Resource Room

For Steve Kobrin's Jewish Meditation Class

“Meditation, Judaism, and Self-Mastery”
Let’s reclaim our spiritual heritage!


Questions from last week:

If standing is better than sitting in meditation, why are we sitting at the end of each session, instead of standing?

I am not getting getting anywhere in my meditation – there is no special feeling.
Steve, what has been your highest experience / achievement

Rules of praying the Amidah
e. Jerusalem.
Rabbi Kaplan – “Jewish meditation” – p 104
Rabbi Kaplan – “Jerusalem – Eye of the Universe,” p 45

3) Prayer and prophecy.

Who is Rabbi Jacob Ben Asher, and what is his “Tur?”
From Chabad:
Rabbi Jacob Ben Asher (The Tur) (Circa 5029-5100; 1269-1340)
We are going to tell you of a man, who perhaps more than any other single person shaped our practical every day life. He is the author of a gigantic work, which even to this day-more than six hundred years later-is still studied by the students and authorities of Jewish law. For this work, of which we shall speak later in greater detail, is the basis of the Shulchan Aruch (“Prepared Table”), the standard code of Jewish law throughout the world, and through the ages.
The name of this great man is Rabbi Jacob ben Asher, and the name of his great work is Tur. The author is simply known as “Baal Haturim” meaning “Author of the Turim” (see explanation further on).
Wishing to make it easier for his brethren to acquire knowledge of Jewish law, so that they could regulate their daily life according to the Torah, Rabbi Jacob ben Asher decided to create a uniform code for his people.
First, however, he prepared a digest of his father’s notes on the Talmud, the “Piskei HoRosh” (Decisions of the Rosh). Using this as an authority, together with the Rambam’s “Mishne Torah”, which in turn was based on the traditions of the Geonim and other forerunners, such as the RIF (Rabbi Isaac Alfasi) and others, Rabbi Jacob ben Asher molded all this vast knowledge into one comprehensive code. But unlike the code of the Rambam which included all phases of Jewish life both in the Holy Land and in Exile, Rabbi Jacob ben Asher concentrated on every aspect of Jewish life in Exile, both of the individual and the community. There is also another difference between the two great codes. The Rambam devotes much attention to the basic Jewish ideology and philosophy, in an effort to strengthen it against foreign influences, while Rabbi Jacob’s work is almost exclusively interested in the practical side of Jewish life and in its regulation according to the law of the Torah. He touches but briefly upon the various aspects of ethics and the Jewish view of life.
Rabbi Jacob ben Asher divided all the laws into four divisions, called in Hebrew Arba Turim(“Four Rows”), after the four rows of jewels in the breastplate of the High Priest.
The first, Tur Orach Chaim (“Way of Life”), deals with the laws and precepts of the Jew’s daily life, including the Sabbath and festivals, the prayers and the Mitzvoth which one has to observe every day.
What is the Shulchan Aruch?
From Chabad:
Its Current Form Is a Hybrid of Separate Texts Authored By Two Men Who Never Met
The Shulchan Aruch was written by Rabbi Yosef Caro (1488-1575), a Sephardic sage who lived in the holy city of Safed, in the north of Israel. At the same time that Rabbi Caro was completing his work, Rabbi Moshe Isserles, an Ashkenazi rabbi in Cracow, Poland, was working on a similar project.
Upon seeing the work of the Sephardic scholar, Rabbi Moshe chose to discard his manuscript and add glosses to the already-released text instead. He also notes wherever Ashkenazic tradition differs from the rulings codified by Rabbi Caro. Thus, a unified text was able to be used by all segments of the Jewish world.

What does it say about prayer in the Orach Çhaim?
One who prays needs to intend in their heart the meaning of the words which are coming out of their mouth. They should think as if the Divine Presence is before them, and remove all distracting thoughts from themselves, until their thoughts and intention are pure in their prayer. And one should think, if they had to compose one’s words before a king of flesh and blood, how they would prepare the words and say them with great intention, without any stumbling, hence [one should do this] all the more so before the King of kings, the Holy One of Blessing, He who sees all thoughts. And so did the pious ones and the mystics, who secluded themselves and concentrated on their prayers until they achieved the falling away of their corporeality and the enhancement of the strength of their consciousness, until they came close to the level of prophecy. And if another thought comes to one in the midst of prayer, they should be silent until it is nullified. And one should think about things that humble the heart and direct it to one’s Father in Heaven, and not think about things that make one light-headed. Gloss: Before prayer, one should think about the exalted loftiness of Hashem and the lowliness of humankind, and remove all human pleasures from their heart. And it is forbidden for people to kiss their small children in synagogue, in order to fix in one’s heart that there is no love like the love of the Infinite.
Prayer is in place of sacrifices (korbanot), and therefore one must be careful to follow the format of sacrifices with respect to intention, and not let other thoughts mix in, similar to unrelated thoughts which would nullify sacrifices. And prayer must be recited standing, like the service in the temple; and in a fixed place like the sacrifices, where each one had a fixed place for its slaughter and the sprinkling of its blood; and that nothing should separate between one and the wall [during prayer], similar to sacrifices where any separation between it and the vessel would nullify it; and it is appropriate that one should have special nice garments for prayer, like the clothing of the kohahim, though understandably not everyone can spend the money on this; and in any case it is appropriate to have special pants for prayer, for the sake of cleanliness.

4) Prayer and sacrifice

Rabbi Kaplan – “Jerusalem – Eye of the Universe,” p 45

Were the sacrifices “spiritual?”
From Chabad:
The sacrificial service was not primarily about the physical act of slaughtering an animal; it was principally a spiritual service. On a basic level, if the sacrifice was being brought to atone for some inadvertent sin, one had to feel remorse over what had happened. To assist in reaching true repentance, he would bear in mind that what was being done to the animal essentially should have occurred to him.
Another way of understanding sacrifices is that the animal one brings as an offering to G‑d is symbolic of our own inner animal, our instincts and primal desires that we must bring into alignment with G‑d’s will. We surrender that part of us to G‑d and make it submissive to Him, so that it too may seek to do His will.
From the perspective of Kabbalah, the sacrifices were a way of elevating the matter and vitality of this world to a higher plane. In addition to elevating the various layers of the human soul, sacrifices in the Temple also elevated the actual animal being offered, thereby elevating the entire animal kingdom.

Who was Hosea?
From Wiki:
In the Hebrew Bible, Hosea (/ˌhoʊˈziːə/ or /hoʊˈzeɪə/; Hebrew: הוֹשֵׁעַ – Hōšēaʿ, ‘Salvation’; Greek: Ὡσηέ – Hōsēé), son of Beeri, was an 8th-century BC prophet in Israel and the nominal primary author of the Book of Hosea. He is the first of the Twelve Minor Prophets, whose collective writings were aggregated and organized into a single book in the Jewish Tanakh by the Second Temple period, forming the last book of the Nevi’im, but are broken up into individual books in Christianity. [1] Hosea is often seen as a “prophet of doom”, but underneath his message of destruction is a promise of restoration. The Talmud claims that he was the greatest prophet of his generation.[2] The period of Hosea’s ministry extended to some sixty years, and he was the only prophet of Israel of his time who left any written prophecy


Why did Hosea relate prayer to sacrifice?
From Chabad:

The Shabbat between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is known as Shabbat Shuvah, after the opening words of the special haftarah that we read on this day: Shuvah Yisrael—“Return, O Israel.” The reading is taken from two places in Scripture that express the quintessential ideas of teshuvah (repentance, return). It is the custom to call up a respected and virtuous person for the reading of this haftarah.
The first and largest segment of the reading is from the final verses of the book of Hosea. Hosea lived at the time when the state of Israel (comprising the ten northern tribes) began to succumb to the mighty Assyrian empire. He warns and pleads with the remaining tribes of Judah and Benjamin to mend their ways and return to G‑d, lest they experience a downfall similar to that of their brethren in Israel.

In the oft-repeated style of the prophets, Hosea tells the people that G‑d is not interested here in donations and sacrifices. “Take words with yourselves,” he instructs them. Approaching G‑d in such a way will guarantee atonement for even the harshest of sins. What might have been thought to be the function of “bullocks”—i.e., sacrifices—should be replaced with “lips,” direct and sincere communication with G‑d.

From Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, “The Prophets Vol 1,” pp 59 – 60
“Daath Elohim” means complete attachment to God.
The emotional component is primary.
Emotional identification with God.
Absence of inwardness.

Speaking as the key to developing inwardness?

Prayer as “judging oneself.”
From Chabad:
In Hebrew, the word for prayer is tefilah. What does the word tefilah mean? There are two translations that are literal and accurate. The word tefilah comes from the word pellel which means “to judge.” Tefilah is a time of self-evaluation, self-judgment, introspection, when a person takes the time to focus on himself and goes within himself to see what it is that he needs, what it is that he is all about, what are his faults, what are his qualities, what is it that he needs from G‑d, and why should G‑d give it to him. This self-assessment process happens through tefilah.
On another level, in another translation, tefilah means “attachment.” When we daven, we create a bond between ourselves and our Creator. Prayer is a process of putting things together. When we daven there are only two things in the universe, G‑d and ourselves. The problem is that there are two entities when they should be united as one. Tefilahremedies the problem and turns them into one. So tefilah is the process by which we begin looking at ourselves, focusing on ourselves, and proceed to focus on G‑d and bring ourselves close to Him, raising ourselves above the whole succession of life that prevails during the rest of the day.

5) Sanhedrin
Rabbi Kaplan – “Jerusalem – Eye of the Universe,” p 46 ===
What was the Sanhedrin?
From The
The term, Sanhedrin is the name of the Beth Din HaGadol (The Great Court) as it was called during the Second Temple Period. Most secular scholars derive the term from Greek, though they admit that if so, the word has strayed considerably from its original meaning.
Our sages, however, suggest a more applicable derivation of the term. P’siqta D’Rav Kahana (chapter 25), teaches that the first part of the word, “sin,” referring to the Torah that was received at Mount “Sinai,” was combined with the second part of the word, “hadrin,” meaning, “glorification,” to express the Great Court’s role, the glorification of G-d’s Torah through its application. Rabbi Ovadia Bartenura suggests an alternative meaning (commentary on Mishnah Sota, chapter 9, Mishnah 11). Also taking the term as a combination of two words to mean, son’im hadarath pan’im b’din, “foes (opposing litigants) give respect and honor to its judgment.” Other commentators confirm his interpretation, suggesting further that the first letter was changed from “sin” to “samekh,” at a later date (Tosofoth Yom Tov and the Maharal).
The origin of the Sanhedrin can be found in the Council of the seventy elders founded by Moshe Rabbenu (Moses): “Gather to Me 70 men of the elders of Israel… and bring them to the Tent of Meeting, so that they should stand there with you” (Numbers 11:16). This was the first Sanhedrin. Counting Moses himself, it consisted of 71 members. Further, G-d commanded Moshe Rabbenu to lay hands on Yehoshua [Joshua] son of Nun. It is from this point that the Sanhedrin is considered as beginning. As individuals within the Sanhedrin passed away, or otherwise became unfit for service, new members underwent Semicha ordination. These ordinations continued, in an unbroken line: from Moshe Rabbenu to Yehoshua, to the elders, to the prophets (including Ezra, Nehemiah), to the Knesses HaGedolah or Great Assembly, to the sages of the Sanhedrin. It was not until several hundred years after the destruction of the Second Temple that this line was broken, and the Sanhedrin dissolved.
References to the Sanhedrin can be found in the council created by Yehoshafat: “Moreover in Jerusalem, Yehoshaphat appointed Levites and priests, and of the heads of the fathers’ houses of Israel, for the judgment of the L-rd, and for controversies. They returned to Jerusalem.” (2 Chronicles 19:8) According to the Talmud (Meod Katon, 26a), King Saul was president of the Sanhedrin in his reign, and his son Jonathan was vice-president.
The society’s need for national spiritual leadership was met by the creation of a body called the Knesses HaGedolah, or Great Assembly [Sanhedrin]. Its central role in Jewish history is evident in the Mishnah: Moshe received the Torah at Sinai and handed it on to Yehoshua; Yehoshua to the Elders; and the Elders to the Prophets. The Prophets handed it on to the Men of the Great Assembly. Essentially the Great Assembly was the Great Sanhedrin, the supreme legal and religious authority of the nation. Among them were many prophets, including Chaggai, Zechariah, Malachi, Daniel, Chananiah, Mishael, Azariah, Ezra, Nechemiah, Mordechai, and Zerubavel. Altogether, 120 sages were members of the Great Assembly, although not all 120 were members at the same time or lived in the same place. Together they took steps that would enable them to transmit the Torah in its entirety to the coming generations. [HOJP I, 34-35]
The Men of the Great Assembly [Sanhedrin] undertook many activities to strengthen the spiritual lifestyle of the people. These activities formed the sacred spiritual legacy that the last generation of prophet left to all future generations that would not be privileged to see and hear the spirit of prophecy. From their time to ours, we live according to their heritage, and so will it continue until the coming of Mashiach, when G-d will again bestow the spirit of prophecy upon us. For all laws and Rabbinic commandments they composed a text that was to be handed down and explained from teacher to student. This teaching later became the basis of the Mishnah, Likewise, to give the prayers a clear framework, they established the wording of the Shemoneh Esrei, Eighteen Blessings, as well as the blessings before and after food, before and after performing a mitzvah, and before and after the Sabbath (Kiddush and Havdalah). They translated the Tanach [Bible] into the Aramaic vernacular as an authoritative interpretation of each verse. This they divided into twenty four books, and sealed the Tanach, meaning that only these were declared holy books to which nothing could be added or subtracted. They taught: “Be deliberate in judgment; raise many students; and make a fence around the Torah” (Avos 1:1). [HOJP I, 36]

What is the connection between the Sanhedrin and Jerusalem?
From Jewish Virtual Library:
Tannaitic sources describe the Great Sanhedrin as a religious assembly of 71 sages who met in the Chamber of Hewn Stones in the Temple in Jerusalem. The Great Sanhedrin met daily during the daytime, and did not meet on the Sabbath, festivals or festival eves. It was the final authority on Jewish law and any scholar who went against its decisions was put to death as a zaken mamre (rebellious elder). The Sanhedrin was led by a president called the nasi (lit. “prince”) and a vice president called the av bet din (lit. “father of the court”). The other 69 sages sat in a semicircle facing the leaders. It is unclear whether the leaders included the high priest.

How were the judges chosen?
From Chabad:
Every judge was required to have the following seven attributes: wisdom, humility, awe of heaven, a loathing for money (even his own), a love for truth, the love of the people at large, and a good reputation.
In addition, to be appointed to the greater or lesser sanhedrin, one had to have achieved distinction in Torah knowledge and possess some knowledge of intellectual disciplines such as medicine, mathematics, calendar, astronomy, astrology and the teachings of idolatry, so that he would know how to judge cases concerning those fields. He could not be too old or childless when appointed, since someone with a family is more likely to be sympathetic and merciful. Members of the sanhedrin could be kohanim, Levites, or Israelites of fine pedigree.
In order for any court to be able to rule on capital or corporal cases, or even just punitive damages, its judges had to have semichah (rabbinic ordination passed down from Moses, not the ordination used today. For more on that, see A Brief History of Rabbinic Ordination).10 A non-ordained court, which is what contemporary rabbinical courts are, can adjudicate monetary disputes by ruling that one must compensate another for financial loss, but it cannot hold one liable for Torah-mandated fines (such as having a thief pay double).11
=====6) Gate of Heaven
Rabbi Kaplan – “Jerusalem – Eye of the Universe,” p 47