Meditation in the Mir: The Teachings of Rabbi Avraham Yurovitch

A friend called my attention to a recent work called Arvas Nachal containing the teachings of Rabbi Avraham Yurevitch z”l (d. 2003), written by his son based on the later’s shiurim. Within the larger work is a small pamphlet containing the first few chapters of a  meditation manual is called “Darkei HaHasagah” and consists of three with a promise of more to come. Yurovitch’s son edited the volume and teaches a small group in Mir Yeshiva in Jerusalem who calls themselves “Vitebskers.” In short, the book is snippets of Abulafian meditation presented like Western Vipassna breathing meditation.  (This post will change if people provide more information or correct the information.)


Are they Jew-Bus (Buddhist Jews) in Mir?  Not Exactly.

Rav Yurevitch was a prominent Haredi leader, a judge (dayan), a member of Toldos Aharon community and was head of the Ohel Menachem  Vitebsk community. He was teaching the Hasidism of the Magid of Mezeritch and Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk and later moved on to teaching the writings of Rav Nachman of Breslov.

Yurevitch was under the tutelage of Rav Osher Freund (1910-2003), an old yishv Karliner who established many of the community charity projects in Jerusalem including Yad Ezra discount grocery stores in 1952 and discount s wedding halls. But he was also a charismatic leader to many spiritualists, ecstatics, and pietists.

This is anything but Jew-Bu land. But the story continues.

Rav Yurevitch was close friends with Haredi publisher Amnon Gross who in the last decades publishes all the works of Abraham Abulafia and has been giving lectures in the Haredi world on the techniques. Gross is one of the cases that shows the influence of the academic world, specifically the work of Moshe Idel, on the Haredi world. Gross through his new editions almost single-handedly through his distribution of the works undid the 750  year condemnation of Abulafia by Rashba and others.

In a eulogistic blog post, Gross laments over the loss of his study partner Yurevitch with whom he had studied Abulafia together for fifteen years.  Gross continues his tribute by saying that he always stated that Abulafia should not be studied by groups, either large or small and only to be studied by individual though the books. This amount to a limited esotericism but it also inadvertently means that Abulafia should be studies without any direct tradition or lineage. Gross mentions nevertheless that he had a group of five men who studied with him as the remainder of an original group of thirty men and women. Gross offers lectures on the web and Yurovitch himself had an organization to spreading these teachings.

OK, so we have Abulafia in Mir, but how do we get to Vipassna? How could they even know about it?

The connection is that Yurevitch was the Meah Shearim expert in alternative medicine, homeopathy, natural cures, herbalist, and natural psychological cures. Almost any contemporary natural health book in the last decades, has basic meditation for health instructions. Yurevitch probably obtained his knowledge from those works. Personally, I would like to see his medical halakhah  as an alternative to the American clinical approach.

Kunres Derekh Hasagah based on shiurim of Rabbi Avraham Yurovitch

The pamphlet has three chapters – seems to be part of a bigger book

The tract opens with its purpose “In which we will explain practical exercises by which means a person can attain the aspect of nevuah, which is spiritual seeing.”

In the first chapter, he presents the ascent to Pardes of tractate Hagigah and the explanations of the heikhalot by Hai Gaon as live techniques for the twenty-first century.

The majority is the first chapter contains the following ideas.

One of the main aims of spiritual accomplishment is for the spiritual to master the physical. One needs to know that there are not two separate components, the material and the the spirit, but that they are one.  All  material that we see is just spirit that descended until it was condensed and materialized…

Any material object is spiritual at its source, meaning that even now it is spiritual too, but just in our physical eyes we view it as material. However, if people look with the eyes of their mind, then even in the present they will see things in a spiritual way… while dealing with material things. For instance with food and clothes, a person’s task is to elevate them from the physical to the spiritual.  Every action in this world is spiritual. A person’s worship in this world is to elevate the physical to the spiritual.

One receives the spiritual influx in two ways- clothed in the material that   requires one to do a physical act like eating  in order to awaken his soul to use the sparks as a key to the larger and much wider spiritual channels. [The second way is ] without any enclothment because he know how to awaken his soul to directly receive a spiritual influx

The second chapter is on purity and to know that we have two divine souls Tzelem Elokim and Tzelem YKVK – grasping the Divine is through the latter higher one.

The third chapter is the start of the practice. It contains an opening on the nature of practice and then a number of basics.

There are seven colors and depending on the color one visualizes it corresponds to that level of sparks that one is raising. – black, red, gold, green, blue, silver and white. You should practice visualizing the colors

These colors are not Cordovero but David Ben Yehudah haHasid (circa 1310) and first published by Moshe Idel.

The chapter refers to Life of the World to Come (Hayai Olam Haba) by Abulafia, which the editor promises will be discussed further in later chapters. But first we read:

Therefore at the time of the exercise… one should sit at the back of the chair with a straight back and your face straight forward and legs toward each other…hands placed cupped up on thighs.

One starts the practice of breathing… with inhales and exhales through the mouth without voice or vapor. One should make sure not to move the body during breathing. The breathing should be in the manner that empties all of the air in the lungs until one feels that there is no anymore air to live. Then take one long and full breath as much as one is able and then exhale. At the start of the practice one should do this between five to ten times breathes by mouth, or else one would get vertigo, afterwards one can do more.  Through this the spiritual power enters more than usually needed to move the physical…  for more see the Sulam Aliyah (by Albotini, student of Abulafia).

This is where it becomes an interesting document of the influence of Vipassana on his approach. First, the directions of how to sit in the first paragraph are nowhere to be found in Jewish literature.

Second,  in no place in Jewish literature do we find directions on how to breathe like “empty your lungs” but it is found as lesson one in any yoga or vipassana teaching on breathing.

Third, here we now have breathing as an end itself, its own form of mediation.  Compare it to the original of Abulafia’s Light of the Intellect below:

When you begin to recite the letter aleph in all its vowelizations pronounced by you, since aleph points to the secret of unity, do not lengthen its recitation except according to the measure of one breath. You cannot stop anytime ever during that breath until you have completed its pronunciation. Lengthen that special breath according to your power to sustain one breath as much as you can lengthen it. And chant the aleph, and every letter you recite, with terror, awe and fear, coupled with the gladness of the soul in its comprehension which is great.

Do not differentiate between the breath of the aleph and the breath of the letter that cleaves to it, apart from one short or long breath. But between the letter of the Name and between the aleph in the straights or between the aleph and the letter of the Name in the inversions you can breathe two breaths only without pronunciation, no more. After completing every row you are permitted to breathe five breaths only, no more, but you can choose to breathe less than five breaths. If you changed or mistook a row in this order, return to the head of that row until you say it correctly.

In Abulafia’s original, the breathing is the length of each pronounced letter-vowel pairing and the goal is to lengthen the breath to hold each letter-vowel pair. One then takes five breaths at the end of a row of vowels in order to continue with the permutation of the letters. In Yurovitch’s meditation, the five breaths are an end in themselves.

In Abulafia’s Hayei Olam HaBa:

And this will all accrue to you after you throw the tablet and stylus from between your fingers or if they fall by themselves due to the plenitude of your thoughts and the multiplicity of your happiness. And know that as much as the honorable intellectual abundance will be strong with you, so much so will your external and internal organs weaken, and your whole body will be engulfed in a very strong upheaval.

Abulafia has a weakening and vertigo from the influx due to the full performance of the permutations, Yurovitch warns against vertigo after only five breaths.

In fifty years, Yurovitch’s instructions will be seen as the true Jewish tradition of breathing and meditating. A new ancient tradition, a reliable mesorah of the past is being constructed. In the meantime,  a younger generation is being raised on these practices.

H/T to Solitude for the sefer and h/t for info to raziel abulafia.

As I said, I will correct this with more or better information. If you are new here, then please read rules for comments.

7 responses to “Meditation in the Mir: The Teachings of Rabbi Avraham Yurovitch

  1. Rav Avraham zazta’l also has a two volume work on parsha that is in my opinion on the level of the early Hasidic masters.
    Also in Harav Yehuda Sheinfeld shlit’a Osri LaGefen volume 12 on Aleph Nissan (The hilula of R. Avraham and b-day of Rebbe Nahman zy’a), there is a wonderful essay by him that is about four ways to help individuals deal with fears based on both their birthday and gematria of their names as well as their mothers’. (Even if you are not into Rav Sheinfeld yet I highly recommend).
    Also, Rav Avraham was a mashpia in Toldos Aharon

  2. no mention of kaplan’s books?

  3. Prof. Brill,
    You write:
    “In fifty years, Yurovitch’s instructions will be seen as the true Jewish tradition of breathing and meditating. A new ancient tradition, a reliable mesorah of the past is being constructed.”

    “A new ancient tradition” — I was curious if you are referring to a rewrite of the past that will be accepted down the road as “authentic,” or instead a revelation, or resurfacing, of an older method of meditation that didn’t involve the letters (letters = Abulafia) and was more direct (and hence more similar to Eastern methods)?

    If the latter, could you provide sources for earlier pre-Abulafian meditation methods that simply involved breathing and bypassed the letters altogether?

    Put differently: Is this something new in Judaism or is it old and just being taken off the shelf,dusted off, and presented to today’s generation that is more open to these types of techniques?
    If the second is true, please list earlier Jewish sources.

    Thank you.

  4. It seems to me that there are parallels to kundalini yoga in Rav Yurevitch’s Darkei HaHasagah. Amazingly, the author, who was a prominent figure in the Toldos Aharon enclave, was an extremely open-minded baal mevakesh who knew a thing or two about Indian mysticism and could find parallel teachings in the kabbalah.

    I heard that a booklet of teachings from his son, the current rosh ha-chaburah of “Vitebsk,” was distributed at a chasunah in Yerushalayim last week. Maybe you can obtain a copy.

  5. I do not know biographical details about Rav Avrohom Yurovitsch, but I believe that the Yurovitsch family all came to Jerusalem after World War 2 from Hungary or Transylvania. It is quite possible that he received a broader education in his youth, and thus felt comfortable reading secular works for the needs of his alternative medicine practice. He could have read them either in German or Hungarian, or read them in secular Hebrew works. Incidentally Kol Haloshon has many of his talks on the parsha available online, so one can easily taste his unique teachings.

  6. While Abulafia is hardly the ecumenicist some want to see him as, there is, in his mystical theology, a lot of room to see wisdom in and identify with the practices of other religions, so maybe it’s not such a huge leap.

  7. While I would agree that R. Abulafia was hardly guilty of ‘ecumania’ he was of the opinion that the Torah was for the sages of all nations and even taught his doctrine to non-Jews.
    His interest was in ‘perception’ which is not limited to the religious structure.
    R. Yurovitsch, being a Toldot Aharon chasid, would not have been capable of seeing this aspect of R. Abulafia. I know this because I knew Yurovitsch and his ‘hashgafa’ and after having some conversations with him I realized, at least for me, it was a waste of time.
    i.e. Amnon Gross it would have been impossible for him to have learned with Y. for 15 years because Gross only came upon the writings of R. Abulafia in the late ’90’s.
    He first published ספר חיי עולם הבא with an Ashkenazi commentary which only would confuse a newcomer to R. A’s writings and took advice from me and republished it without the commentary.
    As far as any scholarly or academic standard Gross’s publications are what they call in the Israeli academic circles ‘Mea Shearim’ editions, that is to say he never noted which mss. he used and in the case where there were more than one mss. he never compared recensions which in essence make his edition more of a veil than a revelation.
    A good example of his ‘astute'{sic} publishing is in the two books חיי הנפש ו סתרי תורה both being a commentary to the Guide. In as much as he is a Breslover chasid the Guide is an anathema for them and he was advised not to print them. If one looks at the שער דף of either of these two books it does not mention that they are commentaries to the Guide but omits this entirely.

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