Guest Posting By Rabbi Tal Zwecker - Jewish Meditation
"Hisbodedus (Seclusion and Meditation) is one of the greatest among the lofty character traits. It is the path of the greatest righteous Tzadikim and through this very medium the prophets achieved revelation.
It is divided into two categories: external and internal hisbodedus. The purpose of external hisbodedus [or seclusion of the body] is to reach a level of internal hisbodedus [or meditation and seclusion of the mind] which is the top rung of the ladder of revelation. And more so it itself is revelation."
Rabbeinu Avraham Maimonidies son of the Rambam – Sefer Hamispik leOvdei Hashem
Hisbodedus means both self seclusion and self isolation in a physical literal sense and in a mental spiritual capacity as well. In the latter it leads to isolation of the mind through meditation leading to levels of receptiveness akin to revelation, Divine intuition (ruach hakodesh) and in times past even prophecy. In the former its purpose is to aid introspection. It seems clear from the sources that this method is as ancient as the patriarchs and the prophets; it has filtered on through Talmudic times to our own as well. Somehow along the way this very important mussar tool seems to have been overlooked or cast aside by the masses.
It has fallen into an obscurity as the domain of those few who searched and found it.
However this tool is a powerful key to understand just how much can be accomplished and how close one can come to a deep personal relationship with the Almighty. It is an important tool for repentance, deep introspection and character development.
As stated above there seem to be four possible objectives or purposes to using hisbodedus (the third really leading to the fourth.
1. Seclusion from man and society to help character trait development and self perfection.
2. Seclusion for the purpose of humbling oneself to Hashem and repenting before Him, often through personal prayer.
3. Seclusion in order to isolate oneself, block out distraction as a preparation for meditation.
4. Isolating the mind in actual meditation to reach a level of expanded consciousness, merit revelation and a level akin to prophecy.
If we were to begin with a simple practical meditation we could sit down, relax in a quiet comfortable position like sitting in our favorite chair or on the couch.
Make sure you have reviewed our summary and that there is nothing to disturb you or distract you for 20 minutes or so.
Begin by visualizing in your minds eye a ladder. It's an ordinary wooden ladder, the kind you might have in the garage or could pick up in your local hardware store, except that this ladder reaches up to the heavens and beyond.
It has four rungs to it:
Seclusion from man and society. This is the first step which you have just taken by secluding yourself in privacy to meditate and avoid distraction.
Seclusion for humbling yourself through prayer. Do this now reach out to G-d in prayer. You might introduce yourself and explain why you haven't spoken out loud to G-d this way before. You might discuss why you wish to climb this ladder or how hard it is for you. Any discussion is good. You might wish to do this for a week or two. Mentally stepping from the first to the second rung on this ladder and going no further till you are ready.
Once you feel ready climb the third rung and you are preparing for meditation. Clear your mind and relax. Depict yourself on the third rung if the ladder. You might wish to use a tool for help. If visualization in your mind's eye is too distracting try using the four letter name of Hashem as its written in the Torah or Siddur as a ladder. Ascend from one letter to the next. This sight tool is permissible in Halacha and is one of the few things one is allowed to see and meditate on while praying to Hashem.
After contemplation of Hashem's name or another meditation on G-d you can now attempt to climb the fourth rung. Before you do so, repent and confess your sins. Immerse in the mikva if possible that day. Dress in clean appropriate attire. Try doing this at night closer to midnight when your mind is clear and free of distractions. Make sure you are free of negative character traits to the best of your ability. It may help to study a mussar work such as Mesillas Yesharim of the Ramchal, or Chovos HaLevavos, or Reishis Chochma. These we shall see are some of Rav Chaim Vital's (the Arizal's foremost disciple) pieces of advice.
When you are ready to ascend the fourth rung and expand your consciousness the next lessons will become more relevant. We will discuss this final rung in the ladder at the end of this series,G-d willing.
Rabbi Tal Zwecker's blog on Jewish meditation can be seen here.
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