The Hebrew Alphabet: A Mystical Journey

Jewish mystics took Judaism's reverence for the Hebrew language one step further, venerating the Hebrew letters themselves and considering them paths to the Divine.

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Hebrew Alphabet Yoga

Abraham ben Samuel Abulafia (c. 1240-1292) was among the most important Jewish mystics, due to his development of a meditative system based on the Hebrew alphabet. Believing that each of us can attain lofty spiritual states, Abulafia taught in a practical way that the Hebrew letters are a key pathway--in fact, the means for "the soul to actualize its potential with much greater ease" than with any other method. He emphasized that through proper understanding and practice, any person can use the Hebrew language as a means to arouse tremendous, intuitive capabilities. "Look at these holy letters with truth and belief," he advised, "[it] will awaken the heart to thoughts of godly and prophetic images."

Abulafia taught that the path to higher awareness is not particularly dif­ficult. He recommended that initiates keep themselves in vibrant physical health, for in his view, the human body is a sacred vessel. Indeed, Abulafia's yoga-like exercises, involving altered modes of breathing, require strong bodily vitality, or else actual harm might result.

The crucial aspect of Abulafia's system is the utilization of the Hebrew language as the vehicle by which we ascend into the transcendent world. He poetically referred to this process as "knowing God through the method of the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet." Abulafia specifically advised his followers, "Cleanse your body, and choose a special place where none will hear you, and remain altogether by yourself in isolation. Sit in one place in a room, or in the attic ... it is best to begin by night."

In Abulafia's approach, the individual "begins to combine letters, a few or many, reversing and rolling them around rapidly, until [one's] heart feels warm." Those who adhere diligently to this technique, Abulafia declared, will eventually experience "a plenitude of saintly spirit ... wisdom, under­standing, good counsel and knowledge.... The spirit of the Lord will rest upon [them]."

During Abulafia's colorful life, he inspired groups of followers through­out the Mediterranean region. To the present day, Abulafia's creative means for awakening intuition are practiced by people around the world.

The Spiritual Power of Hebrew

In the ensuing centuries since Abulafia created his meditative system, many Jewish thinkers have extolled the spiritual power of the Hebrew alphabet. In the 16th century, Rabbi Isaac Luria taught that with the right inner focus--or kavvana--the individual could use the letters for tremendous spiritual development. To this end, he developed complex methods of visualization involving the letters.

According to legend, during the High Holy Days, Rabbi Luria felt that his prayers were especially effective, but an angel revealed to him that another's prayers were even more potent. Quite intrigued, Rabbi Luria sought out and found the man, who seemed a most ordinary villager.

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Edward Hoffman

Edward Hoffman is a New York-based psychologist and author of many books in the fields of Jewish mysticism, spirituality, and psychology, including The Way of Splendor and Opening the Inner Gates.