Cordovero on the nature of Prayer

For those following the more pietistic discussion on Ramak’s prayer, here is some more for discussion. The first text is on devekut. The second text is on the inability of prayer to rise without ascending level by level through the known levels. One cannot prayer directly to the Eyn Sof. Any reactions or insights? I am delivering a conference paper next week on the topic, so all observations are helpful. Any insights to the meditation process?


“Through these mysteries, a man is able to cleave to his master with will…”
A person can cleave to Him through directing his will to the mystery of the sefirot, the Tetragrammaton, and the [other] Divine names. One who does not know the mystery of how to cleave to Him will not have the ability to grasp (beit ahizah), because His place of grasping is through His sefirot, His precious names and holy Tetragrammaton.
“In directing the heart to know the wisdom of His dominance in the highest mystery.” The dominance of hokhmah is a wondrous mystery. The first way to reach a state of cleaving to the Divine (devekut) is through the study of the mysteries of the Torah and the understanding of the hidden secrets in the Torah.
The second is “when he worships his Master in prayer,” that is, the mystery of prayer and the way of cleaving to Him.
“He will cleave like a flame in a coal”—for man’s will and soul that ascend from the walls of his heart will certainly be bound to the supernal palaces. Thus, man should first meditate on repairing malkhut, Her repairs are the mystery of the palaces, which bind and cleave together with malkhut like a flame bound in a coal, while his soul and meditation are a flame from the coal that is malkhut. Similarly, the palaces that spread out from and cleave to Her are like a flame spreading out from amidst the coal, yet cleaving to it. Because of this, the [palaces] return to their source and are swallowed up in Her through his soul that returns and is swallowed in its source. With the soul’s ascent, the [palaces] are raised as well, since only through the soul can they spread out below. Now this is the mystery of man’s intention and breath of his mouth created from the vapor of his mouth and the soul (neshamah) arising through breath (neshimah), that they cleave and return to their source. If it happens that the palaces, and further, the hizonim, spread out from there, he should meditate on binding and unifying her specifically from the palace of paved sapphire (livnat hasappir) and higher. There is the beginning of holy cleaving, binding themselves in unification.

Ascent of prayers

When the Shekhinah is completely filled with prayers, then the prayers rise and ascend to a place where there is no pain and no lack.
The purpose of ascent into worship of God is so the prayer should reach this place. Some people meditate in times of need, as it is written, “Israel are wise in that they know how to pray in times of need.” However, better and more meritorious is he who raises all of his prayers there [even not in a time of need].
This form of worship is more desirable because it does not come out of pain or need, but rather from cleaving through worship to the true Object of worship.
The masses think that the intention reaches there by itself; they are completely outside the palace, so that when they call the king from afar, the king does not answer them.
Rather, it is necessary to call to the gatekeeper. The gatekeeper takes them in his hand and brings them into the control of the princes, from prince to prince of each palace, until they are brought to the king in his chamber, where they will find Him and bring their needs before Him.
For those who pray or cleave to Ein Sof by itself, their goal remains far from them. He is only close to the one who knows His palaces and gatekeepers.
Indeed, for those who speak to the gatekeeper which is the attribute of malkhut, the attribute will bring them to the higher attributes higher, level after level through all the levels.
These people will certainly enter to the King, Ein Sof, the Root of all roots, in His room, a wondrous place, and speak with Him, in the mystery of the ascent of prayer. Immediately, it will be powerful.

Copyright © 2010 Alan Brill • All Rights Reserved

20 responses to “Cordovero on the nature of Prayer

  1. Len Moskowitz

    It’s interesting that both the author of the Shulkhan Arukh and the R’M”A, in the laws of prayer, siman 98, set up the conditions for t’fila: first shedding the physical (hitpashtoot ha-goshmeeyoot), putting into exclusive action the power of the rational mind (hitgabroot koakh ha-sikhlee), quieting any extraneous thoughts via silence, and then cleaving (d’veikoot).

    And Rav Khayyim of Volozhiner, in the Neffesh Ha-khayyim (section 2), formulates prayer as connecting the worlds (hitkashroot ha-o-la-mote), for the purpose of bringing down the abundance (ho-ra-daht ha-shehfa). He draws heavily (if not exclusively) on the Ariza”l’s Etz Khayyim.

    For Rav Khayyim, the connection is to the root of the soul-neshama in the Malkhut of Ahtzeeloot, the collective soul of Israel (Knesset Yisrael).

    In the Etz Khayyim, the Ein Sofe is separated from the world of Ahtzeeloot by an unknown myriad of intervening worlds. I don’t recall any explanation of how that gap is bridged.

    • Ramak does not have the gap between the infinite and this world. And here there is a real ascent, not just a bringing a shefa or connection. It is less welding work and more of a luminous field.

      • Len Moskowitz

        For the Ariza”l, Ahtzeeloot is Ehlokoot Gamoor (absolute Godliness), so presumably there’s no gap in his system either.

        He just doesn’t explain how it is that Ahtziloot manifests the Ein Sofe after propagation through the myriad worlds that are between Ein Sofe and Ahtziloot.

  2. Len Moskowitz

    There’s a section of the Sha-a-rei K’doosha quote in Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan’s “Jewish Meditation” (page 47 in the paperback edition) that’s relevant.

  3. It seems prayer is reserved only for those who know the mysteries. Is there any reason for the masses to pray? Their prayers don’t go anywhere anyway. Could it be potentially counterproductive or dangerous for those without knowledge of the mysteries to pray? Should those even with the knowledge but are temporarily unable to have proper kavvanah still pray?

    • The Shaarei Orah is several places said one needs the keys or do not prayer. It is an obligatory part of Torah shebaal peh the way the correct way to make tefillin is required.
      Most Mekubbalim follow the Kuzari and require the collective since Israel as a group is more effective.
      On the other hand, later centuries answered your question by feeling a need for Zaddikim, rebbes, and mekuballim who can actually pray and we need to bind ourselves to them.
      We have lost the distinctions between social groups in ritual performance. We no longer divide society into separate obligations for sinners, ordinary people, and saints.

  4. What is one supposed to say to the gatekeeper? What would make malchut willing or unwilling to allow the prayers to ascend? What type of preparation other than the requisite knowledge is necessary?

  5. Len Moskowitz

    There are at least two types of prayer. One is in the form that Anshei Knesset Ha-G’dolah formulated. The other is like what Rebbee Nakhman described.

    One is formal.

    The other is not.

    Both are effective, each in their own way.

    • The Ramak would disagree with Rav Nahman. Already the Kuzari III has many statements about tefilah that would critique a Rav Nahman position. For your perspective, Nefesh Hahayim certainly disagrees with outpouring of the heart without liturgy. You can read Rav Kenig for a response to Reb Hayyim but they are considered as conflicting positions.
      The Ramak would also disagree with the power of the word by themselves as described in Nefesh HaHayyim Shaar 2. Neither of the two position you oscillate between are similar to Ramak. It is not words or free-form outpouring, but meditation through the levels.

  6. Len Moskowitz

    Brill wrote: “What does it say? The page does not match in my edition.”

    Sorry — it’s in his” Meditation and the Bible”. It begins “It is taught that there is a single Light, in the form of a Man, which radiates through all the four Universes… .”

    If you can’t find it, let me know.

  7. Len Moskowitz

    The Amida (which is what we’re referring to when we say “prayer”) is framed in the plural, and all requests are for the benefit of the Jewish nation .

    Rav Khayyim Volozhiner goes so far as to say that the entire t’fila is oriented to the collective, and personal requests are misplaced in that context. I don’t readily recall him discussing extra-liturgical individual prayer.

    Where does the RM”K say one should insert individual requests and petitions into the Amida?

  8. Where does the RM”K say one should insert individual requests and petitions into the Amida?

    He does not.

    I don’t readily recall him discussing extra-liturgical individual prayer.

    in the unnumbered shaar

    • Len Moskowitz

      In the chapters between shaar 3 and 4, Rav Khayyim talks about how physically saying the words of the Amida is the important thing, even without any mental intention about or understanding of the words.

      I don’t see where he addresses individual informal prayer outside of the context of the formal Shmoneh Esrei (the Amida).

      Am I missing something?

      And if the RM”K only addresses the process of meditation in the context of the formal form of the Amida (never addressing modifications to the form for individual petition), does that mean he completely dismisses individual informal prayer outside of the Amida?

      I guess what I’m suggesting is: if the RM”K restricts his meditation process to the formal Amida process, then perhaps he is not saying anything at all about informal unstructured individual prayer.

  9. Dear Alan,

    I can send you several articles related to your topic – please email

    1. A study unit on RaMaK’s meditative techniques. On a related topic, I recently posted a YouTube video introduction to R. Hayyim Vital’s meditative techniques –

    2. An article describing R. Moshe Cordovero’s meditative technique in love to be published by Massechet. I just received the editorial corrections and the journal is expected to be published by Sukkot.

  10. Dear Len,
    The author of the Shulkhan Arukh in siman 98 is copying the Tur who I believe is influenced by the Gerona Kabbalistic interpretation of the meditative techniques of the early pietists, Hasidim Rishonim. To understand the development of early Jewish meditative techniques, I think that it might be interesting to explore the connections of Hasidim rishonim to the Jewish ascetic sect of Therapeutae (therapists (healers) of the spirit) of the 1st century. The Therapeutae (male, pl.) and Therapeutrides (female, pl.) who were described by Philo as contemplative ascetics, engaged in prayer, fasting and scriptural study. It has been speculated that the Therapeutae were influenced by Buddhist monasticism due to Buddhist missionary activity to the Mediterranean (e.g. 250 BCE in the Edicts of Ashoka) and that “Therapeutae” is a Hellenization of the Indian Pali word for Theravada. If so, the Buddhist tradition has now come full circle with the revival of Jewish Meditation techniques that integrate Theravada meditative practices.

  11. I am curious about all of these texts about where they originally said and in what context.

    Also, how jarring is to for you to be splicing the Ramak zt”l together?

    I had a similar question about your previous Ramak post. The discussion of Sefirot during Tefillah sounded to me(our of context) as a self-referencial symbolic system.

    It was not clear to me what the content that one is meditating on when they are thinking about Sefirot. There is a mapping of specific sefirot onto specific words in Tefillah. But how does this play out in practice?

    In the texts quoted above, there is a reference to specific practices (ascent, calling to the gatekeeper, directing the heart). What exactly do they mean, specifically?

    Lastly, what is the relationship between the Ramak zt”l texts on prayer and the rest of his corpus. Is the Sefirot discussed in these texts elaborated at length in Pardes Rimonim or in Tomer Devorah.

    Does the Rama”k assume that anyone doing these practices have read his entire corpus and know what they should have in their mind?

  12. The answer the last question first. The publisher of the Ramak did not assume the reader read everything. the kavvanot first came out in a pamphlet in Italy published by his son to take to shul on Rosh Hashanah. They assume that this is the basic Jewish worldview for 17th century Italy, in which people know the basics. The Mehaber manages to summarize kavvanot hatefilah of the Ramak in a paragraph and says do it. So, they were not looking for long expositions first. The cutting of the passages into a single unit was done in several other works most notably the Shelah. The Ramak writes that there are several kavvanot for the shema- quotes from a variety – and then says pick one. He does not give a context for each one. In a similar manner, when the Shelah doubles the number of possible shema kavvanot and says pick one, the reader wold not have access the contexts of each one.

    Prayer seems to be driven by praxis, as do his chapters on shemot, Abulafia, the soul, and ritual. The type of question changes.

    What exactly do they mean is the question. Thank you for actually reading the passage and not showing up with other thinkers. What would you take them to mean based on your basic knowledge.

    But how does this play out in practice?
    What are you asking in specific?

  13. I was asking how one would describe this spiritual practice in the most “mundane” prosaic detail. What would one do first, second, etc.

    What would you take them to mean based on your basic knowledge.

    As to the answer your question, I just re-read them before davening Mincha. The first of the second set of texts would advocate the learning of Sod/Nistar & say that the way to connect to God would be through studying Nistar.

    Second texts says to just connect to Malchus/Shechinah when praying. What this means practically is to just focus on Malchus throughout Tefillah.

    The first Meditation that you posted was much more difficult and it had as a prelude a Yichud during Shema that was not included. But once one is in a state of this Yichud, you draw down whatever you have gained in the Yichud, while constantly thinking of Malchus, but going down the chain/ladder of the Sefirot.

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