rambam 13.4 + illustrator

Maimonides (the Rambam) wrote:

1. The foundation of all foundations and the pillar of wisdom is to know that there is a Primary Being who brought into being all existence. All the beings of the heavens, the earth, and what is between them came into existence only from the truth of His being.

2. If one would imagine that He [or: It] does not exist, no other being could possibly exist. 

3. If one would imagine that none of the entities aside from Him [or: It] exist, He alone would continue to exist, and the nullification of their [existence] would not nullify His existence, because all the [other] entities require Him and He, blessed be He, does not require them nor any one of them… 

4. This is implied by the prophet’s statement [Jeremiah 10:10]: “And God, your Lord, is true” – i.e., He alone is true and no other entity possesses truth that compares to His truth. This is what [is meant by] the Torah’s statement [Deuteronomy 4:35]: “There is nothing else aside from Him” – i.e., aside from Him, there is no true existence like His. [1]

Maimonides tells us that our life — our existence — is an expression of God’s existence. We can never be separate from It, we can never be other than It.

Many later rabbinic writers and teachers reference this quote.

Yet, how many of us experience that? Feel that?

Under ordinary circumstances, that answer would be: relatively few.

Why is that?

Because our attention is usually bound by what we are seeing, hearing, tasting, feeling, touching; commonly thinking and feeling. The sum of that is, to us, our life. “I think, therefore I am,” said Descartes. I know I am — that I live and exist — because I’m aware that I think. 

Yet, the Rambam is telling us that there’s more to our lives than our thoughts, our feelings and all the other things that are familiar to us. We’re always aware of those, but we don’t ordinarily experience our existence — our life — Itself. 

Where could we go to experience That? What could we say? What could we do?

We need go nowhere special. We need only turn our attention from our common, everyday thoughts to our actual life — that part of us that “sees” those thoughts.

But, ironically, the more we try to do so, the more we’ll probably find that we’re simply creating another thought: A thought of peace, a thought of happiness, etc.

Turning our attention from our ordinary thoughts to their Source — our actual Divine life — is the provence not of action, but of meditation.

With the introduction of Transcendental Meditation (TM) into public awareness, “meditation” has become far more familiar to many people; at least as a topic of discussion, if nothing more. 

Before TM, “meditation” of various sorts was considered esoteric; mysterious, of use and appeal only to limited communities of people. With the drug culture of the ’60’s, “higher states of consciousness” became a common, even popular goal. It’s true that during that period, TM became well-known because of the Beatles and others who, associated with the drug-culture, suggested that TM might be a “drug-less high.”

But with the ’70’s, TM became recognized as a standardized method that had demonstrable, positive results. At that point, TM changed American culture permanently. “Meditation” of various sorts became commonly practiced. 

As a result, it was in the ’70’s that “Jewish Meditation” became an important topic. Before that, it was considered arcane; understood by a rare few, even academically, at best, if it was considered at all. Hardly essential or necessary. I can remember when the “Mysticism” section in Jewish book stores consisted mostly of copies of Gershom Scholem’s “Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism.” There were almost no translations of traditional Kabbalistic or Hasidic texts, and even less opportunity to learn a practice from a knowledgeable, experienced teacher. When, in the Fall of 1976, I spent my first Shabbat with the Lubavitch in Crown Heights, I asked the hasid with whom I was staying about meditation. He said, “Doing mitzvos is meditation.” How far things have come since that time, only 40+ years ago!

Yet, even today, “meditation” is understood mostly as something calming or quieting.

It actually goes infinitely beyond that.

“When the mind is engaged in the world, engaged in experiencing things, bound by time and space, then the mind is said to be the individual mind. When the mind through the process of meditation gets to the state of Being, it is in that state [that] the individual mind gains the status of Cosmic [i.e. infinite; unlimited] Mind, and that is the real status of the mind.” [2]  

How strange and “foreign” this might sound within a Jewish context. Yet — Maharishi is describing experiencing through meditation the “Primary [Divine] Existence” that, according to the Rambam, is necessarily common to us. Without it, we couldn’t exist at all. Water is common to every aspect of the ocean — the depths, the surface, the waves, the currents. Remove the water, nothing else of the ocean can exist. That is what the Rambam is telling us about our actual connection with the Existence — the Life — of God: It’s the sole “ingredient” that is necessary for us to “be” at all.  

As Rabbi Morris Lichtenstein wrote:

“There is no presence without [God’s] presence, there is no life without His life, there is no substance without His substance, there is no particle, no atom without Him at its very core.” [3]

Maharishi is telling us that meditation is not simply quieting the mind; it’s turning the attention to the quietest level of the mind, at the same time expanding the awareness from anything finite to the Infinite. 

Consider Cordovero’s illustration of the sephirot again:

Cordovero sfirot
The entire Creation, we’re told, is less than an infinitesimal point in the innermost letter, “Mem.” As such, our individual mind is even less than that!

Yet, the “source” of “Mem” in this Kabbalistic illustration is the outer “Kaph” of “Keter” — the sephirah from which everything else emanates, and which is, at the same time, the ongoing Source of their existence; the Rambam’s “Primary Being.” Anything more than that infinitesimal point in the “Mem” and beyond is a level of Divine Life and Existence. [4] To meditate, then, is to expand our awareness from “Mem” to “Kaph,” as it were. “Mem” never ceases to exist. Its “status” — in one of Maharishi’s favorite words — expands to include its own “source,” much as a wave, when returning to the ocean, expands to include its own source: unlimited water. Our “mem” merely ceases to be limited by (or “to”) the finite experiences of thinking, feeling, etc., and expands to include the totality of what it truly is: “…that is the real status of the mind.”

Each individual “episode” of meditation can provide a momentary experience of this. The Hasidim refer to this as “d’vekus/d’vekut” — “cleaving” to God; i.e. personally experiencing our actual, ongoing “connection” with God. The Talmud [5] calls this “entering Paradise” [i.e. the Garden of Eden]:

“Four entered Paradise/ ארבעה נכנסו בפרדס”  

The Tosafot (later rabbinic commentary) to this episode states:

“[They] did not go up literally, but it appeared to them as if they went up” [i.e. it was a cognitive or meditative, rather than a sensory, experience]. [6]

This is desirable, but it’s not the final goal. The true goal of meditation is incrementally and cumulatively incorporating the experience of the Infinite — of “Eden;” of “Kaph” — into the daily, finite experiences of “Mem” — until no further alternation back and forth is needed. “Kaph,” silent, unchanging peace, remains present, even during the daily, ever-changing experiences of “Mem.”  

Such a person — one who experiences “Kaph” along with “Mem;” who experiences the Divine in or along with the mundane — we call a “Tzaddik.” 

We can learn from this that the goals of meditation are the highest goals of Judaism, and that each moment of “d’vekut” in meditation, prayer, other observances or life itself — can and should be an incremental, gradual culturing of our minds and hearts until we’re filled with awareness of the Divine Life, the Divine Presence that is already here with and in us!

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[1] Maimonides: Mishnah Torah/Book of Knowledge 1:1-4 (and elsewhere)
(The illustration is of section 1)

[2] Maharishi Mahesh Yogi; Meditations of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi; © 1968; p. 88

[3] Lichtenstein, Rabbi Morris; Jewish Science and Health; p. 14

[4Some schools of Kabbalah posit that even “Keter” is an emanation from “Ain Soph” — the Endless Infinite that is never expressed; never expressible. But further discussion of that would be beyond the boundaries of the current post.

[5] Hagigah 14b

[6] ibid

ולא עלו למעלה ממש אלא היה נראה להם כמו שעלו

Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo Yitzhak; 11th century) explains that they ascended to heaven by utilizing the [Divine] Name — i.e. they achieved a spiritual elevation…through intense meditation on God’s Name (from a translation of Cordovero’s “Pardes Rimonim” by Rabbi Mosheh Miller)
see also:
https://www.chabad.org/kabbalah/article_cdo/aid/380344/Jewish/Four-Who-Entered-Paradise.htm