Meditation on Alef

In Chapter 5, Jewish Mysticism, we discuss the concept of Jewish meditation, known in Hebrew as hitbodedut (which literally means "being alone with oneself"). Many people are surprised to hear that Judaism has a long history of meditation — a practice almost the exact opposite of most Jewish study, which is so often community-based, loud, and even argumentative.

[The word meditation probably derives from the Latin medi meaning "middle" and tare meaning "to stay" or "ground" — hence the implication "to stay in the center." Check out Meditation For Dummies for a great overview of meditation in different traditions.]

Some Jewish meditations focus on visual symbols — it could be a candle flame, a written word, or any of the Hebrew letters. We're going to use the Hebrew letter alef (see below). In Jewish mysticism, each letter is seen as a unique vehicle through which energy flows from above to below, and each carries its particular resonance or vibration. After getting quiet and watching your breath, open your eyes and look at the alef on this page. Study it carefully until you can close your eyes and see it in your mind's eye, and then hold it there, breathing, being with the letter.

Alef is the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, and it is the only letter that indicates no sound by itself — it is always silent, so the vowel attached to it is pronounced with no consonant. Jewish mystics note that figure of the alef is made of three letters: a yud above, another yud below (and upside down), and a big vuv in the middle (see Figure A), reflecting the kabbalistic teaching that the lower world reflects the upper world. Focus on the alef behind closed eyes for between five and 20 minutes. See the letter fill with light. When you are done, slowly open your eyes and conclude the meditation.

©2001 Rabbi Ted Falcon, Ph.D. All rights reserved.

This piece was originally published at the Bet Alef website.

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