In a previous post, I wrote about the influence of Kabbalah on Jewish liturgy (see:

Adding Kabbalistic ideas (even by recitation) was meant to give a contemplative element to the performance of the traditional liturgy. It was meant to focus the attention. 

For example, the Orthodox siddurs of several traditions (Birnbaum/Modern Orthodox; Tehillat Ha-Shem/Lubavitch Hasidic) include the following reading before putting on the tallit (prayer shawl) in the morning:

“…You [God] enwrap yourself with light as with a garment…”  [1]tallit

The psalm uses “garment” as a metaphor for the light — the Divine Light — with which God “enwraps” Himself. The siddur employs it to suggest that by enwrapping ourselves in a garment (tallit), we, too, are in fact enwrapping ourselves in God’s Divine Light.

(Some siddurim follow this with “L’shem yichud — a Kabbalistic/Lurianic “kavannah” on uniting the 4 letters of God’s Name. This unites the “spiritual” — Y/K — with the material — V/K. Doing so, we are declaring that there is no “separation” between the Spiritual and the Material fields, because the “Material” is only the outer expression of the “Spiritual.” Both together form God’s complete “Name,” “Identity” or Presence.
This can then be followed by “Hareini mitateif” — which appears to be mis-recorded in Idelsohn’s book [2] as “Hineini mitateif,” although it might vary in different versions of the siddur — which Rabbi Isaiah Horowitz first included (see below). ‘Just as I cover myself with a tallit in this world, so will I merit a …beautiful cloak [i.e. Divine Light] in the World-to-Come, in Gan Eiden.)

After the tallit is on and the brachah/blessing is said, we recite the following:

“How precious is your kindness [‘Mah yakar’]…” but “kindness” here refers not only to God’s “midat Hesed” (merciful behavior on God’s part). Rather, properly understood, it refers even more to God’s sephirah of “Hesed” — which corresponds to both God’s Divine Light and God’s Love. It refers not to what God does, but to what God is. It therefore completes the thought associating the tallit with God’s Life, God’s Light, our lives and our “light” (soul) that was begun before the tallit was put on.

Further, we say: 

“For with You in the source [or: fountain] of life. In Your Light we see light…” meaning: Your Light is the actual essence of our life. We “see light” — i.e. are alive — because You, God, are giving us life by and in your Light.

While the brachah for putting on the tallit is found in the Talmud, the additional readings are not. They are Kabbalistic additions: 

“As a result of Kabbalistic influence the meditations [including ‘Mah Yakar’]…were introduced .” [2According to A.Z. Idelsohn, [2] the first passage above [“…You enwrap Yourself…”] might have been originally quoted in the siddur of Rabbi Isaiah Horowitz (1555-1630). [3] The second, “Mah Yakar,” was inserted by Rabbi Nathan Shapiro of Cracow (d. 1633). [4]

Both rabbis were Kabbalists. Both were teaching in the first generations immediately following the flowering of Kabbalah in 16th century Sfat. Both were also students of the same teacher: Rabbi Meir Lublin. [5]

God’s Light is always the essence of us. Rabbi Horowitz and Rabbi Shapiro (or Spira) were directing us: Pay less and less attention to the finite, changing things about yourself and increasingly greater attention to the Divine Light that is Infinite and yet which is part of you and of which you are a part. It’s meant to lead us to an expanded state of consciousness.

Along similar lines, when putting on the tefillin shel rosh (head-tefillin), the traditional stefillin shel rosh2iddur has a Lurianic “kavannah” (“L’shem yichud…” etc.) like the one for the tallit, followed by a paragraph that declares
“U’mei’chachmat’cha” (Your Wisdom)…
u’mi’binat’cha (Your Understanding)…
“U’v’chas’d’cha” (Your Kindness)…
“U’g’vurat’cha” (Your Might)…

These 4 follow the order of the Sefirot, in which Keter remains Infinite and unexpressed.
“Chachmah,” the first Sefirah, is unexpressed but contains within it the potential for all subsequent expressions. “Chachmah” is God’s undifferentiated Awareness of all that is.

“Binah,” following “Chachmah,” is God’s Awareness of every finite detail of Creation.
“Chesed” is God’s Light; the first actual expression of God, which contains in essence God’s Love as well. God is both Light and Love simultaneously.
“G’vurah” is the fourth sefirah, representing God’s power over all Creation.
These four are united and balanced in the fifth, “Tiferet,” in which all that God is, all Divine Light and Goodness, are disseminated appropriately case-by-case, moment-by-moment. 

Menorah sh'vi'tiThe dissemination of God’s Love and Light is then likened to oil poured into the branches of the menorah in the Temple: “You pour Your good oil [shehmehn ha-tov] into the seven branches of the menorah, to cause Your Good to flow to Your creatures [or creations].” The menorah is a prominent symbol in Kabbalah. [6] “…to cause Your Good to flow [l’hashpe’ah/להשפיע…” is present here, too, based on its Kabbalistic understanding. God’s “Good” is His Light:

“…’Your goodness’ [as in Ps. 31:20] alludes to the light that was created on the first day.” [7] 

God’s “Shefa/שפע” (the root of “hashpe’ah”) also refers to Divine Light:

“The Shefa is a…light that emanates from Hesed with a specific function. The light of Hesed per se is the force that gives life and sustains the world and all that is in it. That light is the energy of the Sefirah, Hesed. The Shefa is the derivative light of Hesed. The Shefa is that blessing.” [8]

It seems complicated, doesn’t it?

Yet, it’s a simple paradigm: God, through His (or Its) Divine Light, is continually creating us and pouring Light and Love on and in us. Kabbalah calls us to replace our fundamentally mistaken belief about the world based on our senses — that we, all things around us and all events, exist on our own, separate from God — with a belief that God is constantly creating everything from Itself while remaining in the things created with Love and Care. In truth, nothing exists except God.

All the details of Kabbalah, all of the intricate terminology, are tools to emphasize this truth in our own thinking. 

It’s like exchanging a belief that the world is flat (as it appears to the senses) with a belief that the world is round (based on higher-level information from reliable sources):

“Science progresses best when observations force us to alter our perceptions.” [9]

Kabbalah is very much like “science” in this regard. Kabbalah isn’t a “mystery,” even if it’s not usually well-understood. It’s a model of reality infinitely broader than “science” has yet achieved or accepted. If we seriously consider what it is telling us, it will “alter our perceptions.”

As our view changes, our consciousness changes as well, confirming in our experience that God is, in fact, more real than the “world.” Once the details are mastered through contemplation in and outside of prayer and understood holistically, they are quite inspiring and mind-expanding, as Rav Kuk tells us:

“…The recognition that the [Creation] in all its manifestations is only an emanation from the lowest point of the light of absolute truth in G-d implants in the heart a clear love for truth…” [10]


[1] Tehillim/Ps. 1o4:2
[2] Idelsohn, A.Z.; Jewish Liturgy and Its Development; Dover Publications, © 1995; p. 80
[6] see:
[7] Zohar I:7a
[9] Vera Cooper Rubin (1928 – 2016)
[10] Kook, Rabbi Abraham Isaac; Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook; Rabbi Ben Zion Bokser, trans.; Paulist Press; p. 112  Zohar I:7a