Jewish Meditation Series
The topic “meditation” is one filled with ambiguity and vagueness. Despite much literature on the topic, there is much confusion. In order to begin to understand this subject, there should be prerequisite knowledge that many lack.
There are four difficulties that have to be resolved. If one does not resolve these, then true clarity cannot be achieved. Understanding without such background results in superficial grasp of the subject. There are four kinds of confusion about meditation:
2- Relationship (to orthodox Judaism)
You can ask: what exactly is meditation? Even if we derive a good definition, how does this definition differ from other similar terms i.e.: concentration, contemplation, pondering, deliberation? What is the difference between meditation and thought? For a person who engages in it, what are the objectives? Is it practical?
Relationship Difficulty / Confusion:
What does it have to do with Judaism? Mainstream Judaism ignores it completely or marginalizes it. Only “fringe groups” are receptive or might practice it. Among Jews who do engage with it, study or practice it, they generally have had some contact with Eastern doctrine or thought i.e. Yoga or Zen.
Meditation seems to be of Eastern origin. If it has a basis in Eastern practice, does its incorporation into Judaism create a form specific to Judaism? How do we differentiate the meditation of Judaism from that of the East? How does Judaism regard the results of meditation as reported by gurus of the East? How do we understand what they claim they achieve? Do we think they are deluding themselves? For example, there is the purported achievement of “immense ecstasy,” a state of exhilarating consciousness; is it a delusion? They report they experience “universal consciousness.”
If it is a part of Judaism, then why, in the historical transmission of Judaism, did it disappear? Is there a connection between its disappearance among the Jews and its appearance and prevalence among non-Jews? If meditation ever played a role in Jewish practice, will it ever appear again, become part of Jewish orthodoxy? The historical questions raised here will yield answers will be discussed, but not in a traditional temporal context but in a pnimiustic way, focusing on the “internal” understanding of Jewish history and why things happen the way they do.
The depth with which this will be gone into is required in order to fully understand it. The sequence of multiple presentations is critical. Without sequence, information is fragmented and less comprehensive.
This lecture will cover:
1- fundamental grasp of the internal structure of Judaism, its doctrines of the philosophical tenets as a foundation for how meditation subscribes to those doctrines
2- the task of man as viewed from this Judaic system, various components and elements of the task, meditation as one of those tasks
3- definition of “self,” “mind,” “spiritual entities” that comprise a man
4- meditative techniques, what they do, what they achieve
5- Jewish meditation as it relates to, and interfaces with, Judaism as opposed to Eastern practice
6- Eastern meditative theory and practice: Yoga, how it is distinguished from Judaism, the Judaic origins of Eastern meditations
7- history of meditation, its disappearance from Judaism concurrent with its appearance among non-Jews, and its eventual re-emergence within orthodox Judaism
Judaic Design of Creation
Purpose of Creation is ha’tava—goodness, the bestowing of such on mankind, to give mankind the ecstatic experience of ultimate good, a state of well-being, pleasure. We don’t know why this is so; we don’t know what motivates G-d. He decided that this state of goodness would be bestowed but only after mankind has earned it. Man must be responsible for it, cause it. It is a reward, not a gift.
In order to set up such an agenda, G-d must create a deficiency which man must remove or compensate for. That will be man’s task for which he will be rewarded. In order to cause this removal or compensation, man must have free will. In order for a man not to able to escape from his task, G-d creates drives in man to compel him. Those drives which keep him in the arena of this world to fulfill those tasks assigned to him by G-d are the basis of psychological theory from the point of view of Judaism. The drives force a person to make a choice. The decision not to choose is not up to us. We don’t have that freedom. Such is the purpose of the drives implanted in man.
What exactly is the task, the deficiency, the reward?
Reward: Our understanding of the task and the deficiency pivots on what we understand of the reward. The reward takes place in olam ha’ba—Future World. In the Kabbalistic work “Sefer ha’Bahir,” written by Rabbi Nechunia ben Hakaneh the following is explained: Though we regard the phrase to mean “Future World,” it actually means “The World That Came.” G-d created a world, a reality, then made it disappear, but will make it reappear in the future. The pleasure, the goodness that a person will experience in olam ha’ba is exactly commensurate with the effort he expended to create the transformation—no more, no less. In other words, a person decides the course of his future. A person’s efforts dictate whether his olam ha’ba is spectacular, mediocre or non-existent. If no effort is made, if sin consumes his time and energy, the soul may not qualify and could be annihilated.
Reconverting a Deficient Reality
The Deficiency: That original reality was transformed to become this deficient reality. There is one reality at a time and, depending upon which phase you are observing, it looks like two. Olam ha’ze—this world is not another place. It is olam ha’ba-- Future World having been transformed. Where is the future world? It is here, but not the way we see it now; it’s disguised.
The Task: The task of man (the Jew) is to convert olam ha’ze back into olam ha’ba. The reward is that same olam ha’ba that mankind causes via his own actions. The use of the term “man” here really means “ Jew” because such power to transform Creation was once, until the time of Avraham, the responsibility of all mankind. But, after 2,000 years, mankind’s continuing refusal to enact this tikkun—rectification resulted in G-d taking that power away and bestowing it solely upon Avraham and his descendants. This is how we understand that Adam was not a Jew. Mankind was given another chance to take upon itself the task and, had they accepted the Torah when offered them, they’d have returned to the process. If a non-Jew wants to engage in the task, he must convert.
What is the nature of olam ha’ba and how is it to be transformed back from olam ha’ze? How was that Future World demoted to this world we experience?
G-d is shleimut--perfect, so it follows that His acts are also perfect. The goodness that He wants to bestow on all souls would be perfect, what is termed “ha’tava shleima.” This ultimate experience of goodness, consequently, would be the experience of G-d Himself. What aspect of G-d could a person possibly experience, could be capable of experiencing? –His yechida—absolute Oneness. The concept of yechida encompasses two fundamental ideas:
1- All existence emanates from Him at every moment and we are dependent on Him for our being. Since we have to be given existence, we don’t exist independently nor is our existence in any way like G-d’s. We know this from the Torah portion “Va’etchanan” in which Moses addresses the Jewish nation after the Sinaic experience: “You have been shown to know…that Lord is G-d (supreme)….there is nothing besides Him.” Moses doesn’t say that there is nothing like G-d. He says there is nothing else that exists—period. Even after Creation, nothing else really exists relative to His existence.
2- Since G-d IS existence itself, he determines reality but is not part of reality. This is why any created being cannot fully fathom what pure existence is. G-d is incomprehensible.
An analogy for this incomprehensibility is this: Imagine someone sleeping and dreaming. In the dream, there are two persons conversing about how they are only figments of the dreamer’s imagination. One tells the other, “If he wakes up, we will disappear. We exist in relation to each other but among the three of us---me, you, and him---we don’t exist. We are people in G-d’s dream. There is nothing more profound than ein od milvado—there is nothing besides Him.
Now we can begin to understand the reward in olam ha’ba. It is the experience of coming in contact with G-d to the extent that we feel the extent to which we emanate from Him. This truth is hidden from us now. We realize that He is “being” per se. “Self” will truly know the ultimate cause of itself. The pleasure from this knowledge is indescribable and incomprehensible now. This is hasagas yichud metziutso—Oneness of His Being. In olam ha’ba, we can understand the most fundamental truth in all Creation.
So, olam ha’ba is not a place; it is an existential state or dimension. In that dimension, beings have gil yechudo--direct confrontation with that Oneness, that source of one’s existence. That dimension was the original Creation. G-d made it deficient, concealing his Absolute Unity so free will could exist and man could earn his future.
Olam ha’ze, this world, is one of hester yechido—concealment of His Unity. It is where His Absolute Unity is completely occluded, opaque. Beings in this dimension are deluded, having a perception of self separate from its source, seeing other beings and thinking they too are independent of G-d, reinforcing the delusion. The concealment of Oneness results in multiplicity, plurality of being, a sense of “I” and that “I am somebody.” When we believe that our efforts are solely our own, it’s another way He hides Himself. When we sense we exist independently and cause our own success, we know G-d succeeded! And even this success is not what G-d intended for mankind. Thinking “I’m somebody” is a detriment to man’s existence until he learns otherwise.
G-d’s concealment is the deficiency that man has been subject to. In this olam ha’ze, man has to figure out that He is the source of all being. When, or if, a person figures this out, the reward will be that very revelation, the very comprehension of G-d that he figured out! If a person wastes his time “exercising self” in such pursuits as: hustling to make money, taking pride in corporeal achievement, accumulating power, his olam ha’ba will come as a shock. He will have not assured himself the ultimate experience for eternity. Every human being will have achieved varying levels according to his/her efforts. This is true justice, a beautiful equation, a reward perfectly proportional to the effort expended to achieve whatever level of hasaga—comprehension one earned.
This process of transforming the concealment of G-d in olam ha’ze to the revelation of G-d in olam ha’ba is called: tikkun—rectification, restoration.
Four fundamental ideas revealed in olam ha’ba once the tikkun has been done:
1- G-d is existence per se
2- G-d truly “is.” We “ain’t!” We, who must be given existence, are part of Him. We are Him. We are totally immersed in His being. G-d gives everything “being.” As it says, “All of Creation is full of His glory.” He pervades all, and all has existence only because He is existence. Moses asked two things of G-d at the time of the sin of the Golden Calf: first, “Show me your ways! Second, “Show me your glory!” He is asking “Who are You?” The glory of a thing emanates from its essence. How can I exist independent of you, Moses seems to say, when we both know that I cannot have independent existence.
3- Since G-d is the only “being,” He is the source of all, like a dream to its dreamer.
4- Yichud shlitaso: As the source of all being, G-d is master, the director, of all Creation. This will become apparent during the messianic era. As master, G-d even gives existence to an opposing will, a person’s effort to oppose what G-d wants of him.
How do we experience these levels of concealment vs. revelation?
1- the sense of self, thinking “I exist”
2- “other-ness,” the perception that others exist (independent of G-d)
3- multiplicity of independent forces and causal agents, events occurring independent of His supervision
Before getting into in greater detail about the task to re-transform olam ha’ze into olam ha’ba, it should be understood that there are four levels of concealment. Each is called an olam of hester yechudo—a world/universe of concealment of His Unity. The world “olam” comes from the word “helem”—concealment. Each world is a greater occlusion than the one “above” it, a greater occlusion of the transparency of truth of Divine essence. All these worlds/universes/existential planes vary based on the ratio of concealment to revelation of the truth of His Oneness. There are four levels of olam ha’ze, to be explored in Part 2.