Kabbalah and Jewish Meditation

There are many customs worldwide surrounding the practice of meditation. Unknown to many, the Jewish people have a rich tradition of meditation with unique characteristics not found in any other spiritual practice, ancient or new. In fact, it can be said that some of the more well-known practices of East, developing control of the mind through breathing techniques, relaxation, and clearing our consciousness of extraneous thoughts, are a good starting point from where to begin the practice of Jewish meditation.

Four Categories

One can see Jewish meditation as divided into four unique categories:

The first type, which most prominently comes to mind when discussing Jewish meditation, involves intense focus upon specific divine names in Hebrew. Many hundreds of these meditations can be found in classic texts of the Kabbalah, and most demand extensive background in the study of Kabbalah. In these meditations one pictures, or draws, images of the Hebrew letters in their mind's eye. These specific teachings are usually meant to either purify a person's soul (particularly from past misdeeds or personal flaws), effect specific types of universal healing, or help one attain divine consciousness.

A second type of meditation focuses on specific divine names pictured in the mind's eye while involved in particular mitzvahs (Torah commandments), especially during prayer. In the teachings of the Kabbalists, especially the holy Arizal, tremendous insights are provided as to the mystical ramifications of the performance of most commandments. A great many specific meditations are provided for these commandments, for example while lighting Shabbat candles, wrapping tefillin, or giving charity. By far the most extensive teachings surround daily prayer, and numerous prayer books, especially that designed by Rabbi Shalom Sharabi (known as the Rashash), contain literally thousands of divine names and the concepts that accompany them to be meditated upon during a regular daily prayer session. In addition to the abstract forms of the divine names, often we are asked to focus upon such ideas as drawing down specific qualities of divine "light", or building certain types of spiritual "vessels" to channel that light, sometimes uniting masculine and feminine mystical archetypes, and sometimes separating them.

Another type of Jewish meditation involves meditating on divine names while performing day to day activities. While there are many classic meditations to be practiced while involved in such acts as walking and eating, we can also discover and invent meditations based on divine names which apply to our daily experiences. Certain Chassidic schools (particularly Komarno) advocate creative meditations such as these, recognizing divine elements in everything we see and feel. Of course, this is next to impossible without a significant background in Kabbalah study, and we are encouraged to immerse ourselves in the study of authentic classic texts in Jewish mysticism.

A fourth type of Jewish meditation is fast becoming the most popular. It involves simply talking to the Creator in one's own words. Using one's native language, each person reaches out to G-d in as truthful a way as he/she can. A personal relationship to G-d is built through this technique, and, like any craft, as a person develops this skill it grows more and more deeply, very often resulting in profound insights. This practice, often called "hitbodedut", is best to do by one's self and, with time, many find they can meditate in this manner for hours, with heartfelt prayers flowing from their lips with little or no effort.