כל הקובע דבר בדעתו קביעות שלם – ישוב אליו עיקר.
He who resolves upon something in his mind with a perfect firmness, for him it becomes the essential thing.
דמה בדעתך שאתה אור
Therefore if you pray and pronounce the benedictions or otherwise truly wish to direct the kawwanah to something, imagine that you are light and that everything around you is light, light from every direction and every side; and in the light a throne of light, and, on it, a “brilliant light,” and opposite it a throne and, on it, a “good light.”
לדין – פנה אל הנוגה, לרחם – פנה אל הטוב
כתר – האור המכתיר חפצי הדעות, המאיר דרכי הדמיונות, המזהיר זוהר המראות, ואין חקר ותכלית למאור ומכבוד – שלמותו.
And if you stand between them and desire judgment, turn to the “brilliance”; and if you desire love, turn to the “good,” and what comes from your lips should be turned towards its face. And turn towards the right, and you will find “shining light,” toward the left and you will find an aura, which is the “radiant light.” And between them and above them the light of the kabhod, and around it the light of life.
ברכה ושלום – לשומרים דרך יחודו, ואל הנוטים מדרכו – אור שהוא מתעלם מדבר לתמורה
And above it the crown of light that crowns the desires of the thoughts, that lights up the path of the representations and illuminates the brilliance of the visions. And this illumination is unfathomable and infinite, and from its perfect glory proceed grace and benediction, peace and life for those who observe the path of its unification. But to those who deviate from its path comes the light that is hidden and transformed from one thing into its opposite.[and it sometimes appears to him] as a chastisement and [sometimes] as right guidance, everything according to the kawwanah of him who knows how to accomplish it in the right manner: through cleaving, debhequth, to the thought and the will that emanates in its full force from the unfathomable.
(כי לפי חוזק הכוונה)
אם רק ישכ להקיף פאתי המוגבלים ורצון מחשבותיהם מן העיקר אשר הם ממנו
For according to the intensity of the kawwanah, with which it draws strength to itself through its will, and will through its knowledge, and representations through its thought, and power through its reaching [to the primordial source of the will] and firmness through its contemplation, if no other reflection or desire is mixed in it, and if it grows in intensity through the power that guides it, in order to draw to itself the current that proceeds from ‘en-sof—[according to the measure of such an intensity of the kawwanah] every thing and every act is accomplished according to its spirit and its will, if only he knows to embrace the limits of the finite things and of the will that inhabits their thought from the principle from which they derive.
ויתעלם עליהם בכח כוונתו ויעמיק כדי לסתור הדרך מעיקרו ולחדש דרך לרצונו
Then, it must elevate itself above them through the power of its kawwanah and go into the depths in order to destroy the [ordinary] path from its very principle and to pave a new way according to the will: through the power of hiskawwanah, which stems from the perfect glory of the withdrawing light, which has neither figure nor image, neither measure nor size, neither evaluation nor limit, neither end nor foundation nor number, and which is in no respect finite.
שיהיה הרצון העליון מתלבש ברצונו, לא שיהיה רצונו בלבד מתלבש ברצון העליון
And he who elevates himself in such a manner, from word to word, through the power of his intention, until he arrives at ‘en-sof, must direct his kawwanah in a manner corresponding to his perfection, so that the higher will is clothed in his will, and not only so that his will is clothed in the higher will.
כי אין השפע כמעין המתגבר שאינו פוסק – אלא אם הוא זהיר בהתקרבו לרצון העליון
For the effluence [of the emanation proceeding from the divine will] is like theinexhaustible source that is never interrupted only if, in approaching the higher will, it carefully watches that the higher will is clothed in the will of its aspiration. Then, when the higher will and the lower will, in their indistinctness and in theirdebhequth to the divine unity, become one, the effluence pours forth according to the measure of its perfection
ואין השלמת השפל בהתקרבו לצורך עצמו כי אם בהתקרבו ובהתלבש בו חפץ ורצון לגלות די ההשוואה המתעלמת בסתר תעלומה
But the perfection of the lower will cannot take place if it approaches [the higher will] for its own need, but only if it approaches it [the higher will] and if it clothes itself in the will through which enough of the nondistinctness is manifested, which is concealed in the most hidden mystery.
ובהתקרבו על דרך זה אז רצון העליון יתקרב אצלו
And if he approaches it in this manner, the higher will also approaches him and grants to his power firmness and to his will the impulse to perfect and execute everything, even if it be according to the will of his soul, in which the higher will has no part.
ובדרך זו היו החסידים הראשונים – שוהין שעה אחת קודם התפילה להעביר שאר המחשבתו ולקבוע דרכי הכוונה וכח הנהגתה; ושעה אחת בתפילה – להוציא הכוונה בדיבור הפה; ושעת אחת אחר התפילה – להרהר איך ינהיגו כוח הכוונה הנגמר בדיבור – בדרכי המעשים הנראים.
In this manner the ancient pious men used to spend some time in meditation, before prayer, and to divert all other thoughts and to determine the paths of theirkawwanah [during the subsequent prayer] and the power that was to be applied to its direction.
And similarly [also] some time during prayer, in order to realize the kawwanah in the articulated speech.
And similarly some time after prayer, in order to meditate on how they could also direct the power of the kawwanah, which came to its conclusion in the speech, in the paths of visible action.
And since they were truly pious men, Hasidim, their Torah became action and their work was blessed. And this is the path among the paths of prophecy, upon which he who makes himself familiar with it will be capable of rising to the rank of prophecy.
— from Gershom Scholem, Origins of the Kabbalah, Edited by R. J. Zwi Werblowsky, translated from the German by Alan Arkush (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society and Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1987). pp. 417–419 (slightly edited by Haviva Pedaya).
The Illuminated consciousness
I have selected a text that expresses the centrality of consciousness in the life of individuals with a spiritual calling. This text deals with illuminated consciousness, acquired as a result of working on one’s consciousness, and describes the procedures required for “walking in the way” within the ecstatic state as such. ( I distinguish the state of illuminated consciousness or ecstasy from that ofremembering consciousness, which is that which guides everyday life).
By means of the distinction between the ecstatic and the everyday I wish to distinguish between a state of illuminated consciousness and one of remembering consciousness. The person seeks to maintain a constant awareness of that which he or she apprehended in the state of illumination, to remember it in everyday life; that is, to make routine.
The text of illuminated consciousness was written in the fourteenth. Although it is attributed to Rabbi Azriel, a Jewish mystic from Gerona, it was evidently not written by him, but was inspired by his and other writings. It belongs to the genre of Kabbalistic writing. It is a relatively short text, only three pages long, which is concerned entirely with directions for mystical prayer in a state of ecstatic consciousness.
Prayer as a framework for illuminated consciousness, for that of attachment to God (devekut), or that of the experience of revelation, is central to certain branches of Jewish mysticism. It was central in thirteenth century Spain, which served as a multi-cultural milieu for three religions and as a fruitful period of dialogue between mysticism and philosophy. During the [High] Middle Ages these two areas were of course connected through [common] theological concerns, were primarily influenced by Neo-Platonism, and were directed towards the striving for devekut(attachment to God) and the eternal life of the soul. Thereafter it continued to serve a framework for the ecstatic experience of the Baal Shem Tov, or for that type described by R. Shneur Zalman of Lyady, founder of Habad Hasidism, for whom prayer served as the framework for contemplation of the relation between the Infinite (Ein Sof) and the concrete world (Yesh), or between the self and God.
As a paradigm for this connection, our author chose the following statement from the Talmud:
“The early pious men would wait one hour.” From whence do we infer this? Rabbi Joshua son of Levi said: From Scripture—“Happy are they that dwell [lit., sit] in your house” [Ps 84:5]. And Rabbi Joshua son of Levi said further: One who prays must wait one hour after his prayer, as is said, “Surely the righteous shall give thanks to Your name, the upright shall dwell [literally: sit] in Your presence” [Ps 140:14]. There is also a tannaitic teaching as such: One who prays needs to wait one hour before his prayer and one hour after his prayer. Before his prayer from whence? As is said, “Happy are they that dwell [lit., sit] in Your house.” After prayer from whence? As is written, “Surely the righteous shall give thanks to Your name, the upright shall dwell [literally: sit] in Your presence.” Our Rabbis taught: The early pious men would wait one hour, pray for one hour, and again wait one hour. Since they tarried nine hours every day in [the three daily] prayers, how was there [knowledge of] Torah preserved, and how was their labor accomplished? But because they were pious, their Torah was preserved, and their labor was blessed. (b. Berakhot 32b)
To summarize this brief introduction: revelation, illumination, viewing things from the viewpoint of ecstasy or from a trans–subjective viewpoint, is supported through exercises in consciousness while striving for meditation or attachment to God— which may be defined as procedures whose purpose is to bring about immediate ecstasy.
Let us now turn to the text.
Sha’ar ha-Kavvanot (The Gate of Intention) of the Early Kabbalists
Attributed to R. Azriel of Gerona or to a member of His Circle
1. Establishing the Basic Principle of Meditation
The text begins with a basic and fundamental statement applicable to anyone who practices a meditative state: “He who resolves upon something in his mind with a perfect firmness, for him it becomes the essential thing”—that is to say, a meditative effort to fix something in one’s consciousness causes that thing to become a principle or essential dimension guiding one’s consciousness and constantly present therein. Fixing something in one’s consciousness is also a kind of interpretation and definition of the central Jewish concept of kavvanah, “direction” or “intention.” The centrality of intention in prayer is connected to the universal fact that a person is able to speak and simultaneously think of something else; this is particularly so when one is praying—that is, reciting a fixed text which he knows by heart and has recited for many years.
2. Fixing of the Imagery
The next stage is imagining the light: “Imagine that you are light and that everything around you is light, light from every direction and every side.“ The imagining of light involves a broad picture of a kind of figure made of light. The person is seated upon a throne of light, and sees opposite himself a figure of light seated upon a throne [of light] with a crown of light upon his head. At this point in the process there is a kind of imagining of God in the form of a man of light without distinct form; it is a system of light.
3. Light: Uniqueness and Transformation
We hear that good and evil are relative categories, related to the stance of the ego towards the world. When a person is in a state of unity and harmony, the good occurs automatically. But when the consciousness turns towards the direction of ego, this brings about a state of transformation, of fluctuation,which is essentially bad. “And from its perfect glory proceed grace and benediction, peace and life for those who observe the path of its unification” But “to those who deviate from its path comes the light that is hidden and transformed from one thing into its opposite”—that is, the light changes from an objective thing, that is absolute good, to something “transformed,” to its opposite. This is also done “as a chastisement and as right guidance.”
4. The State of Renewed Creation, Which is Ascent to the Infinite
“To draw to itself the current that proceeds from ‘en-sof ”—that is: existence, time, and the dimensions of consciousness are an abundance that comes from the dimension of the Ein Sof, the Infinite. By becoming connected to the dimensions of the infinite consciousness, through the negation of the ego and through natural consciousness, “being” is drawn down to the world. (This approach will become central in the eighteenth century in Hasidism of the school of the Maggid of Mezhirech, and thereafter in that of R. Shneur Zalamn of Lyady, founder of the Habad movement, and in that of his disciples).
5. The Supreme Goal is to Arrive at the Point of Equanimity or Indistinctness
“When the higher will and the lower will, in their indistinctness… become one—then the effluence pours forth according to the measure of its perfection. But the perfection of the lower will cannot take place if it approaches [the higher will] for its own need, but only if it approaches it [the higher will] and if it clothes itself in the will through which enough of the nondistinctness is manifested, which is [otherwise] concealed in the most hidden mystery. And if it approaches it in this manner, the higher will also approaches it… to perfect and execute everything, even if it be according to the will of its soul.”
When a person foregoes his own ego, in which are stored the multitude of fluctuations of consciousness, of transient interests and desires—the supreme divine will and the lowly human will unite, and find themselves in a state of “indistinctness” [or equanimity / equality].” What causes this to take place is specifically the silencing of the human will. But “the perfection of the lower will cannot take place if it approaches [the higher will] for its own need.” On other words: when a person arrives, in his journey of light, at that point which is furthest away from his own personal and egotistic concerns, only then does he touch upon the point of equality, which is essentially not revealed in reality: namely, that thought in which all things are equal, before actions broke through into the world. It is specifically in that state, when he is at the greatest distance from the mask of the ego—if his will is good, whether this is for the sake of his own personal development or for others—his will is fulfilled, for he then connects himself to the absolute will, like a bucket that draws water from the infinite pool.
At the end of this text, after defining the manner and goal of prayer as a kind of journey of the illuminated consciousness, R. Azriel returns to what has served him as the paradigmatic text for his exposition, according to which the early pious men devoted three hours to each prayer: one hour to enter into prayer, one hour to pray, and one hour to leave the state of prayer. Rabbi Azriel’s interpretation of this text is as follows:
a. The first period of time precedes or anticipates prayer, and serves as a kind of pre-liturgical meditation: waiting to remove [extraneous] thoughts from one’s consciousness and to cleanse them from all the various matters and interests; a process of emptying. This stage is called mahshavah (thought).
b. Prayer itself; striving for an illuminated consciousness by means of kavvanah combined with imaging, as described above. This stage is called dibbur (speech), because it is possible to sing or to articulate the words aloud at this stage.
c. Thoughts following prayer and meditation: how to conduct the day in terms of action and everyday behavior in light of the meditation. This stage is known as ma’aseh (deed).
As we are speaking here of a text that strives for a state of illuminated consciousness, our author seemingly reverses the usual paradigm, in which action, as the lowest stage, comes first, followed by speech, which is in turn followed by thought at its apex. But in fact, he is merely clarifying here that good and proper acts are those which are born from thought. Consciousness thus precedes action.