Tuesday, May 03, 2011

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Review: Eye to the Infinite

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by Reb Akiva @ Mystical Paths

אשא עיני אל ההרים, מאין יבא עזרי

"I lift up my eyes to the hills, from AYiN shall come my help." Psalms 121

A review of Ayn el HoEin, Eye to the Infinite – a Practical Guide to Jewish Meditation or How to Increase Divine Awareness by Aharon Rubin.  122 pages, English.

If you’re interested in the mystical and meditative, in actively and directly increase your connection with HaKodesh Baruch Hu (the Holy One, Blessed Be He), there are many books on the theoretical and theological in a Jewish approach to doing so.  You can learn tens of seforim (holy books) on the topic and become well familiar with the concepts of building your mystical connection to G-d.

But when it comes time to put something into practice, to translate the knowledge to practical actions…you’re out of luck.  There are few publications on what to do and how to do it, and almost none of them are in English.

Aryeh Kaplan’s “Jewish Meditation” may have been the sole book out there in English with any practical instructions for actual techniques in (mentally) reaching toward Hashem.  Until today.

Eye to the Infinite bills itself as “A Compendium of Jewish Meditations and techniques adapted from the writings and teachings of the Masters of Kabbalah and Jewish theology”.  It includes approbations from leading rabbis in Jerusalem and England,  meaning the book is solidly kosher – no wishy washing new-agey stuff nor (G-d forbid) Kabbalah cult insta-divine-light crap, this book is the real deal.  It’s a short book (129 pages) with a lofty goal.  Let’s see if it succeeds…

The author sets the tone right in the Forward…  (Who reads the Forward in a book?  In this case even the Forward itself is a treasure!)

An essential component of the path that leads to G-d, meditation exercises have been taught for aeons by the saintly masters of Jewish thought and mysticism, hidden within their writings and teachings…

The spiritual path combines the mind with the heart, purposeful thought with conscious feeling; guided and urged by the the still, inner voice of the Divine soul…

Before we take off for the Divine, first the author solidly grounds us in Torah and Jewish thought.  In a few brief chapters the author gives us a mystical perspective of the soul and the Divine, the I and the Ayin (the Infinite).  As a proper sefer (Jewish holy teaching book), each concept is footnoted with it’s source, which run the range of midrash, malbim, the Ari z”l, nefesh hachaim, tanya, zohar, navi’im, gemora, psalms, chumash, and many many more.

Next the author gives us a concise understanding of Jewish meditation. How does meditation relate to Judaism?  Is it a traditional practice?  What are the goals and what is the impact?  And how do we understand this practice from traditional Jewish mysticism (Kabbalah)?  Don’t worry, this is not a theoretical sefer, the author delves briefly there for those interested and quickly moves on.

Then it’s time to get practical.  The grounding was necessary because now some secrets are revealed.  First are some direct instructions.  If you’re going to practice Jewish meditation and be successful, here is the how.  But this is NOT the author’s how, these are direct quotes from major traditional Jewish sources, but quotes you’ve never heard before!  From the Rambam, from Rebbe Nachman of Breslev, from Rabbi Chaim Vital, from the Ari z”l, from Rebbe Elimelech of Lizenskm, each guideline is carefully gleaned from a holy source (which is documented in the footnotes) and presented as an easy to understand instruction.

Then the author gets even more direct and practical.  Step by step instructions directly from the masters of kabbalah, which continue to include grounding instructions along the way.  This is no silly kabbalah-cult “plug in and receive the light”, these are direct instructions for the path to connect with the Divine.

So far in under 70 pages the author has taken us on a journey of what, what is the soul, what is the proper concept of the Divine (from a meditative perspective), what is meditative connection.  Then how, how to think about it and step by step how to properly begin Jewish meditation.

Next comes a shocker.  The author presents 13 actual directed Jewish meditations, including some serious kabbalistic meditations.

The first 4 are Jewish letter meditations, excellent foundational meditations with the fourth (the vowel meditation) beginning to really reach beyond.  As with everything in this sefer (yes this book qualifies as a holy book), each idea presented is sourced and explained in the footnotes.  

Meditation Chapter 8 sets the stage for what’s really coming.  “Meditation in Prayer – Entering the Palace”.  It begins to explain how to use the meditations as a step in Jewish daily prayer, and how to use Jewish daily prayer as a part of one’s meditations.  It ends with this statement, which could also be considered a warning “the following chapters are ideal as meditations before prayer to enhance the awareness of G-d, the Divine Presence, the soul and the angelic (upper) realms.”

The author then presents serious directed kabbalistic meditations with meditations 9, 10 and 11.  The author and I had some correspondence over this, as I was astounded to find this level of kosher Jewish mystical material in English with easy use instructions available for the general public!  If people rush to these meditations, if they ignore the proper grounding the author offers in Torah as well as practical grounding in mitzvot, then these meditations carry risks.  Both risks of misuse and misunderstanding.

The author includes some notes on this, both in the content and in the footnotes to mitigate these concerns.  But even more, when it’s so easy to fall away, the way of creating deeper and real connections to HaKodesh Baruch Hu (the Holy One, Blessed Be He) must be shared with this generation.

The author ends with an “instant soup” meditation, a quick meditation on complete unification that can be used as a short “start of the day or spare moment” mental and spiritual improvement.

Aryeh Kaplan’s “Jewish Meditation” is the basic how-to starter book on Jewish meditation.  It teaches the basic (kosher) techniques…and stops there.  Because it teaches techniques but doesn’t provide direction, many people experiment with it a bit and then stop as there’s nowhere further to go.

Eye to the Infinite solves this problem and takes the reader much further.  It provides the background and grounding needed to move much further in Jewish meditation and then walks you through, step by step, exactly how to do so, to Whom you are connecting, and the tools to achieve specific provided goals.  This is an EXCELLENT achievement for the English speaking Jewish public.

I highly recommend it for anyone interested in Jewish meditation and/or kabbalah!  This is the real thing, in English, presented in a step by step fashion.  It is NOT “easy” or “simple”, but it is presented as easily and simply as it can be.

Eye to the Infinite is available as an e-book at Amazon.com (for the Kindle, iPod/iPad, PC or Mac) at a special introductory price of $4.95.

It’s also available in PDF format for £5.95 here, readable on any computer or portable device.

And oh yeah, a regular old paper bound sefer is avaiable here for £9.97 plus shipping.

Eye to the Infinite gets our strong recommendation.

Disclosure – None.  Mystical Paths has no financial relationship with the author of any sort.  We received 1 e-book edition for review.

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

Im seriously thinking of buying this book. I may even know the author, is he Rabbi Yitzchak Rubin's son? Rabbi YR was a Rav at South Manchester Shul in England, and is now Rav in Bowdon Shul in Altrincham.

I remember meeting his son (who I think is the author) when he was in the Glasgow kollel in Scotland.

Also, I would like to know
1) how you got the book and
2) who are the Rabbis who approved it?

Thanks! RS

Anonymous said...

PS. Just bought it! RS

Shmuel said...

If you are looking for another great english language primer on meditation, check out "Visions of a Compassionate World" by Rabbi Yehoshua Starrett (who translated Tzav v'Ziruz by the Piaseczner and writes for the BRI). The book is a translation of a very hard sefer to find, "Tena'ay haNefesh l'hasagat Chassidus" by Reb Menachem Ekstein hy"d a Polish chossid who was killed in the war.
The sefer is amazing if you can find it, and Rabbi Starrett's translation is top notch. It can be found on Amazon.
Enjoy!

Anonymous said...

hi RS,
The rabbis who approved it are Dayan Osher Westheim of Manchester,UK and Rabbi Yitschok Morgenstern of Yerusholayim.
Shmuel, the book you mentioned is indeed one of a kind; I believe it is published by Urim.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Anonymous. I trust Dayan Westheim, if you are referring to the Rav who oversees the Manchester Beit Din and kashrut. Oh, and I met him too! Looking forward to learning this sefer. RS

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the information on the new book. I will have to look into it.

With respect to your comment:
Aryeh Kaplan’s “Jewish Meditation” may have been the sole book out there in English with any practical instructions for actual techniques in (mentally) reaching toward Hashem. Until today.

I would like to point out that there is another book available Walking in the Fire by R. Bar Tzadok that discusses this material and techniques in detail.


thanks

Akiva said...

Anonymous,

Walking in the Fire is an excellent sefer introducing various kabbalistic techniques. But they are not meditations (though they do involve focused thought).

Another book is Taming the Raging Mind by Reb Gutman Locks, which is focused on meditative techniques.

Anonymous said...

Walking in the Fire is an excellent sefer introducing various kabbalistic techniques. But they are not meditations (though they do involve focused thought).


I'm surprised by your response, have you read his book?

Personally speaking I don't think anything not Hasidish is real torah mediation anyway.

tal said...

is there any direct email to contact the author of this book? i purchased the pdf download and cannot open it even with the "rar" converters. something is wrong with the two files. thanks.

Shmuel said...

"Personally speaking I don't think anything not Hasidish is real torah mediation anyway."

That's unfortunate; there is a rich Sephardic tradition (see Chacham Abulafia, RaMBaM, and the Kavanot haARI) which form the basis for many of the chassidic traditions. We have to remember that chassidus didn't really originate anything per se, but rather shifted and strengthened the emphasis on certain practices.

Rav Yisrael Salanter's methods of hispaalus and hisbodedus are very helpful tools that can serve as well as many chassidic teachings. Please don't limit yourself when there's a wealth of goodness in the expanse of the Torah world!

Dave said...

hi tal!
One of the files had problems, but hopefully - thanks to you - things have now been fixed.
Everyone who purchased the ebook has been sent the proper file.
The email address to the administrator is Jmeditation@gmail.com
Thank you again for drawing our attention to the problem.

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