This article appears as part of the Portal on Jewish Prayer and in Keeping God at the Center.




            A suckling infant stares at its mother's face; a senile person follows a face as it moves through the field of vision. Face is the first thing we see; it is also the last act of full recognition that we experience. Face is the basic template of personhood. Face is presence, and presence is face.

            The Face of God is God's Presence; God's Presence is present in God's Face -- which is why Face is capitalized.

            We seek the Face of God, we look for it, we search for it, we long for it: “As a deer yearns for a stream of water, so my inner being yearns for You, God. My innermost self thirsts for the living God; when shall I come and see / be seen by Your Face" (Ps. 42:2-3).

            We study God's Face, we look at it, we ponder it, we question it: “Study the Lord and the Lord’s mightiness; seek God’s Face in all times and places" (Ps. 105:4). What kind of Face does God have? What does it communicate? What do we read when we read God's Face, God’s Facial expression?

            We rejoice to see God's Face; it is a light for us, it shines upon us and we are jubilant: “May the Lord cause the Lord’s Face to shine upon you, and may God be gracious unto you" (Nu. 6:25).

            We also fear God's Face, we flee God: “Where can I go away from Your spirit and where can I flee from Your Face" (Ps. 139:7). We hide our face from God: “Moses hid his face because he was afraid to look upon God" (Ex. 3:6). Jonah.

            God hides God’s Face from us and we are left existentially alone, isolated, without Presence. This undermines our presence, our orientedness; it constricts our face: “You hid Your Face; I was terrified" (Ps. 30:8; 104:29). And we yearn even more deeply to see God's Face again, to be seen by God's Face again, to return to God’s Presence: “My heart echoed You saying, ‘Seek My Face’; I do seek Your Face, Lord” (Ps. 27:8); “when shall I come and see / be seen by Your Face" (Ps. 42:3).

            A face, God's Face, has many facets: anger, joy, shame, pain, light, severity, humor, doubt, kindness, waiting, expectation. There are as many facets to F/face as there are modes of relatedness.

            F/face has ten special expressions: inexpressibility, wisdom, understanding, unconditional love, power, compassion, timelessness, awesome beauty, productivity, and majesty (Zohar).

            F/face is the meeting point of the inner self and the outer world. F/face is the welling-forth of inexpressibility and inner depths into the stream of manifest consciousness. It is the majestic portal of expression of, and access to, unconditional love, power, compassion, and beyond. F/face is the veil which renders the invisible visible. It is the gateway to the S/soul, the allusion to P/presence (Zohar).[ii]




          Kavvana is the way. It is the method by which we pray. It is the technique(s) we use to bring ourselves into God’s presence and to address God. It is the art of prayer. There are many types and kinds of kavvana. Indeed, this whole book is devoted to explicating many of these. The following four readings serve as an introduction.


Kavvana: The Art of Prayer[iii]

          Can you hum a melody, and think a thought? Can you dislike a person, yet be polite? Can you knowingly do something wrong? If you can do any of these things (and all of us can do them), then you know what "multiple consciousness" means. It means that we, in the course of our normal lives, can sustain several levels of awareness at the same time.

          What do you do when you get in your car and set it in motion? If you are like most of us, when you drive: you turn on the radio, you think, and if there is someone with you, you also talk. Some people also manage to drink and/or eat while they drive, and listen, and talk, and think. But, what happens to all that accessory activity if a ball shoots out into your path? You immediately block out all the accessory activity and devote your full attention to driving. You watch the ball, take a quick read on the vehicular and pedestrian traffic around you, and you decide instantaneously whether to brake or swerve in order to avoid the child who may be following the ball. This is a very good demonstration both of multiple consciousness -- we do do many things at once -- and of focusing of consciousness -- we can exclude multiple tasks and concentrate on only one if necessary.

          What, then, do you have in mind when you "recite" prayers? What do you think of when you "participate" in a religious service? What do you have in your consciousness when you "pray"? These questions, too, reflect our ability to sustain multiple consciousness—in particular, the multiple consciousness which we call "religious" or "spiritual." To pray is more than to "say one's prayers." It is to raise one's religious consciousness. It is to focus one's spiritual senses.

          The traditional Jewish term for spiritual consciousness-raising is kavvana. Kavvana is a set of consciousness-raising techniques; that is, it is a set of techniques for broadening one's awareness of what one is doing. Kavvana is accomplished by directing one's thoughts and one's awareness to the various aspects of what one is doing. In Hebrew, there is a verb, le-khavven et ha-lev, which literally means "to direct the heart" but which can also be translated as "to do (something) with attentiveness." The result of the use of kavvana, as is the case with all consciousness-raising techniques, is to change an act from a routine, or semiconscious, act into an experience in which one is more fully present and more fully aware of all the realities touched.

          One way to elucidate the nature of kavvana is by example. I present here an example of the various modes of kavvana and the levels internal to each mode as they relate to the recitation of one text in order to indicate the range of living religious reality within traditional rabbinic Judaism.

            On certain holidays, the liturgy prescribes the recitation of Psalms 113 through 118, which together are called Hallel. Toward the end of Psalm 118 (verse 25), the psalmist writes: "Please, Lord, save, please; Please, Lord, grant success, please." This verse can be recited with varying levels of awareness. At the lowest level, it is recited as a matter of routine, in a semiconscious manner, with the person reciting it being vaguely aware of doing what she or he is supposed to do. This is called keva` or she-lo lishmah, that is, mindless prayer. It is really prayer without kavvana.

          In one mode of kavvana, the rabbinic Jew(ess) reciting this verse must become aware of the various meanings of the words. One must first become aware of their simple, direct meaning. Then one must become aware of their context within this very beautiful psalm, which itself speaks of "crying from the straits" and of God's response. Then, such a person would have to become aware of the rabbinic regulations regarding the recitation of this verse: that it is recited by the leader first and then the congregation; that on Sukkot there are prescribed movements of the lulav and etrog which accompany the recitation of this verse, and that all movements cease when the word "Lord" is said; and so on. Then, such a person would have to become aware of the report in the Mishna (Sukka 4:5) concerning the circumambulation of the altar during which this verse was recited, and that according to another sage, a strange metamorphosis of this verse was recited: "I and 'ho,' save, please," and that this metamorphosed version occurs in the later liturgy and is reputed to have magical properties. At the outer limits of this mode of kavvana, the praying rabbinic Jew(ess) would be aware of the kabbalistic "unifications" attendant upon recitation of this verse and one would "make" them.

            In a different mode of kavvana, the rabbinic Jew(ess) reciting this verse must make oneself aware of what it is one is praying for -- of that from which one wishes to be "saved," of what kind of "success" one wishes to have. One must begin with simple personal needs: health, sustenance, strength, love, and insight. Then, one must broaden one's awareness to include the needs of one's family, immediate and more remote. Then, one must make oneself aware of the needs of Jews elsewhere: their need for peace, for security, for freedom. Then, such a person must make him or herself aware of the need of humankind for peace, for sustenance, and for life. At the outer limits of this mode of kavvana, the praying rabbinic Jew(ess) would have to become aware of herself or himself and, indeed, of all people, as truly, existentially alone, separated from one another by the silence that separates all being, and realize that one's prayer to be saved is a primal cry into eternity for oneself, for one's children, and for all people everywhere.

          In yet a different mode of kavvana, the rabbinic Jew(ess) reciting this verse must become aware of her or himself. He or she must first become aware of his or her own physical presence; then of his or her presence in the greater congregation of worshiping Jews the world over; then of his or her presence in the greater congregation of worshiping Jews through time; and so on. On a broader level, such a person would have to become aware of those sisters and brothers of the flesh and spirit who cannot pray, whose lives were cut off in the crematoria; that they, too, deserve to have their prayers recited; and that through this mode of kavvana, the praying rabbinic Jew(ess) becomes more than herself or himself. Our consciousness becomes the instantiation of theirs. Our presentness becomes their presentness, and we speak, or rather cry out, for them too.

            In still another mode of kavvana, the rabbinic Jew(ess) reciting this verse must become aware of God. One must become aware of God's absolute transcendence, of the utter power of God, which knows no limits but those which are Self-imposed. Then, one must become aware of God's absolute love of humankind, of the inalienable bond to which God has committed Godself. Then, one must contemplate the types of fear of God and the types of love of God. One must meditate on the essential contingency of all reality upon God—that nothing exceeds God's knowledge, power, and providence. And one must ponder the acts and the Person of God as reflected in the traditional texts. More broadly still, such a person must confront her or his own real fear of God, and his or her own real love of God. One must confront the reality of one's relatedness to God. And then one must consciously broaden one's awareness to let the Presence into one's mind and heart. One must knowingly broaden one's consciousness to permit oneself to stand in the presence of God—person to Person, presence to Presence. At the outer limits of this mode of kavvana, the praying rabbinic Jew(ess) must, in his or her own awareness, be ready to die, in that moment. She or he must be ready to immediately cast herself or himself into the abyss. He or she must be completely ready to give up his or her soul for God, for God's Truth, for God's Torah, for God's people.

          After one has thought these thoughts and prepared oneself for prayer, one must then actually pray; that is, one must really say what one has to say, for whom one has to say it, while reciting the words of the psalm, “Please, Lord, save, please; Please, Lord, grant success, please.” After one has arranged one’s intentions, one must put oneself in the presence of God and then say the words of the liturgy while thinking the thoughts and praying for specific acts of saving and success.

          These are the modes and levels of kavvana. When one has achieved some mastery over them, one may, indeed one must, pray. Not everyone can achieve or sustain such a broad spectrum of consciousness—in all its modes and levels—but, in its full scope (and there is undoubtedly much that I, in my ignorance, have omitted), kavvana is the key to the range of traditional religious reality, to Jewish piety and spirituality.


Leading Prayer[iv]

            Jewish worship provides that one person act as the leader of the service. The only real qualities required of the leader are piety and education; there are no formal institutional requirements such as being a rabbi or a cantor. There are, however, two terms used in the literature to describe this function: "to go down before the lectern" and "to pass before the lectern." Scholars do not know the exact historical nuance intended by this differentiation. The Hebrew teiva means both “word” and “lectern” and this double meaning allows Rabbi Levi Yitzhak of Berditchev, a third generation hasidic master,[v] to offer a typology of the prayer life drawn from the realities of the hasidic spirituality. He teaches that there are those who, when they pray, are led by the words and there are those who lead the words they pray, as follows:

          There are moments when, being very upset or joyful or confused, we approach God but do not have the right words. Our own power of expression fails us. In that situation, we turn to words written by those who have preceded us along the way—the psalms or the liturgy. Through those words, made holy by the spirit which inspired them and the powerful use of the many who have prayed them, we find our own voice. In the words themselves, we find expression of our deepest feelings. In this instance, we “are led by the words," we “go down before the lectern.”

          But there are other moments when, being deeply moved by fear or love or anger or joy, we approach God and know that we are already close to God; that God is there for us, with us. And still we pray. In this situation, our words flow freely from us and are directed to God, without the effort of searching for the right word. In such moments, our words are an offering to God, a gift given prayerfully even when they are petitionary. Not that we make up the words, not that we extemporize; but that our closeness to God precedes our awareness of the words and their meaning. In this instance, our sense of God's presence takes precedence over the liturgy, we "lead the words," we pass before the lectern.”

          Both are methods of true prayer. Furthermore, both types of prayer are also modes of leadership in prayer. Sometimes, as leaders of prayer, we allow the liturgy to speak for us, through us. In such moments, we "go down before the lectern,” we“are led by the words.” And sometimes, as leaders of prayer, we know what we need to say to God, we feel close to God and confident in God, and we use the liturgy to say what needs to be said. In such moments, we "pass before the lectern,” we“lead the words.”

            Commenting on the verse, "And Moses went and spoke . . ." (Deuteronomy 31:1), the text of Levi Yitzhak reads:

         Sometimes the sages, may their memory be a blessing say, "one goes down before the lectern" and sometimes they say, "one passes before the lectern." There are righteous persons, who when they pray before God, may God be blessed, must attach themselves to the words of the prayers and then the holy words themselves lead the leaders. And there are very great righteous persons who are beyond this level and they lead the words. This is the level of Moses . . . This is the meaning of "one goes down before the lectern" [Hebrew, teiva ], for the word [Hebrew, teiva ] leads one and one is "down below" it. As to the righteous person who leads the word and is therefore of greater rank, such a person is one who "passes before the lectern [word]." Here, when Moses was at the end of his days and when, according to the midrash, the fountain of wisdom was sealed for him, he was of the rank in which the words led him. This is the meaning of "and Moses went and spoke"—that he went to the word, which was above him.

       The moment of being so close to God that the words are an offering is the highest rank of spirituality. It is the rank of Moses. The moment of using the holy words to approach God, though it is a lesser spiritual achievement, is also a great prayer moment. However, even Moses, Levi Yitzhak teaches, had such lower moments as his career drew to a close.[vi]


A Flaming Heart[vii]

            How do we know that we have truly prayed? How can we be sure that we have truly worshiped God? What criteria can one use to measure kavvana? Levi Yitzhak, like many hasidic rabbis, addresses this problem again and again.

            Toward the end of the weekly reading of Mishpatim, Moses goes up on Mt. Sinai. The Glory (Presence) of God rests upon the mountain and the text describes it as follows: "The appearance of the Glory of God was as a consuming fire" (Exodus 24:17). Levi Yitzhak, setting aside the descriptive meaning of the verse, interprets it spiritually.

           A person, in his or her worship of God, may God be blessed, through Torah and mitsvot, brings great joy above. And so, when a person wants to know if God, may God be blessed, has joy from this worship, the criterion is this: If one sees that one's heart burns like a fire and that one feels religious enthusiasm to worship God continuously and that one has a passion and a will to worship the Creator, then it is certain that God, may God be blessed, has joy from that person's worship. Such an individual is helped by heaven and holy thoughts are sent to that person's heart. This is why it is written "and the Glory of God was as a consuming fire"—for the sign, if one wants to know if one has seen the Glory of God and if the Holy One, blessed be God, is happy with one, is "a consuming fire," that one's heart burns like fire.

            Levi Yitzhak proposes that “a flaming heart” is the criterion of true prayer. If you have prayed and God has been “a consuming fire” for you, even if only for a moment, then you have truly worshiped God.

            This is a very audacious statement on several grounds. First, the criterion set up is a subjective one -- a feeling of religious enthusiasm, not an accumulation of objective proper deeds. Second, it unequivocally casts the criterion for proper spiritual behavior on the individual. Each person, not the community. is the judge of whether his or her worship is acceptable to God. Third Levi Yitzhak, following the Zohar, teaches that the true reason for studying the Torah and doing the commandments is to create a parallel subjective feeling in God, that our joy creates joy in God. All these motifs run strongly against the rationalistic, objectivistic understanding of Judaism prevalent in usual orthodox, as well as in modernist, circles. Yet it is exactly this emphasis on real, personal religious experience that is the crucial element in Jewish spirituality. One does what one is supposed to do in order to give God pleasure, and one does experience a sense of "burning heart" when one does these things. Then, one uses this experience as the criterion for the truth of what one has done.


Law and Spirituality[viii]

            Jewish spirituality is a matter of law, not a matter of personal preference or inclination. All deeds are commandments and one must do all commandments with kavvana. But kavvana has many levels. How does one put this into law? The classic book of Jewish law, the Shulhan Arukh, written about 1550 C.E. and citing earlier sources, subtly formulates the laws of kavvana as they apply to liturgical prayer as follows. Note the proposing of thought motifs, the recommendations for the external setting, and the shading of emphasis from concentrating upon the words and their meanings to the more intense stripping away of materiality followed by intellectual meditation:[ix]

• (1) One who prays must direct one’s heart to the meaning of the words which one brings out of one's mouth.

• One should think that it is as if the divine Presence is opposite one.

• One should remove all distracting thoughts until one's thought and kavvana are pure when one prays.

• One should think that, if one were talking to a king of flesh and blood, one would order one's words and have them properly in mind so that one not stumble. How much more so would one do this before the King of the king of kings, the Holy One, blessed be God, Who probes every thought.

• Thus would the saints and people of deeds do: They would set themselves apart and have kavvana in their praying until they would reach the stage of stripping away all materiality and of strengthening the intellectual faculty such that they attained almost to the rank of the prophets.

If another thought comes to one in prayer, one should be quiet until that thought has been annihilated.

• One must think of things which bring humility to the heart and which direct one to one's Father in heaven; one should not think of things which bring one to lightheadedness.

• (2) One should not pray in a place where there is something that destroys one's kavvana. Nor should one pray at a time which destroys one's kavvana. Now, however, we are not so careful in this matter because we do not pray with so much kavvana.

• (3) One should pray in a pleading manner as a poor person who begs at the door.

One should pray in calmness so that prayer not seem like a burden which one seeks to put down.

• (4) Prayer takes the place of the sacrifices. Therefore, one must take care that the model of the sacrificial service in kavvana be observed such that no other thought mix in with the act, for a stray thought rendered a sacrifice invalid.

• Prayer must be said standing like the sacrifices. It must also be done regularly, as they were. . . .

It is appropriate that one have special pleasing clothes for prayer as the clothes of the priest were special, though not every person can spend money lavishly on this. In any case, it is best that one have special pants for prayer because of the matter of cleanliness.

• (5) One should not think that one is so worthy that "the Holy One, blessed be God, will fulfill my request for I have had kavvana in my prayers." It is the opposite of this. Such a thought calls one's sins to mind. Rather, one should think that God will act in God's graciousness and one should say to oneself, "Who am I, poor and despised, to come and to petition the King of the king of kings, the Holy One, blessed be God, were it not for God's great kindnesses with which God directs God's creatures?"




            When sitting in synagogue, do not be afraid to drop out of the service and drop in on God. The worst that can happen is that you will remain sitting while everyone else is standing, or vice versa. That is not so terrible. It is more important for you to seize control of your spiritual life. You can always close your eyes and ears. That way you will be less aware of others, and others will respect your privacy.

            The first thing to do is to sit straight and relax. Close your eyes and just breathe in and out a few times. Let your mind relax too. As extraneous thoughts come into your head, push them gently away.[x] 

            Then, imagine yourself into the presence of God. For some, God’s presence is very transcending. For others, it is very intimate. Whatever God means to you, put yourself in God’s presence. Then, follow one of the prayer techniques described later in this book.

            You can always put yourself in the presence of God and quietly hum a melody. Just sing. To God. No one will hear you or, if they do, they will be respectful and not interrupt you, especially if your eyes are closed. Some melodies are sad. Others are joyful. Wherever you are, be there and sing. You will have the opportunity to sing to God again, from another place in your being.

            While you are detached from the liturgy, determine what you most want to pray for. It may be to express gratitude. It may be to ask for healing for a sick relative or friend, or to ask for help with earning a living or finding a personal partner. It is perfectly proper to pray for yourself, as well as for others. What is the most important thing for which you want to pray?

            If you are following the liturgy, pick the most meaningful sentence from the paragraph you are reading. Ask yourself why you chose it. Think about the sentence. Ask what is the key word, and why. Read the same sentence emphasizing different words each time. Pray the sentence for different people whom you know, or with whom you identify.

            Take your time. Don’t rush. You can “catch up” with the congregation and rejoin the communal prayer whenever you want.[xi]


            At some point in life we all lose a family member. It is custom to recite the Kaddish daily for family members for a full eleven months.[xii] That is a long time, but each of us has only one mother and one father. If they were reasonably good to us, it is the least we can do.[xiii] The period of saying the Kaddish is also an opportunity to do something about your prayer life.

            Memorize some of the prayers. For those of us who are older, memorization does not come easily. Use small units, but do memorize. Put the words of the liturgy into your head, permanently.

            Learn the music and lead services. Most synagogues will provide, or someone will prepare, for you a tape with the melodies. Use these tapes when you are in your car to master the chanting. Practice it. Ask, and someone will help you. Be a shliah tsibbur,  a leader of prayers. Begin with Minha or Ma`ariv because they are short and basic.

            Reciting the Kaddish for a long period of time gives you the chance to participate in the liturgical rhythms of the community. The feeling during Pesah is different from that between Rosh ha-Shana and Yom Kippur. Shabbat is different from weekdays. Early evening is different from late evening. Also, there will be others who finish their mourning period and leave the minyan, and yet others who join. You will also get to know those who come regularly even though they are not saying the Kaddish.

            If you miss a minyan and are at a Jewish community meeting, ask for a few moments to have a brief service and say the Kaddish. Everyone will be more than glad to help out, even those who are not “religious.” The most skeptical will just drift out of the area while the rest pray.

            If you are away or simply cannot get to a minyan, have a study plan. Pick a chapter of Mishna or of Tanakh and read it in memory of the one you mourn. This can be done even when one travels transatlantic.  A program of study is, anyway, a good idea even if you do attend synagogue regularly. With a little luck, this study effort will turn into something more long range in your life.

            When you recite the Kaddish, try to image the presence of the one whom you have lost. It does not have to be a visual image. It can be a “sensed” image. We all have sensed images of those with whom we have, or have had, intense contact. When you recall your favorite aunt, you will notice that you smile and relax. That may be true of your parent, or it may not. But whatever is there, image it while you are saying the Kaddish.

            Practice some of the ways of kavvana in this book. Use the suggestions I shall make. Drop in on God when you pray. Make some order in your own mind and heart concerning those things for which you pray and those for which you don’t. Find people who need your prayers. There is a great deal of suffering in the world and sometimes the only thing we can do is pray. Do it. With some effort, saying the Kaddish will become not only an obligation you loyally fulfill but also a window into your own soul and a gateway into Jewish spirituality.


          Jewish spirituality is not a straight road. Nor is it a spiral, moving ever upward. It is, rather, a meandering path filled with obstacles and blind alleys which only slowly moves toward its end. To walk this path is to stumble. To be spiritual, in Jewish tradition, is to grope in the darkness between the flashes of light.[xiv]

          Yet Jewish spirituality is not just stumbling and groping; it is also determined movement. When one way fails to bring us close to God, we try another. When the obstacles on one path overwhelm us, we try another. I have called this impulse of seeking first one way and then another the seriatim dimension of Jewish spirituality.[xv]

          Seriatim is a moving-in-series. The following analogy is helpful: A sailboat cannot sail into the wind; that is, in the direction from which the wind is blowing. Any attempt to turn a sailboat into the wind will result in the sails flapping uselessly. To sail in that direction, a sailboat must sail at an angle to the wind, first to one side and then to the other. Only by zigzaging in this fashion can a sailboat sail into the wind. This is called “tacking.” To move seriatim is to tack, to move in zigzag fashion towards one’s goal. The analogy is a very good one for many areas of life, including one’s spiritual life.[xvi]

          In a practical sense, seriatim means that, when we cannot experience God's presence by meditating on God's goodness, we observe God's commandments. When we cannot experience God's closeness through prayer, we study. When we cannot experience God's grace, we activate ourselves in the community of God's chosen people. When we get too involved with the community, we withdraw to contemplate God's being. When liturgy fails, we try personal prayer. When personal prayer fails, we try liturgy. And so on. One is supposed to alternate the patterns of one's life so that, and because, all patterns lead to God's presence.[xvii]


            A note on the difference between Jewish spirituality and Jewish mysticism: Jewish spirituality is rooted in the ability of every person to sense the holy and to relate to the personhood of God. Everyone has these capacities, though some have more natural sensitivity than others. Indeed. some are gifted in the ways of spirituality. The analogy to musicality is useful: Everyone has some sense of music, though there is a substantial range to this capacity from the barely musical to the truly gifted. To develop one’s Jewish spiritual abilities, then, one must recognize that one has such abilities and one must want to refine them. To do so, one needs to accustom oneself to the language, learn the intellectual background, and follow the practices of the tradition. God comes to us “naturally,” so to speak; we only have to be listening and then enhance our capacity for contact with the divine.

            Jewish mysticism, however, is a subset of Jewish spirituality. It is a special set of experiences within a broader range of the awareness of God's presence. Jewish spirituality becomes properly "mystical," in my opinion, when it conforms to the following characteristics: First, the intellectual framework in which we reach out for God is hierarchical, there being a distance between us and God which is bridged by a clearly defined set of beings (angels, spheres, hypostases, sefirot, and so forth). Second, attaining an awareness of God is a function of climbing up the hierarchy of being, the experience of God being achieved by a clearly defined technique for scaling the distance between us and God along the hierarchy. Third, after scaling the hierarchy, in most forms of Jewish mysticism, the various types of mystical experience of God's presence remain quite abstract. They are Presence without attribute, Being without predicate, non-self, no-thing, negation of negation. Fourth, these experiences are totally beyond the control of the mystic. He or she can neither force them to come nor adequately shape them or determine what will become of them. Most mystical experiences themselves are thus passive, though the way to them is very active.[xviii]

            Jewish spirituality, by contrast, is based upon the experience of the personal presence of God, God's presence being most often experienced anthropopathically. The divine is  Person -- alternately loving, demanding, gracious, angry, comforting. God's personal presence, bound by God's covenant with us, is creative, active, responsive to our needs. We portray God in images and metaphors; God gives us concrete laws. Our relationship is real, interpersonal. Jewish spirituality is, thus, broad and Jewish mysticism is a subset of it.

            Jewish mysticism requires Jewish spirituality as its base. It also demands very rigorous and specific intellectual and practical training. I have given a taste of this in the chapter on zoharic meditation (Chapter 4) but, as a matter of practical advice, the reader should concentrate on developing his or her Jewish spiritual abilities as forth in the other chapters.


[i] Adapted from Facing,  176-78.

[ii] Face is Shekhina in zoharic language. Cf. also Seek  My  Face,  28-37.

[iii] Adapted from D. Blumenthal, God at the Center  (San Francisco, Harper and Row: 1988; reprinted Northvale, NJ, Jason Aronso: 1994) 186-90.

[iv] Adapted from God at the Center,   164-66.

[v] On Levi Yitzhak, see God at the Center, xviii-xxi. The quotations here and elsewhere are from Levi Yitzhak’s key work, Kedushat Levi.

[vi] Levi Yitzhak may also have reference to the hasidic doctrine that the saint has enormous intercessory power, as the talmudic saying adopted by hasidic thinkers, put it, "The righteous man decrees and God fulfills" (Talmud,  Mo`ed Katan 16b). In this sense, the saint of the highest order "leads [directs] the words." The saint intercedes with the full power of his saintliness and God must obey. The lesser saint, however, "is led [directed] by the words," that is, follows the liturgy and prays fervently, but it is the liturgy which informs the prayers, shapes them, and gives them substance. Such a person's intercessory abilities are limited to the words of the prayers.

[vii] Adapted from God at the Center,   56-57.

[viii] Adapted from God at the Center,  222-24.

[ix] Orah Hayyim, section 98, "Laws of Prayer: That one must have kavvana in one's prayer.”

[x] Christians call this process of focusing one’s attention upon God “centering.” See M. Basil Pennington, Centering Prayer (available in various editions) though centering prayer, as Father Pennington uses it, has many more steps and, of course, it is distinctly Christian in its theology and ethos.

[xi] If you are in the nusah ha-tefilla (see below, chapter 2), you can say the rest quickly or just catch up slowly. If you are in the other parts of the service, you may just want to skip in order to catch up.

[xii] For the meaning of Hebrew words, see the Glossary. On the Kaddish, see D. Blumenthal, "Observations and Reflections on the History and Meaning of the Kaddish," Judaism, 197:50 (Winter 2001) 35-51 and, for a fuller version, see my website. For a French version, see "Le Kadddish, la priŹre juive pour les morts," La vie spirituelle (sept. 2000) 539-62. See also, L. Wieseltier, Kaddish (New York, A. Knopf: 1998).

[xiii] Halakha, as I understand it, provides that one does not have to say the Kaddish for an abusing parent. Consult your rabbi on this.

[xiv] On this image, see Maimonides, Guide for the Perplexed,  Introduction.

[xv] On seriatim  as a way of negotiating life, see Facing,  chap. 5.

[xvi] Seriatim as a way to manage life runs strongly against the usual linear understanding. The linear approach teaches that one moves from one step to the next, moving beyond one’s present position and never circling back. This impresses me as being very wrong-headed. Life is more a meandering path than a straight line. Life comes back to haunt us, often. Living life seriatim permits us to circle back through our lives, like a backstitch. For more on this and for the analogies to recovery from addiction and to sculpture, see D. Blumenthal, “Theodicy: Dissonace in Theory and Practice,“ Concilium, 1 (1998) 95-106; also available on my website.

[xvii] For more on this, see Chapter 6.

[xviii] On the various types of Jewish mysticism, see D. Blumenthal, Understanding Jewish Mysticism,  two volumes (Hoboken, NJ, Ktav Publishing: 1978, 1982).