Judaism can be traced back to ancient Biblical times and is also one of the oldest religions that advocated meditation. Jewish meditation follows the same basic principles of meditation, such as sitting silently and emptying the mind; focusing on Hebrew letters, words, or phrases; awareness and channeling of breath; chanting; and contemplating the Torah philosophy. Although the Jewish form of meditation leans more towards a spiritual experience and was basically practiced before or after prayers it was not restricted to just prayer times. One could meditate as and when one wanted to.
The tradition of Jewish meditation has been under wraps for centuries, since rabbis worried that it might lead to idol worship among the Jews who had settled outside their homeland. At the same time meditation was strongly disavowed by secularized Jews because it was a reminder of ghetto life which was considered “old-fashioned”. During the Holocaust, a majority of the Eastern European rabbis who had held on to the knowledge of Jewish meditation were killed and most of their knowledge died with them.
What is Jewish meditation?
Jewish meditation can be as described is any form of meditation that is done keeping the Jewish religious philosophies in mind. The basic doctrine and aim of Jewish meditation is “yishuv ha da’at” which is Hebrew for “stabilizing the mind”. This means reaching a state where the mind is settled and relaxed and yet is clear and renewed. Said to be the root of all human languages, Hebrew is said to be the language of the soul. Jewish meditation enables the mind and soul to break through the barriers of the human conscience and indulge in an intimate conversation with God.
There are many techniques in Jewish mediation and any and all of these techniques can be mastered through steady effort and practice. A variety of meditative practices exist with Kabbalah. Here is a short list of a variety of techniques that have been used in Jewish meditation over the ages:
Music was used to induce a prophetic state of consciousness as it was thought to have great powers of healing a spiritually broken or weak mind and helped open the gates to spirituality.
Visualizing a letter (aleph-bet) allows one to get in touch with its particular vibration, just as a work of art invokes a feeling of deep contemplation and appreciation so does each letter bring forth certain energy. Accurate visualization can be a very powerful meditative technique.
Prayers should not become mechanical and lack sincerity and belief. Reciting a prayer should be a reflection of one’s faith and gratitude and a call for the healing powers of God’s love in all areas of our life
Another form of a meditative technique found in Judaism, chanting mantras can help focus the mind. If not sure of which mantra to chant, then one may just repeat the phrase “Ribbono shel Olam” meaning “master of the universe”.
Some of the other techniques of Jewish meditation such as I-Thou, Nature, Community, and Hashmal also help clear and renew the mind and provide spiritual healing.
Although Jewish meditative techniques are very traditional in nature and practice, they are a timeless resource of uniting with the God and revealing in his love and glory.