3.J.1 The Spiritual Day, Meir Poppers, Or Ha-Yashar, presented by Paul Fenton

  • Text

“Every morning, man is created anew [..]. Immediately upon awakening from his slumber, one should hasten to connect with the holy dimension of his [restored] higher soul and therefore upon waking to rise he should visualize the letters composing his name permuted with those of the word ‘higher soul’ (NShMH). For example, if his name were, for example, Jacob, then he would contemplate the letters JaNaShCaMBaH. As a result, he presents his essence and connects it with his higher soul thus preserving himself from sin.

Since it is forbidden to utter the divine name before performing one’s ablutions one cannot thus bless G-d for having restored his soul unto him. Nevertheless it is proper to give thanks unto G-d for the great favor He has bestowed upon him by returning his soul. He should therefore say : “I give thanks unto Thee, O King, living and enduring (hay we-qayyam) fo having restored unto me my soul with compassion. Great is Thy faith”. This can be uttered even though his hands are not yet pure, for this formula does not contain the divine name.

According to the Zohar it is forbidden to walk a distance of four cubits without previously having washed one’s hands, and one who does so is considered as an idol worshipper and contravenes the prohibition: ‘And there shall cleave nought of the doomed thing (herem) to thine hand’(Dt 13, 18). The reason being that as long as one’s hands are unclean, ‘another god’ presides over them. Thus a Godfearing person who desires to cling to His holiness […] should immediately wash his hands upon rising from his couch and avoid touching any of his garments or his face and especially his head which is the seat of holiness, before performing his ablutions.

[Here the author describes the ritual ablution of the hands, which consists of pouring water three times with the left hand from a recipient over the right hand and then repeating this over the left hand poured with the right hand].

Then he should proceed to the ablution of the face according to the following order. Firstly, he should wash the holy spot where the head phylactery is placed, i.e. the crown of the head (fontanel). Thereafter, he should wash the spot corresponding to the knot of the phylactery at the rear of the top of the neck, for this too is a holy place as proven by the fact that the knot was shown to Moses in a prophetic vision (TB Berakhôt 7).

Thereupon, he should wash the left biceps corresponding to the spot where the hand phylactery is placed. Next, he should wash his face, which was formed in the Divine image. Thereafter, he should clean his lips, intending thereby to thoroughly cleanse the instruments which articulate the labial consonants (BWMF) so that they may gleam with a clear light later when he uses them in prayer.

Next, he should clean his teeth intending also thereby to cleanse the dental consonants (ZSShRẒ). Thereafter, he should cleanse his mouth and tongue where the labial consonants (DTLNT) are articulated, and then the palate where the palatal consonants (GYKQ) are articulated. Lastly, he should clean his throat in order to cleanse the instrument where the guttural consonants (‘HH’) are articulated. He should intend thereby to purify these five points of articulation in order not to use them to express utterances which anger the Creator, such as slander and the likes, thereby defiling them. He should have in mind that they should be clean and pure for pronouncing his prayers so that the consonants will properly join with each other to form a crown upon the crest of the King of kings.
At the moment of reciting the blessing over the ablutions for the hands, he should raise them to the level of his face, bending his elbows inwards so that they connect. Thereupon, he should extend his hands as one who desires to receive an object to symbolize the receiving of purification (tahorah).”
Meir Poppers, Or Ha-Yashar, Fürth, 1754, p. 2.


  • Commentary

The Or Ha-Yashar is a mystical methodology, or exhortation to asceticism, based upon Isaac Luria’s writings, the Zohar, and other moral works. It was first published as Or Ẓaddiḳim in Hamburg in 1690, and later under the title Or Ha-Yashar (Fürth, 1754), which was reprinted together with Moses Cordovero’s commentary on the daily liturgy in Premsyl in 1892. The author of this work is Meir ben Judah Loeb Ha-Kohen Ashkenazi Poppers (ca. 1624-1662) who was a Bohemian rabbi and Kabbalist born in Prague and who died in Jerusalem in February or March, 1662. He studied the Kabbalah under Israel Ashkenazi and Jacob Zemah, and composed a great number of works, all in the spirit of Isaac Luria. Thirty-nine of them have “Or” (‘light’) as the beginning of their titles, in reference to his name “Meir.” His works deal with Kabbalistic homilies on the Pentateuch, commentaries on rabbinical texts, mysteries of the prayers and commandments, regulations and rules for the study of the Kabbalah, on the transmigration of souls.

The spiritual journey is re-enacted every day for, as our author states, drawing on a rabbinical saying, ‘man is create anew every dawn’. Our Kabbalist provides one of the most detailed accounts of how, in the initial moments of the dawning day, the devotee prepares himself to set out on that journey. The first stage is of primary importance for in a way it will determine the unfolding of later stages of the spiritual agenda. The author alludes to this more than once and is especially insistent on connecting one’s soul to the spiritual energy produced by the ‘higher soul’ in the initial stages of physical awakening through an interesting mystical technique involving visualization.

Most of the following development is concerned with ritual ablution with which the spiritual day commences. It shows how the Jewish devotee impregnates with spirituality even the meanest tasks, which many of us take for granted. It must first be recalled that ablution is a rabbinical injunction based on the biblical precept devolving upon the priestly caste. This is in keeping with the conception that every Jew, even if he is a mere Israelite, belongs to the ‘kingdom of priests and holy nation’ (Ex. 19, 6). It is forbidden to touch any object or part of the body before ablutions, and even more so to pronounce the name of G-d. However, one should be grateful to G-d for having restored one’s soul. This he does using one of G-d’s attributes rather than his sacred names — hay we-qayyam (‘living and enduring’). Interestingly, this is two of G-d’s names in the Islamic tradition, which are often invoked during the dhikr sessions. Indeed, I note that some of the gestures recounted in the ablution ritual are also performed in Muslim ritual.

Subsequently, to the cleansing of the centres of spiritual energy as a means of activating them. The face, which is a reflection of the Divine image, followed by the ‘shakras’ located at the top and bottom of the brain and opposite the heart. Special attention is then paid to the purifying of the five points of articulation of the consonants (lips, teeth, mouth, tongue, throat). The important role in ‘linguistic mysticism’ which these points play cannot be entered into here. Suffice it to say that the author sees this cleansing as a preparation not only for prayer but also for supervising his daily speech.

The concluding sentence of the extract we have chosen evokes a ritual gesture connected with the ablution of the hands which are to be raised in an attitude of supplication and entreaty symbolizing the devotee’s desire and receptivity of the spiritual energy. This gesture too has its counterpart in Muslim practice.


  • Video

Participants consider the effort required to keep the soul purified and the body sanctified. They continue the discussion on the role of rituals and their obligatory nature. Are rituals functional? Are they designed in order to reach a particular level of sanctity and once that has been achieved, their need disappears? Are they part of the quest for knowledge? Do religions differ greatly on this point or is there some commonality? How important are rituals for community and how much does responsibility for other members of the community play a role in the maintenance of ritual by highly spiritual people? The maintenance of community appears to be a guiding principle.