“Meditation, Judaism, and Self-Mastery”
Let’s reclaim our spiritual heritage!
- Meditation downgraded / Sabbatai Zvi. p 48
Shabbetai Zevi battled with what might now be diagnosed as severe bipolar disorder. He understood his condition in religious terms, experiencing his manic phases as moments of “illumination” and his times of depression as periods of “fall,” when God’s face was hidden from him. While at times of depression he became a semi-recluse, when “illuminated” he felt compelled to contravene Jewish law, perform bizarre rituals (ma’asim zari or strange acts), and publicly pronounce the proscribed name of God.
H. (A brief) Renaissance of Jewish mysticism: p 49
- Baal Shem Tov and Chasidism.
The early life of Rabbi Yisrael ben Eliezer, also known as the Baal Shem Tov (Besht), is surrounded by mystery. As founder of what is possibly the single most important religious movement in Jewish history, Chassidus, many legends have grown around him and it is difficult for us to know what is historical fact. Even the year of his birth is a matter of controversy, some sources say it was 1700.
Rabbi Yisrael was born in Okop, a small village in the Ukraine on the Polish Russian border (Podolia). His parents, Eliezer and Sarah, were quite old when he was born and they passed away when he was a still a very young child. Many legends are told about Eliezer, the father of the Baal Shem Tov. We are told that his last words to his son were “Fear nothing other than God.”
The young orphan was cared for by the community and presumably received the same education most children received. Nevertheless, he was different from most children. He would wander in the fields and forests surrounding his home and seclude himself, pouring out his heart to God. Young Yisrael had an unusually strong emotional relationship with God. This relationship was perhaps the defining characteristic of the religious approach he would ultimately develop and which came to be known as Chassidus.
A central tenet in the Baal Shem Tov’s teaching is the direct connection with the divine, “dvekut”, which is infused in every human activity and every waking hour. Prayer is of supreme importance, along with the mystical significance of Hebrew letters and words. His innovation lies in “encouraging worshipers to follow their distracting thoughts to their roots in the divine”. Those who follow his teachings regard him as descended from the Davidic line that traces its lineage to the royal house of David.
- Establishment opposition to the movement. p 49
- An antimystical trend develops in Chasidism. p 49
- The Amidah:
Kaplan – Guide – pp 99 – 121
The Way of Prayer
- Worship service as meditation. 99
- The Amidah as the focus of the service. 100
Translation of the Weekday Amidah
- History of the Amidah. 100
The Men of the Great Assembly — in Hebrew, Anshei Knesset HaGedolah — was an unusual group of Jewish personalities who assumed the reigns of Jewish leadership between 410 BCE and 310 BCE. This time period follows the destruction of the First Temple, and includes the early decades of the Second Temple, up until the invasion of the Greeks, led by Alexander the Great.
Realizing that the Jewish people were growing weaker spiritually, a group of wise leaders came together — expanding the Sanhedrin, the Jewish Supreme Court, from 70 to 120 members — with a special aim of strengthening Judaism. Initially gathered together by Ezra, they defined Judaism in this tumultuous time when prophecy and kingship were all but gone from the Jewish people.
- The power of the Amidah. 101
The last thing that the Men of the Great Assembly do is formalize prayer. They actually begin a process which is not finished until the 2nd century CE, after the destruction of the Second Temple, but they lay down the key principles and basic structure of formalized prayer.(2)
The centerpiece of each selection of prayers (repeated three times a day) is the Shmonei Esrai, “The Eighteen Blessings.” Each “blessing” is stated in the plural, to underscore the interdependency of the Jewish people, and each blessing is rooted in Torah and Kabbalah.
The mystical depth of this prayer — a masterpiece of writing by the Great Assembly — is astounding. For example, the blessing for healing is composed of 27 words, corresponding to the 27 words in the verse in the Torah (Exodus 15:26) where God promises to be the Healer of the Jewish people. It is said (Nefesh HaChaim 2:13) that the text of the Shmonei Esrai is so spiritually powerful that even when recited without intention, feeling or understanding, its words have a great impact on the world.
Through Divine inspiration and sheer genius the Men of the Great Assembly were able to create out of the ashes of a physically destroyed nation, a spiritually thriving people. Their work defined and anchored Jewish religious and national identity and created focus, unity and uniformity for the Jewish people, no matter where in the world they might be scattered.
- How to make the transition to using the Amidah as a meditation. 102
a) Know the words
b) First paragraph
c) Translate first blessing
d) Memorize first paragraph
e) Recite by heart