Thursday, February 18, 2016

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Bonding One’s Soul with G-d

by Reb Aharon Rubin, from Eye to the Infinite, shared with permission.

What does bonding one’s soul with G-d mean? In an intri­guing passage in the Talmud, three Rabbis comment that they only ever had kavonoh (focus and inten­tion) once whilst praying, whereupon each Rabbi recounts what he thought of in order to have kavonoh.[1] Pronounced by giants of the spirit, men of inestimable piety and wisdom upon whom the Shechinoh dwelt, these are per­plexing words. We can however begin to make sense of their debate by under­standing what kavonoh means and the differ­ence between kavonoh and deveikuth.

Kavonoh comes from kavein, ‘to direct’. It implies the mind is focused else­where and needs to be redirected. Directing the mind during prayer is only nec­essary when not in a state of G-d aware­ness.[2]

These rabbis were in a constant state of deveikuth; they never had to direct their minds! The particular occasions on which they did have kavonoh, i.e. they had to redirect their minds, are lessons in how to redirect the mind when not focused.

One rabbi thought of who would be going first before the Caesar. Visual­ising having an audi­ence with a powerful person arouses feelings of dread. Today, such fear is something few from the Western world can associate with but yesteryear, the fear was real. A monarch’s displeasure meant certain death. The next step is to realise one is standing before the most powerful of all, the Omnipotent King of kings, in Whose Hand are the lives of all humanity and creation.

The second rabbi watched birds fly­ing. Besides the association of ideas, from birds to heaven and thence to G-d, this may be an allusion to souls or angels sometimes re­ferred to as “birds” or “the winged-ones”.[3] Medi­tating on heav­enly beings brought him­ to the requisite mindset of standing be­fore G-d.

The third rabbi counted rows of bricks in a wall. While this may also have been a method of quietening the mind before prayer, it likely al­ludes to the various spiritual levels or worlds en­countered dur­ing prayer. These lie in layers, like rows of bricks, housing the light of Ein Sof, as a wall surrounds and safe­guards its contents.

(In addition, these three methods correspond to three levels of Divinity en­countered in prayer, the Divine soul, the an­gelic world and the outer vessels of the spiritual worlds, (in reverse order, worlds, souls and G-dliness) which corre­spond to the main stages of prayer, as discussed at the end of this chapter. Each rabbi would have used the method most suited to his soul-root.)

Thus, prayer does not ne­cessarily need kavonoh, i.e. active focusing of the mind. Rather, prayer devotion constitutes the verbalisation of one’s awareness of standing be­fore G-d, or speech spoken to G-d whilst in a state of deveikuth and bittul (self-nullifi­cation), envel­oped by the Divine Presence. Only if one has not yet reached this level, does one need kavonoh, i.e. to redirect the mind.


[1] Yerushalmi, Brochoth 17b.

[2] See also Chidushei HaGrach (R. Chaim Soloveitchik), Rambam, Hilchoth Tefilloh, 4:1.

[3] Ecclesiastes, 10:20. See also Daniel, 9:21 and Zohar III, 27a.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

And for those of us with no soul-group or soul-root?

Anonymous said...

Dear Anonymous,
Everyone has a soul. And those who seek G-d - including Noachides - are rooted in the Shechinoh.
Nowadays, few - if any - recognise their soul-root. The best we can do is to be true to ourselves, and perform the mitsvoth with the method, fervour, mindset and characteristics that come naturally and are unique to our personal make-up.

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