it would be pictured in his mind." (Magen David, 18d-19a)
According to him, this phenomenon resembles prophecy: “For at times the prophet would direct his thoughts and contemplate, and with a slight arousal would understand the intentions of God, even in a mysterious metaphor or parable. And at times he would not be ready, and he would concentrate and see the vision and the parable” (Magen David, fols. 18d-19a). The prophet was required to concentrate and to meditate in order to decipher for himself the contents of his vision: “For were the intention of your thoughts towards prophecy in great concentration, you would know by yourself and would not need to ask the meaning of the parable.”