Meditation on Jewish and Kabbalistic Contents
Many think that their only path to bliss and enlightenment goes through Eastern traditions. They take leave of their roots implanted in the great monotheistic religions, and seek their salvation in yoga, Zen, Buddhist meditations and other such exotic traditions.
Nevertheless, the West, deeply rooted in biblical teaching, has its own offering of mystical traditions. They were, however, held secret, well hidden from the inquisitive eye, jealously guarded by a select few and nearly forgotten by the main stream.
Kabbalah is such a teaching, passed along in confidence from master to disciple. In the past several decades, this secrecy slowly began to change and Kabbalah teaching has started to be accepted among many small and diverse groups. This is thanks to Ba’al Hasulam, who wrote a very lucid Hebrew-language interpretation of the mostly Aramaic Kabbalah writings, and academic research published by people as Gershom Scholem, Moshe Idel, George Vajda, Charles Mopsik and others. Many will be surprised to learn that in Kabbalah teachings one can find meditation and vocal techniques, corporal and respiration exercises, that resemble various kinds of yoga.
The central figure in this field is Rabbi Abraham Aboulafia (1240-1292), who has regained his honoured place in the Kabbalistic pantheon just 40 years ago. Aboulafia’s teachings were singularized by a methodical and prophetic Kabbalah based on the combination of Hebrew alphabetical letters called Tseroufim (combinations of letters), sustained by particular vocalisations, respirations and physical movements. Following impugnment by the prominent rabbi of Barcelona, Rabbi Shlomo Ibn Adret, Aboulafia was forced to exile, ending his life on the small Comatino Island some time after 1291. Nevertheless, Aboulafia remains one of the most important figures of the Kabbalah world who had influenced many successive generations.
The letters as symbols
The Hebrew alphabet (as well as other ancient alphabets such as Sanskrit, Chinese, and Greek) is much more than a mere set of letters; it is the primary expression of language and mathematics of spirituality, which opens direct access to the universal knowledge through the use of symbols. Indeed, the Hebrew word for “letter” (“oth”) also means a sign, a mark or a symbol. Associated with symbolic forms, it is a direct vector of knowledge beyond words and analysis.
The symbol is a crepuscular language, which precedes human consciousness; it is a universal language in the origin of all dialects. It is a genuine communication language between the conscious and the subconscious; between creature and the Creator; between the immanence and the transcendence.
A symbol always endures, whether it is concrete or if it resides in the subconscious; it exists in each one of us and guides us towards a deep reflection. Its interpretations may vary by historic, philosophic and religious contexts. A symbol usually has both a positive and a negative meaning. For example, a watering can may symbolize rain, or by antithesis, clear weather. Water, in its positive sense, symbolizes life, purity, the subconscious, the sources, but it will hold a very different meaning for a person who experienced drowning.
The symbol conveys both the positive and the negative nature of the sign. Its message goes beyond its concrete appearance. It is an encounter between the visible and the invisible, the concrete and the abstract, the conscious and the subconscious, and, for Kabbalists, between cause and effect.
In summary, through studying the alphabetical letters as symbols we can:
Communicate with the symbols of our own consciousness.
Interpret even the most subtle messages sent by Nature.
Organize our knowledge in compartments in order to retrieve it at the right moment.
Discover eternal messages; decrypt teachings sealed in images going back to the deepest recesses of humanity.
In day-to-day life, the symbol helps you to better understand your environment and, consequently, to better control it. Concerning each individual, it helps you to analyse actions, as well as interpret dreams and the various abstractions surrounding us.
A symbol isn’t necessarily a depiction of an animal or a geometric form; it can be a name, a sound, a colour, a gesture, etc; no one form is superior to the other. The symbols form a homogeneous ensemble, which replaces, cancels or strengthens each other.
According to Sefer Yetzirah (“The Book of Creation”, one of the earliest Kabbalistic works written between the third and sixth centuries in an esoteric style), the Creator used the numbers 1-10 and the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet to create the universe and all living things in it. The Hebrew letters are moulded like bits of clay, placed opposite each other and otherwise manipulated to create, in some mysterious way, all that exists.
Sefer Yetzirah interprets the ‘speech’ of God in a very clear way. God did not talk to Himself, like an absolute monarch who expresses his will and has them carried out. Rather, He generated a substance, from which He formed letters, out of which he combined words, which became objects. God’s speech was not sound but a modelling of units of clay.” (UJM p. 46: “Understanding Jewish Mysticism” by Davis R. Blumenthal)
The author of Sefer Yetzirah maintains that, using his interpretation, you can become a “creator” yourself, even if on a much smaller scale. In other words, the Sefer Yetzirah proposes not only an interpretation of “In the beginning”, but also a secret teaching of the creative process itself. It teaches, if properly understood, the secret of Creation and creation, of the Maker and the maker.” (UJM p. 9)
“Twenty-Two letters are the foundation: He engraved them, He hewed them out, He combined them, He weighed them, and He set them at opposites, and He formed through them everything that is formed and everything that is destined to be formed.” (UJM p. 21)
In other words, the letters of the Hebrew alphabet are the building blocks of creation. Each letter has its own significance, spiritual energy, and reason for existing.
In his book, The Alef-Beit, Jewish Thought revealed through the HebrewLetters, RabbiGinsburg explains how the name, the form, and the numerical value of each letter play a role in the creative process of the cosmos. He draws on the understandings of the well-known mystic, the Baal Shem Tov, in order to depict how each letter has nine dimensions, with impact in three worlds–the physical, the spiritual, and the Divine. In every letter there is the true completion of the soul, a chance to unite consciousness with the code of creation.
The Hitbodeduth is in its essence a fundamental stage in the Kabbalistic practice. It is a spiritual retreat in order to apply meditative techniques. Literally, it means to isolate oneself; in one context, it will mean performing a spiritual retreat to an isolated location, and in another, a concentration technique with the objective of isolating yourself from your daily environment in order to practice meditation.
In its essence, the Hitbodedouth is a complete method based on meditation concentrating on divine names and on Hebrew letters. Abraham Aboulafia calls the work on divine names “Sod ha-hazkarah”, which means “the secret of evocation”. This work reminds one of the Sufi Zikr.
The Hazkarah may be called “the yoga of Aboulafia”. Its practice includes technical gestures with respiration control, and pronunciation of sacred letters accompanied by head movements.
The great Kabbalist Joseph Gikatilla’s words on Aboulafia’s teaching wrote, in Sha’arei Tsedek:
“The beginning of this method consists in the first place of a purification of one’s physical body, because that which is corporal is a symbol of the spiritual. Then, in the order of the ‘climbing up’, comes the purification of one’s corporal dispositions and one’s spiritual tendencies… therefore, the Hitbodedouth in a separate house is prescribed; it must be a house where one can’t hear any noise. In the beginning, it is recommended to decorate the house with fresh herbs in order to delight the ‘vegetative soul’, which each person possesses besides its animal one. Then, in order to delight the animal soul, which each person possesses besides the rational one, one turns to music instruments or liturgical psalm chanting. In the next step, one has recourse to visualisation of ineligibles and to contemplation. And in the last step, one practices the pronunciations of the letters and their combinations without any order, in order to detach the soul from, and purify it of, all its familiar forms.”
The Safed School had further developed the Hitbodedouth practice. One of the Ari’s disciples, Rabbi Eliezer Azikri, describes this practice in his book Sefer haharedim:
“He’ll back out of his studies once a week and will isolate himself from the company of men. There, in the intimacy of his Creator, he’ll focus his meditation towards Him as though he was in His Presence on the judgment day, and he’ll implore Him in soft terms, as a servant towards his master or as a son towards his father….”
The ancient Hassidim used to stop their studies for nine hours in order to devote themselves to the Master of the Universe with trepidation and with love. They would visualize the lights of the Shekhinah (divine feminine presence) above their head as if it had diffused itself around them, while sitting in the middle of this luminous presence”.
The Kabbalistic meditation (Hitbodedouth) isn’t a moment of passiveness or of profound relaxation; it is first and foremost a moment of spiritual devotion which uses combination of letters and “Yichoudim” on divine Names.
A “Yichoud” is a complex system of meditation, which has its source in the Zohar and particularly in the Idra Zouta. This quite intricate process consists of performing unifications at the level of the different attributes of the Supreme Being. It means an ecstatic rise of human intention, which soothes the spirit and makes peace with interior agitation. This latter notion knows two tendencies: “Yishouv haDa’at” (mental stability) or union of the intellectual, intuitive, sensible and meditative aspects of consciousness which compose our spirit; as well as “Bilboul haDa’at” (mental confusion), a dispersed spirit where its essential components can’t communicate anymore with each other; for example, a stressed person, totally immersed in his professional activity, is usually in the “Bilboul haDa’at” state of mind.
Without penetrating now into the complex practices of Hitbodedouth, each person is capable of converting the Bilboul (confusion of the spirit) state into the Yishouv (mental stability) one.
This is a very simple and efficient exercise that may serve as an introduction to the Hitbodedouth method:
Sit down in a quiet and calm place; the simple fact of sitting down is called Yishouv.
Close your eyes and be conscious of your seated body.
Think about the Shef’a, abundance, the universal power that animates and surrounds us; contemplate it mentally as a bright white light.
Be conscious of your two hands; move them, rub them, as if trying to make the blood circulate, while imagining that the Shef’a starts to circulate more and more easily in them.
Move your hands again to stimulate the Shef’a once more.
Massage your legs, while thinking of the circulation of the flux.
Continue up through your body, in the same manner. Massage your shoulders, your neck, your jaws, your temples, etc., recharging your hands before each part.
Now be conscious of the respiratory cycle, inhaling deeply and exhaling very slowly and completely.
Keep in mind that inhaling enables the luminous flux to penetrate the body, bringing it stability, calm and purification.
Imagine then that the spirit itself circulates in the same manner as the breath in our body; that it also has the aspect of white light and that the calmness of the body pacifies and stabilises the spirit too.
Visualize the letters in different sizes, on different backgrounds, in different volumes.
In the alphabetic order from the first to the last letter (Aleph to Tav)
Do the same from the end to the beginning (Tav to Aleph)
Do the same for letters inverted in mirror form.
The objective is to manage visualizing each letter from forward, from backward and through mirror writing.
This process achieves crystallisation and purification.
Visualize the letters descending from the top of the head along the spinal column. Notice which letters have more difficulties in descending, and concentrate on them. Try to repeat the descending processes until all the letters descend easily from the top to the bottom of the spinal column.
This repeated process fills the backbone with positive energy.
Concentration on the alphabet letters together with conscious respiration
This exercise is a sequence of 22 cycles of inhalations and exhalations. Visualize each letter (sight), hear its sound (hearing), and feel it while moving your hand on your body (touch).
A cycle of inhaling and exhaling accompanies each letter. For example, you inhale the Aleph while visualizing, hearing and touching it. Then you exhale the letter Bet in the same manner, etc. After 2-3 breathing cycles, the breathing rhythm becomes progressively slower and deeper.
Explanation: when you inhale and exhale with deep intention, you need a frame which will enable you to persevere your attention on the breathing cycle and avoid interrupting the process. The alphabet letters serve as a convenient, familiar and useful framework for doing so. Since you transfer your thought and concentration in this exercise to the letters, the normal thinking process is interrupted. This interruption brings a sensation of calm, relaxation and freedom.
Visualize the letter as energetic cleaning tools
While inhaling, each letter enters the body and performs its “cleaning task” without the consciousness’ interference.
- While meditating, the letter Dalet (the fourth letter of the Hebrew alphabet) was walking between the shoulders, touching each one delicately and redressing it.
Explanation: the shoulders accumulate tension. Redressing the shoulders acts to relieve that tension.
- While mediating on the Heh letter (fifth letter of the Alphabet) it got in front of the third eye and worked on raising (evoking) the inner light.
The letter Heh represents intuition, which is localised in the centre of the two hemispheres. The rise of the letter Heh to the meeting point of the two hemispheres shows that the letter Heh creates a new connection between them.
Introduction: the name according to Kabbalah
According to Kabbalists, each letter of the alphabet is the extension of a revitalizing light. A special and unique force lies in each letter that is not found in others. This power is studied both through the shape of the letter, and through Kabbalistic numerology which reveals valuable information by combining the numbers assigned to each letter in the name.
Each person lives thanks to the joint effect of these forces as expressed by the letters forming his name. An ideal name would create a combination of forces in balance with the person’s other influences arising from his birth date, the name of his mother, his last name and so forth. Any change in the combination of the letters in the name will result in a change in balance of powers. The order of the letters matters as well – the first letter has the most significant influence.
The letters reveal three aspects of a person: thought, speech, and action. Action lies in the written name, speech lies in the oral pronunciation of the name, and thought lies in the thought about a person carrying this name. These three aspects create a richly meaningful pattern that can be detected and analyzed by expert Kabbalists.
Kabbalah uses a numerological system called Gematria. Each letter in Hebrew is associated with a number. When you add up the numbers of all letters of a name, you get a single number that represents the person. For example, Jacob is spelled in Hebrew yud-ayin-kuf-bet, which add up to 182. There is special meaning to the fact that this number is 7 times the value of the unspeakable name of God (yud-heh-vav-heh). The number 7 represents harmony and completeness – seven days a week, seven notes in a musical scale. Jacob therefore represents the complete and harmonious expression of God’s name.
According to Kabbalah teaching, the given name of a person represents his essence of being, the energetic makeup of his personality, his strong and weak points. On a higher level, it represents the possibility to connect with the root of his name on the Creation level and to find out, among others things, his role on Earth (why is he here and where does he come from?). Therefore, a person may make some surprising discoveries while trying to understand what the letters of his or her first name tell him or her about him- or herself.
When you use visualisation of the letters of your first name during breathing exercises, several things happen simultaneously: on the one hand, you bolster your self-confidence and you slow down and stabilize your breath rate and pulse. This combination provides you with a feeling of serenity and balance. On the other hand, through this same process of breahting and visualising your name, you can learn and receive information concerning your specific problems.
Say, for example, that one letter is darkened, or is unproportional in size, or has difficulties in movement or in fluidity, etc. This could provide indirect information on the state of your energy. The subconscious, in turn, could then suggest how to repair the situation. It might make it easier to confront, to understand and to accept a weakness; you could then rectify the situation in order to attain a better inner balance. This repair of energy may express itself in day-to-day life by behaviour modification.
Another example comes from a workshop: Nirah, one of the participants, saw the R (Resh) of her first name balancing with difficulty and unstable. This information indicated that there was an unstable part in herself that needed balancing. As for the other letters, the N (Nun) had no special image, it was rather neutral; the I (Yod) and the H (Heh) filled her with fresh air. This means that these two letters (Yod and Heh) represent an optimistic part in Nira’s personality which can offer strength to the unstable part.
As to the question why of all letters, did the letter R represent for Nirah a certain weakness? The answer resides in her subconscious. If she repeats the same processes, she will probably manage to find the solution, and to balance and stabilize her R.
Visualize the letters of your given name in front of you and try to illuminate each letter.
Is every letter lit equally? Is there one letter or more that do not manage to light up? If so, repeat the process several times until the letters become equally lit.
Repeat the process and compare the sizes of the letters: is one or more letter bigger or smaller than the others? Repeat the process until all letters are of equal size.
Do all the letters appear in lower case or do some appear in upper case?
- Repeating this exercise several times while illuminating the letters raises the energy level and creates a sensation of vitality.
The flying carpet of the alphabet letters – visualize the alphabet letters as a round mandala, with a luminous skylight in the middle.
One can visualize the round letter formation as a flying carpet. Take a look at Earth through it and see what kind of landscape appears. You can meditate on the letters and send a blessing through it to yourself as well as to the entire world.
Introduction The Séphirot
According to the Idra Zutah (the lesser assembly): “The Ancient of Ancients is at the same time the Unknown of the Unknown; He separates Himself from all, and He is not separated; for all unites with Him, as He again unites with all; there is nothing that is not in Him. He has a form, and it may be said He has no form. By taking a form He gave existence to all that is; first, He caused His form to send out ten lights which shine by virtue of the form they borrowed of Him, diffusing dazzling effulgence to all sides, just as a beam sends out its luminous rays to all sides. The Ancient of Ancients, the Unknown of the Unknown is a high beacon, which is recognized only by the rays that glare our eyes with such brilliancy and abundance. This light is called His holy name.” or “Kingdom, מלכות (Malkuth)”. All Kabbalists agree that it does not express any new attribute; but simply the harmony which exists between all the other attributes and their absolute rule over the world.
Thus the ten Sefiroth which, in their entirety, form the Heavenly or Ideal Man, called by the modern Kabbalists the “world of emanation,” עולם אצילות (Olam Atzilus), is divided into three classes, each one of which shows us the deity in a different aspect, but always in the form of an indivisible trinity.
The first three Sefiroth are purely intellectual or metaphysical. They express the absolute identity of existence and thought, and form, what modern Kabbalists have called, the “intelligible world,” עולם מושכל (Olam Muskal).
The three Sefiroth following have a moral character; on the one hand they make us conceive God as the identity of kindness and wisdom, on the other hand they show us that the source of beauty and magnificence is in kindness or rather in the supreme good. They have therefore been named the “virtues,” מדות (Midoth), or the “world of feeling,” עולם מורגש (Olam Murgosh), in the loftiest meaning of the word.
Finally, we learn by the last of these attributes that the universal providence, the supreme architect, is also the absolute force, the all-powerful cause, and that this cause is at the same time the generating element of all that is. These last Sefiroth constitute the “natural world,” or nature in its essence and in its principle, natura naturans, עולם המוטבע (Olam Hamutbah).
How and in what terms these different aspects are brought back to unity, and consequently to a supreme trinity?
The following passage will show: “In order to acquire the knowledge of a holy unity, we must examine the flame which rises from a fire-place or from a lighted lamp; we see then, at first, two kinds of light, a glistening white one and a black or blue one; the white light is above and rises in a straight line, the black or blue light is beneath, and appears to be the seat of the first; yet the two lights are so closely united that they form one single flame only. But the seat formed by the blue or black light is, in its turn, attached to the wick, which is still under it. The white light never changes, it always remains white; but several shades are distinguished in the lower light. The lower light takes, moreover, two opposite directions; above it is attached to the white light, and below it is attached to the burning matter, but this matter continually consumes itself, and constantly rises towards the upper light. It is thus that all that is joins again to the one unity, וכלא אתקשר ביחודה אחד.”.
To dispel all doubt as to the meaning of this allegory, we may add that is it found, almost literally reproduced, in another part of the Zohar, to explain the nature of the human soul which also forms a trinity, a feeble image of the supreme trinity.
This last species of trinity which explicitly comprises all the others, and which sums up the entire theory of the Sefiroth, plays also the most important part in the Zohar. Like the preceding trinities, it is represented by three terms only, each one of which has already been represented as the highest manifestation of one of the lower trinities.
Among the metaphysical attributes it is the “Crown;” among the moral attributes it is “Beauty;” among the inferior attributes it is “Kingdom.”
But what is meant by the “Crown” in the allegorical language of the Kabbalists?
It is the substance, the one and absolute being.
What is “Beauty?”
It is, according to the Idra Zuta, “the highest expression of moral life and of moral perfection.” As an emanation from intelligence and mercy, it is often compared to the orient, to the sun whose light is reflected equally by all earthly objects, and without which all would return to darkness; in a word it is the ideal.
Finally, what is “Kingdom?”
It is the permanent and imminent action of all the Sefiroth combined. It is the actual presence of God in the creation. This idea is fully expressed by the word Shekinah (שכינה), one of the surnames of the “Kingdom.”
The true terms of this new trinity are, accordingly, the absolute, the ideal and the immanent face; or also, the substance, the thought and the life; that is, the uniting of the thought with the object. They constitute what is called “the middle column” עמודא דאמצעיתא (Amudah D’amtzissoh), because in all the figures customarily used to represent the Sefiroth they are placed in the centre, one above another, in the form of a vertical line or column.
As may be expected of what we already know, these three terms also become so many “faces” or symbolical manifestations.
The “Crown” does not change its name, it is always the “long face,” the “Ancient of days,” “the Ancient Whose name be sanctified”; עתיקא קדישא (Ateekah K’deeshah).
“Beauty” is the “holy king,” or simply the “King” מלכא (Malko), מלכא קדישא, (Malko K’deeshah), The “Shekinah,” the divine presence in things, is the “Matrona,” or “Queen” מטרוניתא (Matrooneitha) .
When the one is compared to the sun, the other is compared to the moon; because the moon borrows all the light by which it shines from a higher place, from a degree immediately above her. In other words, real existence is only a reflection or image of ideal beauty. The “Matrona” is also called “Eve,” “for,” says the text, “Eve is the mother of all things, and everything that exists here below, nurses from her breast and is blessed through her.” The “King” and the “Queen,” commonly called also the “two faces” דו פרצופין (Doo Partsufin), form together a pair whose task is to pour forth constantly upon the world new grace, and through their union to continue the work of the creation, or, what is more, to perpetuate the work of the creation.
While meditating on Shekhinah I realized that this transcendent being provides the best aid and support to all those who concentrate on her.
Shekhinah appears in countless guises. She appears as light, as an escort, a girl possessing infinite delight, as the source of abundance, as a guide, a pathfinder, as the remover of obstacles [comparable to the Hindu deity Ganesha], and more. Each of these experiences bestows the person with endless blessings. Meeting with Shekhinah never gives you the feeling of difficulty or of a missed opportunity – to the contrary. Please see my book “צליל ונפש” for exercises with Shekhinah and their results with several people.
The following contains quotes from the Zohar as were translated indirectly from Aramaic to Hebrew to English.
The last Sephira is special in the Sephirot structure; it is the passive feminine figure that receives the Shefa (Ever-flowing Abundance) emanating from the active masculine forces, and forwards it on. The description of her nature and its myriads of relationships occupy a significant part of the Zohar. Shekhinah presents thousands of images through the countless veils of Kabbalistic symbolism. Her unique feature is that she has no light of her own and possesses no particular tint – which allows her to reflect all other lights and colors. The finest hues and fragments of splendor and their shadows continuously flicker and pass through her. In the flow of frequent changes, she appears as a divine portrait of multiple images… She is referred to as a rose of varying shades that changes with her colors (the lily and the rose), since before the Zivug (Coupling) she is “green as a lily with its leaves green”, and after the Zivug she is “red with white shades”…
While in the upward direction Shekhina is the last link in the chain of emanation, serving as the vessel of supreme Shefa, and appears as the tip of the Divine Being – downwards Shekhinah is foremost the Great Mother of the universe and its leader…
The name Shekhinah was originally attributed to the Sephirah Malkuth (Kingdom) but was later assigned to Binah (Wisdom). In the parables of the Elders Shekhinah represents the Divine Presence as it acts and is present in Israel and in the universe. The Zohar identifies her with the last Sephirah, serving as the world leader and Supreme Assembly of Israel, which is a special, ever-lasting epithet for Kingdom.
Shekhinah is connected and bound with the three structures that, according to Kabbalah, comprise the totality of being: Sephirot, Olamot (Worlds), and Kelipot (Husks). There are several symbols that connote her evolving image and stature when connected with the different structures. For example, take the sea as a symbol: in connection with the Sephirot, Shekhina is the Great Sea that collects the abundance of water transported to it by the rivers. In her leadership, the Great Sea waters the worlds. The water evolves from sweet to bitter and from bitter to sweet, depending on the stronger of the present virtues, Chessed (Grace) or Din (Judgment).
A person may get close to Shekhina for Avodat Elohim (Worship of God) only with the intent of Yichud (Unity); and then she becomes an aperture through which divine light shines, a vessel that transfers the supreme Shefa to the lower worlds, and a portal for the spirit entering divine space.
One can connect with Shekhina by concentrating on her as a spiritual being, and requesting her aid or help on an emotional need or a need connected with internal harmony.
The deity name “Shekhina” arouses the deepest optimistic and constructive parts of the human spirit. Even people who have no connection with religion or tradition, and who object to using the noun “Shekhina”, find themselves amid a captivating experience once they submit to meditating on this being.
Eight years ago I identified Shekhina as my most significant source of light and compassion and I had most meaningful meditation experiences with it. At first, I saw Shekhina as a tall feminine image dressed in white, who led me on a walk in the street. She held my arm and asked me in a very soft and sweet manner to slow down my walk, slow my talk and slow down all my actions. I took very short and slow paces, with my feet aware of each pavement stone – a new experience for me, unfamiliar but very pleasant. I am by nature very quick and energetic in daily life, and allow myself to sink into the dimension beyond time only while meditating. Here came Shekhina, who wished to teach me how to enjoy daily life, experiencing each pavement stone, to slow down and internalize the wonderful beauty contained in each leaf and each flower.
At times, when taken ill, I concentrated on Shekhina. I saw her together with Chessed (Grace) as a divine pair arriving to share my sick bed in order to heal me. I felt Chessed as a soft and wonderfully pleasant blanket that warmed me gently and covered every pore of my body. At the same time it was a spiritual being that spoke to me voicelessly. Its words were blessings that flowed like Mayim Elyonim (Upper Waters). Grace like the engulfing blue sky, blessings that flow like the pink color of dawn.
Shekhina, its partner, is always more active in reality. She massaged me; she bettered the position of my pillow and suggested that I change my posture in bed. She whispered to me that she is always by my side, that I am never alone. She told me that after death she accompanies the soul to the afterworld. She told me that all I needed to do was to think of her and she would appear with Chessed at her side. This eternal pair is to me the epitome of bliss on Earth. They embody the ultimate support for a person whether she is alone or in company, when healthy or ill, in life as in death.
Every person has his own way of viewing Shekhina. Some see her as an effusion of light, others – as the image of a woman, and yet others – as a ray of light. At times Shekhina appears as a person of a certain age, at other times she is ageless.
Why don’t we all seek her aid at every moment of our lives on Earth?
The reason is that it is difficult to contain her infinite light; we lack the adequate vessels to contain it. We may be able to construct such vessels that would contain some of that marvelous light. Each meditation on Shekhina creates such a vessel. Each concentration on the mirror of light improves the vessel. Every time we cleanse the gap between ego and self gets us closer to better containment of the light.
While meditating in 2001, I saw four pillars of light surrounding me in four directions: north, south, east and west. I decided to make a drawing depicting myself with the four pillars. While drawing, I discovered that my sub-conscious mind expressed an internal force that drew me more and more towards a central point; I found that I was focused on a symbol of deep, unmediated faith.
When I started the drawing, I did not know where it would take me, and did not fully understand the significance of the process. I felt that I was being led somewhere, and I submitted to that. I kept making drawings that day, until the final drawing revealed to me the source of this faith and its intensity.
In 2002 I suggested to my students to go through the same process with the four pillars of light. I asked them to make one drawing at each meeting. Some of them continued the process at home and showed up with several such drawings. Each person had his own insights into his internal powers.
The pillars of light represent the four directions, as mentioned above; they also represent the four guardian angels, Michael, Gabriel, Uriel and Raphael. You may meditate on the four pillars of light as they stand in the four directions. You may see yourself or your written name in their midst. As evident in the successive drawings, a distillation occurs that brings you to concentrate your mental strengths; this may reveal to you what your current calling could be.
When making a symbolic drawing of yourself and the pillars, it is best to repeat the process many times. There is absolutely no need to be adept at drawing.
Some people found the unmediated connection with their internal powers through Jewish themes; others used parts of the Hindu chakra symbols – the tones, the mantras, the symbolic animals, or other elements. It is important to realize that there is a wide range of complementary symbols available to use on the path for spiritual and mental development.
Kabbalah teaches that the soul exists on five levels, the five dimensions – of which only the first three are usually considered – nefesh, roua’ch, neshamah (and then hayah and yechida). These dimensions of the soul are directly linked to the five vowels and five music tones; for this reason, ancient Kabbalists saw in chanting a way to awaken the soul.
The nefesh level
Nefesh is an envelope of all physical and mental faculties possessed by a human being during his terrestrial journey. It enlaces the interior world of thinking, of sentiments, of emotions, of desires and of instincts; nefesh can be identified as the ego. The Hebrew word nefesh etymologically has a sense of “soul”, “life” and “respiration”. It is interesting to state that in permutation of this world, we get the word nashaf which means exhale.
We can conclude that nefesh is the expiration of the soul’s respiration, its outer manifestation towards the exterior world; and with the intermediate of the channel of roua’ch. Nefesh is constantly submissive to bubbling thoughts, sentiments and emotions; and in this case, our soul constantly aspires to a calm and serene state of mind; in other words, to the original nature of nefesh as nafash (Hebrew for repose), to rest and repose.
Nefesh is the psychological domain, the affectivity, the relationship between a human and his environment. It is the interface between two opposing sides in our nature; a double me, which liberates passionate forces and interior conflicts. Mastering reunification of these opposite aspects by meditation can grant us calm and serenity.
Nefesh depends primarily on the world assiya (the world of action); apart from our physical body, it is the lowest vehicle possessed by our soul. Traditionally, blood is considered the vessel of nefesh: “For the blood is the life (nefesh) of all flesh: and so I have said to the children of Israel, You may not take any sort of blood as food, and any man who does so will be cut off.” (Leviticus 17; 14).
The world of assiya represents the accomplishment of the creation on the seventh day; as is written: “because in six days the Lord made heaven and earth and on the seventh day He took his rest and had pleasure (repose) in it.” (Exodus, 31; 17).
Concentrate on the word nefesh. Listen to its sound. Which images does it evoke in you?
The hexagram image
Visualize a hexagram with a central point and meditate on it.
Place yourself inside this hexagram.
The six points of the hexagram represents the toil of the six days of the week and the emotional forces; the seventh day is represented by the central point of the hexagram; it is the day of repose, calm, meditation and cohesion (unification) of the forces of the six days.
Meditation on the letter heh (the second heh) of the Divine Name
Etymologically, the meaning of rou’ach is wind (the blowing wind) and it describes something spacious and airy. More than just a garment of the soul, roua’ch is a space of exchange of vitality between the first level, nefesh, and the third, neshamah, between the vital forces that might be equated to the superego and the inferior id. This level of soul has the role of “safety valve”, permitting one to ease the pressure of the forces in action; an idea we can find in another sense of the word ravach, Hebrew for relief.
In the meditation practice, rou’ach is extremely important because it is the most available space of relief from the anxieties of the world. Respiration techniques work directly with rou’ach, because for Kabbalists, breath and spirit (in Hebrew, both are implied by the word rou’ach), are inextricably connected; harmonized breathing benefits the spirit.
In respiratory practice, the ambient and omnipresent air symbolizes nefesh; rou’ach corresponds to the conduits of the respiratory system; and neshamah – to the respiratory system itself.
Rou’ach assumes the roles of intermediary and exchanger, linking it to the world of yetsirah (creation). This role of intermediary is demonstrated by the first appearance of this word in the book of Genesis: “And the earth was waste and without form; and it was dark on the face of the deep: and the Spirit of God was moving on the face of the waters”. (Genesis 1; 2).
Concentrate on the word Rou’ach. Which images does the sound evoke in you?
The channel above agitation
Meditation on the letter wav of the Devine Name
The word neshamah comes from nasham, the verb to breathe, breathing. The Hebrew word for breathing is neshimah. The first act of life is the breathing, in which one receives the breath of life, which he needs to inhale.
We can summarize the correspondence of the first three levels of the soul with letters of the Divine Name. Neshamah corresponds to the first heh as in inhale, rou’ach – to the letter wav as intermediary, and nefesh to the second heh.
The idea is that neshamah is an inspiration of vitals forces has its source in the verse “And the Lord God made man from the dust of the earth, breathing into him the breath of life: and man became a living soul.” (Genesis 2:7).
When we practice the vocalisation of vowels and of tserufim (combinations of letters), we touch the neshamah level. Then these sounds pass into the intellectual and vocal domains with the help of rou’ach (the channel of air/light/shef’a), and their vibrations spread into the nefesh level. Through tserufim, the neshamah attracts shef’a (the universal power), from the world of atsiluth (emanation), leading it to the heart of vital forces of nefesh.
This level of soul corresponds to the world of briah (creation). The relation between neshamah and briah is found in the following verse: “God the Lord, even he who made the heavens, measuring them out on high; stretching out the earth, and giving its produce; he who gives breath (neshamah) to the people on it, and life (rou’ach) to those who go about on it”, (Isaiah 42; 5)
Concentrate on the word on the word Neshamah. Which images does it evoke in you?
Meditation on the first heh of the Devine Name
Vocalisation of the vowels
Associated with the 5 punctuations: cholam, kamats, tserei, chirik, koubouts, shourouk (corresponding to o, ah, ei; i; ou u)
We already noticed the importance of conscious breathing in the practice of vocalisation and tserufim and how the names of the levels of the soul are directly linked with the process of breathing (neshima/neshama, rou’ah/wind & inhale, nefesh/exhale).
Together with the air that we breathe we inhale a spiritual substance named shef’a. In the language of Kabbalah, shef’a signifies emanation, but its first sense is abundance or profusion. Shef’a is a spiritual flux circulating in ourselves and around each one of us, filling and unifying the whole creation. The 32 paths of wisdom are the vehicles of this universal flux; realizing a path opens and liberates the flux. When Creation is unified, shef’a circulates liberally in every place and in each object. In our post-Creation world, there are vacant spaces where shef’a is scarce or absent altogether. These are spaces of illness, in the same manner as a sick human suffers when a vacant place is created in him.
Shef’a has an essential role of intermediary between the physical and subtle bodies. It is identified with the letter wav of the Devine Name uniting the physical and spiritual respirations (the two letters heh), the upper and lower worlds and the all human beings. The sephiroth are ten vital energies, which conduct, at different levels, the flux of shef’a, the total manifested energy in the Universe, which respiration is its exterior manifestation. In human terms, shef’a represents the total latent forces concealed in the human being. Its location according to Kabbalah is the sephirah tiferet(beauty), located in the heart of the human being. Respiration, is an example of its exterior manifestation.
Shef’a undergoes a similar transformation, being very light and subtle at inspiration, with pure white or light blue colour, and on exhaling it becomes devitalized, heavy, slow, coloured ochre.
The word shef’a appears only once in the Bible: “they will feast on the abundance (shef’a) of the seas, on the treasures hidden in the sand.” Deuteronomy (33; 19)
The sea symbolizes the union of waters and is the reflection of the heavens; shef’a nurtures the soul like the maternal breast nurtures the baby. This universal nurturing enables each one to discover the sacred sparks hidden in the sands of the subconscious.
The white respiration, neshimah/shef’a (following Noa Blass)
Sit comfortably, your back and head upright, facing East if possible.
Close your eyes and concentrate upon the respiration cycle and its three phases: inhalation, retention, and exhalation. Be conscious on your breath for a while.
Empty your lungs completely.
Continue while dilating the median part of the thorax, then separate and draw aside the ribs with no force. Open your shoulders slightly in order to fill the upper part of the lungs. Count to 4, mentally, during this process.
Inhale completely: while the air enters your body, visualize a pure light that is white with a blue tinge: shef’a. The source of the air and the shef’a is at about 30 cm in front of your nose. The light of shefa’s descends until about 8 cm under the navel region.
Retention: keep your abdomen and the lungs open and retain the air. Try to count to 16 (less, if you don’t have the training yet).
Visualize the white light of shef’a spreading to every cell of your body, extending beyond the boundaries of your physical body, until it illuminates your aura.
Exhale completely: lower your shoulders slightly, then slowly let go of your ribs. Contract the inner side of the abdomen and slightly hollow the stomach. The exhale should last to the count of 8, for a complete exhale. While exhaling, visualize an ochre light, symbolizing the consumed light, which carries away the negative energies.
Very short retention of at the count of 1.
Repeat the entire cycle at least 5 times.
In order to treat and to heal a problem of sickness, you can direct and channel the pure white light towards the sick organ or the sick region.
Breathing has an important role in vocalisations of letters and of the tserouf. As a rule, you inhale through the nose with your mouth closed; then vocalize a letter or a combination of letters while exhaling with an open mouth.
With proper work and practice, dormant parts of the subconscious will progressively open up and favour the awakening of the 32 paths of Wisdom.
It is possible to “charge” a vocalised letter with the heart intention of a specific wish and learn to open the right door for shef’a to circulate freely and to bring recovery with it.
It is very important to state that during this action we are actually mediators. We are not directing our own energy to help and look after somebody; rather, our actions are directed to attracting and to amplifying the omnipresent universal shef’a. Repeating the sounds will promote the free circulation of shef’a in the sick person, restoring his health. In particular, the shef’a will fill the absent sanctity, represented by the sickness. According to Kabbalah, being sick means being empty of nature (Elohim) and open to disharmonious substances.
Vocalisation is used to fill vacancies, compensating for the state of lacking. To this end, one of the strongest tserouf, letters combinations, for recovery is reish peh (taken from rapha – to heal, which key is the angel Raphael).
How does one use this specific combination (tserouf) in our work?
If the person is present, place yourself at his right side. If the person is absent, sit in a calm place and visualize him.
Surround the person with a moving flux of light. Think that this light is the shef’a, the flux of universal force, whose free circulation is capable to harmonize.
Make the following affirmation out loud: “Force of light, I ask to accord the recovery and healing of [the person’s name], son of [name of his mother].
- Then start vocalizing the tserouf, making all possible combinations of the two letters with all vowels. For example, using the cholam (“O”)
Rofo, rofa, rofe, rofi, rofou
Foro, fora, fore, fori, forou
Rafo, rafa, rafe, rafi, rafou
Faro, fara, fare, fari, farou, etc.
These vocalisations need to be repeated as long as possible. If the sickness is severe, you can vocalise in a group, achieving better results.
The sefirot, organisation principles of the world
Meditation on tsimtsum and the creation of an inner makkom