Rabbi Morgenstern and Meditation

When someone mentions Jewish meditation to me the first thing I think of are the Haredi Kabbalitic mediators. I think of Y.M Erlanger who in his Sheva Eynayim and in classes in Heimishe Yeshivos is teaching Hasidut combined with Abulafia and I think of Yitzhak Meir Moregenstern who is reorganizing early Kabbalah, Ramak, Ari, and Abulafia as Hasidut. Erlanger’s starts with the statements in Sefer Habesht al Hatorah and introduces ever more esoteric material and at the end of the last volume, he introduces Abulafia with a warning that the material that he is about to teach is not for everyone, and not everyone should enter the Pardes, and even if you do enter this may not be for you. In contrast, Rabbi Morgenstern called Rav Itchie Mayer Morgenstern starts everyone on the real stuff.

R. Morgenstern is a Haredi descendant of the Kotzker and lived most of his life in England and has moved to Jerusalem and set up a Beit Midrash. You can find videos of him teaching and singing with Anglos on the web. See here, here and here.
He has attached a real following. He gives weekly public shiurim in kavvanot, in Komarno, and Ramhal. He has an email list serve for his Torah, his kabbalah, and for assorted teachings (Hebrew, English, and Yiddish). Send an email here to subscribe tc7@neto.bezeqint.net

He seems to have read some generic books on “How to Meditate” or “Meditation for Everyone” and in his work Derekh Yihud he reorganizes traditional kabbalistic practices into an order that reflects the general mediation world. The topics are sitting, breathing, visualizing, creating an avir in front of one, colors, and a unified vision. He freely takes pieces of Abulafia, Ramak, and early kabbalah to create a Jewish meditation manual in line with the non-Jewish ones. The work Derekh Yihud opens up a new path of reorganizing the older materials based on modern principles.

I see him as potentially the future. Rav Ashlag wrote in the 1930’s and took the meditation, medieval worldview and fantasy out of the Kabbalah and replaced it was science, communism, Schopenhauer, and a closed system. Now everything from the Kabbalah Centre to Bnai Baruch to Michael Leitman are his spiritual descendents. Rabbi Morgensten is teaching the young grandchildren of the Rebbes and many in Kolel and he also accepts the varied pneumatics of Jerusalem as his students. When all those students take their positions as Rebbes, Ramim, and teachers then the meditation format of breathing and visualization will be the tradition. If the trend continues, in 2050 this will be mainstream Kabbalah.

I had originally planned this post before my computer crash when I received the following two weeks ago. It offers a concise taste of Derekh Yihud. Morgenstern advises to close the eyes and see the hidden lights in order to achieve bliss. One turns from this world to the airspace and achieves a vision of the Throne. Lights, then hidden mind, and finally the source of the soul and the Throne.

When a Jew spends time in hisbodedus before his Creator, he closes his eyes so as not to be enticed by the illusory pleasures of this world because he doesn’t want to be connected to them.
When he closes his eyes in this way, he is able to see the brilliant hues that are rooted in the “hidden mind” of Mocha Sesima’ah, and he begins to derive pleasure from spiritual reality, from the fact that Hashem is revealed through a myriad of shades and hues of dveikus. He starts to feel Hashem’s light and glory within himself, and how all of the pleasures of this world are null and void, are like a mere sliver of light, compared with the delight of dveikus that is a composite of all possible forms of bliss.

So when a person seals his vision against the illusory nature of this world, he rises to the place of the “airspace” and its “membrane,” which is really the source of the human soul and its throne of glory. In that place it can be said, “From my flesh, I see G-d.” One begins to enjoy a vision of the ultimate Kisei HaKavod upon which the “form of a person sat.”
The final three plagues parallel these three states of dveikus:
First, a person must meditate and be misboded on the expansive Binah light of Hashem.
Then he must ascend to the place of the “hidden mind” which is the counterpart of the holy darkness of turning aside from this-worldly concerns to receive “light in all his dwellings.” With this, he destroys the klippah of the impure firstborn and rises further to the place of the “membrane of the airspace” and the “airspace” itself which correlates to the level of the Da’as of Atik and which reveals to him the source of his neshamah that “sits upon the throne.”
“It is revealed and known before Your Kisei HaKavod…” Meaning, through coming to the level of the Kisei HaKavod, we are able to subdue all of the klippos and utterly “smite Egypt through their firstborns.”

This past week he sent out a special Tu beShevat essay. He opens the essay stating that was asked why Hayyim Vital did not mention TuBeshevat and answers in the name of R. Haayim Cohen that it is a hidden quality. And when pressed why does everyone do it today? He turns to R. Aharon Halevi of Strashelye explaining that since we are lesser today everyone learns Kabbalah since they do not grasp the real depth anyway. The essay is a running account of his Torah and the questions he received Tu Beshevat-Shabbat Shrah. There are many interesting points in it including -We are told of the joy from the recent publishing of Vital’s alchemy and magic.

Copyright © 2010 Alan Brill • All Rights Reserved

31 responses to “Rabbi Morgenstern and Meditation

  1. thanks for this post. Yes his weekly posts are quite deep. I wish someone could bring down some other meditaton teachings he has taught as alot of his stuff is beyond my level.
    Thanks again

  2. Will you be at Morgenstern’s new Shabbos Zachor gathering in Ukraine?

  3. [See rules for comments] What’s you take on R’ Schwarts of “Bilvavi” fame? I don’t take too well to his more popular works, but his Kabbalah is very deep.

    • I like his stuff a lot and have written a few paragraphs on it in an article a few years ago. I have used him in several sermons.
      He is one of the few out there wanting to stop the train and get off – to end the din of the white noise of our lives.
      His rejection of everything that the modern holds sacred, like autonomy and suburbia, is important as mussar and and as an indicator of the problems.

  4. I was under the impression that R. Morgenstern grew up MO and attended Hasmonean in London. Can anyone verify this?

  5. Where can I purchase derech yichud?

  6. Sorry for joining this discussion so late. I just read parts of his Kuntrus on Binah and Hokhmah and was underwhelmed. Indeed, I found the discussion in Part 1 of the white skined Ashknazim vs. the dark skined Sefardim (I kid you not!) embarrassing and the crude and vulgar attack on haskalah in Part 3 disturbing.

    • R’ Lawrence,

      It is sometimes difficult to rise up from the superficiality and political correctness of the nations around us.

      Every detail of creation has significance on the simplest and the deepest level. Something as mundane as skin color is no exception. There is nothing pejoritave about that.
      All the best for a ksiva v’chasima tova.

  7. Larry,
    Trust the material that is official and the official translations. I will not discuss the non-official versions. Sign up for his pamphlets and if you are interested I can get you some of the longer works.

  8. I’d also like some of his longer works, please.

  9. This lecture by Moshe Idel has interesting material on how Abulafia has been published and received in Mea Shearim:

    • Can you tell us what he said? Idel can be repetitive, speculative, and tangential. If you tell us what he said we can see if it is worth discussing it.

  10. Idel says that Abulafia’s books are sold in Mea Shearim as fine 12 volume sets (a monumental effort edited by Amnon Gross who is a not an academic scholar) together with the Zohar. Abulafia’s works have been published with haskamot from various orthodox rabbis from Mea Shearim, with no protests or controversy to date which Idel finds to be fascinating given the radical content of Abulafia’s teachings. Amnon Gross has a blog here:

    • We dont need Idel for that, most people who buy these works know that Gross has been printing them. I have them on my shelf. Have there been any serious studies of Gross or interviews with him? Not footnote telling me that he exists, but any studies?

      • in the course of my own research i stumbled on here (again), and thought maybe you would be interested to know that i was just last week in a evening workshop in tel-aviv given by Gross on Abulafian meditation. It was actually quite tiring. Gross, as i know already from meeting him (wrote about it here: http://tomerpersico.com/2010/08/03/abulafia__gross/ ), takes A’s instructions very seriously, so that the meditation he teaches is very tedious and long. every letter of every holy name get pronounced with a long breath and head movement. it takes a lot of practice, memory and patience to do it right, as he himself says. i can’t imagine too many people adopting this path.

      • Funny you should mention that. I just read one of Huss’ articles Formation of Jewish Mysticism…, where he discusses the modern Abulafia revival including Amnon Gross’ edition. While searching on Amnon Gross, I came across an interview from 2010.

        Amnon Gross’ blog also has PDFs of all of the Abulafian works he published (the little blue books) including the full Shaarei Kedushah.

  11. Not that I know of except the article by Boaz Huss.

    An ethnographic study of the Abulafian renaissance sounds like a fascinating doctoral project for your students! Amnon Gross is now giving shiurim on Abulafia:

  12. rabbielimallon

    Real meditation need not be so complicated, nor so mysterious.

    • Of course – different strokes for different people, and sometimes you need a complicated method to bring you to simplicity! David Cooper has an effective breath meditation that is strikingly simple: inbreath YAH, outbreath VEH.

  13. Does Morgenstern mention Abulafia explcitly ? (I’m updating my article on Abulafia’s recetion)

  14. In couple of months I am travelling to Malta, where my main interest is to look for hypothetical place on Comino, where Abulafia ztz”l spend last years of his life. Clues indicate limestone caves in the eastern part of the cliff coast of Comino. Actually, wouldn’t be beautiful to find his grave, collect minyan and say kadish? Wasn’t it the worst thing that actually happened that Abulafia – with all the otzar he gave to the next generations – died in an unknown place, most probably even without proper halvaya…

    Any suggestions on how to find Abulafia’s grave with usage of meditative techniques?

  15. Pingback: Why No Modern Commentaries on Kabbalah? החשיבות ללמוד בשמונה שערים של רבנו האר”י | Yeshivat haMekubalim Kol Yehudah v'Eliyahu

  16. Rabbanit Adina Ruth

    Rav Yehudah’s response – what does all this seeing lights and meditation do for haKadosh Baruchu and the Sechinah?
    The true purpose of kabbalah isn’t to be entertained by meditative moments and feeling special, wow, by having drawn so close to Hashem, but it is that thru the kavanot we give ohr and power to haKadosh Baruchu. Everyone else prays and asks for something (as does this technique) but the kavanot actually give HaKadosh Baruchu Ohr. And by accessing this ohr, we bring Jewish neshamot and the Geulah eventually (and in short).

  17. walter benjamin

    Take into consideration the following: Gross had no knowledge of the Abulafian mss. nor an inkling of academic objectivity. He did not compare mss. when more than one mss. does exist and thus did not record diff in recensions. He did not even mention which mss. he used in each of his publications.
    His edition abounds in errors plus his own surreptitiously added ‘perceptions'{sic} .
    Another example of his non-objectivity is the fact that on the two vols. which are commentaries to the Guide he does not mention the Guide as I was told this was the advice he was given from his Breslov rabbi.
    All in all it may be a good thing that it is out in a printed edition but IMO it is as if adding a veil to the whole corpus.
    Caveat emptor!

    • I too wish that there were critical editions and scholarly
      translations of Abulafia’s works. There has been only one true
      critical edition of Abulafia major works: Shimon Levy’s 1955 edition
      of “Chayei HaNefesh” extant in a single copy at the Scholem
      Please understand that Amnon Gross is a one-man operation
      working without pay and at great personal cost. He told me that he was
      in a great hurry to get the texts published before he got a herem
      slapped on him in Mea Shearim. He does have the highest respect for
      Abulafia’s texts and goes to great lengths to apologize for his
      mistakes in his introductions. So I would not fault Amnon Gross for
      sloppiness or negligence when he has tried all alone at great risk to bring a
      difficult body of work to a wider audience.
      Hopefully the interest generated by Gross’s publications will lead to sponsorship/funding of critical editions and translations from within the academic establishment (which has disappointed on an astonishing scale in this fundamental regard).

  18. I believe Shimon Levy’s 1955 edition of “Chayei HaNefesh” is in the form of a mimeograph with copious footnotes.
    Your mention of a ‘herem’ IMO is an imaginary one because sefer ha-hesheq and ohr hasechel were published almost simultaneously in Mea Sheariim by locals in an even a more horrendous edition than Gross’s.

    We shall see in the near future when a certain ‘persona’ will be publishing the works of Nathan of Gaza et al.
    There still exists a herem on R. Kook and no one got excommunicated as far as I know.
    In any event a herem has no place nor validity in a pluralistic society.

    • Amnon Gross mentioned the herem, not me:)
      Shimon Levy’s 1955 edition of “Chayei HaNefesh” is not a mimeograph but a full blooded critical edition of the Munich manuscript (supervised by Scholem) containing a detailed analysis of Abulafia’s commentary in the introduction.
      Incidentally, there was another attempt to bring out “scholarly” editions of Abulafia’s works by Rafael Cohen around the same time (1999-2000). Cohen did publish nice editions of “Sefer HaGeula” and Abulafia’s prophetic writings.

  19. I don’t remember Idel ever mentioning this but I do have a mimeograph edition fitting your description somewhere. I will have to find it to see if it is the same author.

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