Tag Archives: Ramak

Practical Jewish Meditation

An illustrated section from Gustav Doré’s “Moses Breaking the Tablets of the Law”

In this week’s parasha, Ki Tisa, we read how Moses goes up Mount Sinai on three separate occasions. His first ascent concludes with receiving the Two Tablets, only to come down and see the horror of the Golden Calf. Following this, the Torah tells us that “Moses returned to God”, back up the mountain, to address the Calf fiasco and its aftermath (Exodus 32:31). Moses then came back down to pitch a “Tent of Meeting” (33:7) where he could more regularly communicate with God without having to ascend the Mountain, and for when the Israelites would leave Sinai to head to Israel. Moses asked to see God’s Presence directly, and God replied that no mortal can see God and live, though He would show Moses His “back”. To do this, God asked Moses to come up Sinai one last time (34:2), where a new set of tablets would be created to replace the shattered ones.

When Moses descended from Sinai for the last time to present the new Tablets, the Torah tells us that “He was there with God for forty days and forty nights; he ate no bread and drank no water…” (34:28) Moses had gone up Sinai three times, each for forty days, making 120 days total. Indeed, if one counts the days of the Jewish calendar between Shavuot and Yom Kippur, one would find 120 days, since Shavuot is the date of the initial Sinai Revelation while Yom Kippur is when God forgave the Israelites for the Golden Calf and Moses returned with the new Tablets. At the end of Moses’ three sessions of intense meditation with God, his face glowed and the people could no longer look at him directly (34:29-30). Moses would henceforth wear a mask.

The Torah motif of going up a mountain to spend time in prayer and divine meditation spread all over the world, and we find very similar descriptions in other faiths that emerged after Judaism. Buddha, for instance, spent 40 days (or 49 days) up on a mountain meditating under a bodhi tree to attain enlightenment, and also abstained from food and water during that time. Jesus is said to have spent forty days in the wilderness without food and water, and Mohammad purportedly received his first revelation while meditating and fasting for days on Mount Hira at the age of 40. Despite the fact that Moses was undoubtedly the first, meditation today is associated more with Eastern faiths, and strangely not with Judaism.

The truth is that meditation has always been central to Judaism since ancient times. In fact, it is highly likely that it was Jewish exiles who introduced meditative practices around the world after their expulsion from Israel in the 6th century BCE at the hands of the Babylonians. It is intriguing to point out that many world religions began in the century following Israel’s exile, including Buddhism and Confucianism, as well as the Pythagorean and Orphic religions in Greece. Even ancient Zoroastrianism and Hinduism were heavily influenced by spreading Torah ideas in the middle of the first millennium BCE.

Today, science has uncovered the vast benefits of regular meditation—everything from reducing stress and improving sleep, to boosting the immune system and accelerating healing, even positively impacting the expression of our genes! So, what does the Torah tradition have to teach us about meditation, and what are some specific Jewish meditative techniques we can put into practice daily to enhance our lives? Continue reading

Colours of the Sefirot

This week’s parasha, Tetzave, continues in describing the design of the objects used in the Mishkan, the Holy Tabernacle. The focus turns to the vestments of the kohen gadol. We see again that the most notable fibres used in sewing these clothes were tekhelet, argaman, and tola’at shani—blue, purple, and red wool. Our Sages taught (Menachot 43b) that tekhelet is sea-blue, and the sea reflects the sky, which is symbolic of God’s Throne, as per Exodus 24:10, where the nation saw that “there was under His feet the likeness of sapphire stone, and the likeness of clear skies…” (Similarly, Isaiah 66:1 has God declaring that “the skies are My throne, and the Earth is My footstool…”)

Among other things, blue is associated with water, which is in turn associated with life. In Kabbalah, blue is one of the colours of Chessed, lovingkindness. Red is its polar opposite, the colour of blood and fire, representing Gevurah, judgement and severity. Combining red and blue gives purple, the balance between them, Tiferet, seat of truth and beauty. On a mystical level, the purple argaman (ארגמן) also represents the chief angels Uriel (אוריאל), Raphael (רפאל), Gabriel (גבריאל), Michael (מיכאל), and Nuriel (נוריאל).

At first glance, the colours of the three key Sefirot of Chessed, Gevurah, and Tiferet appear to be blue, red, and purple, respectively. However, this is not always the case. In varying sources, the colours of the Sefirot are presented differently. While it is undoubtedly true that in Judaism multiple opinions can be correct simultaneously, can we nonetheless put together a definitive colour spectrum for the Sefirot? Today, we have a great deal of scientific knowledge of light and colour that can greatly assist us in this endeavour. So, which colours correspond to the Sefirot? Continue reading

The Torah’s Greatest Secret, Revealed

As we continue to celebrate the holiday of Chanukah, it is important to remember that Chanukah is not about physical light, but about mystical light. The light of Chanukah is associated with the Or haGanuz, “the concealed light” of Creation. As we learn from Genesis, the primordial divine light shone for 36 hours, which is why we light a total of 36 candles over the course of Chanukah. While we’ve discussed this concept in detail in the past, we have yet to address the big question: what exactly is the Or HaGanuz? What is its nature and true purpose?

The answer to this is possibly the deepest and most concealed secret in all of Judaism. To my knowledge, it has never been publicly discussed or expounded upon. In fact, prior to the last two centuries or so, there was no way for even the most learned scholar to truly understand it. What follows is an attempt to address several ancient mysteries and synthesize one compelling—undoubtedly unconventional—answer. (Proceed with caution, and please read to the end.) Continue reading