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Practical Kabbalah ­ Kavanot and Yichudim

Lurianic Kabbalah

       Although most of Luria's writings deal with the theoretical Kabbalah, there is an important practical element as well.  This is known as Kavanah, or "mystical intention".  Although these were discussed by earlier kabbalists, and allusions were found in the Zohar, it was only Luria who was able to mold them into a complete system of meditation, integrating them as well with his theoretical system.  These Kavanot (pl. of Kavanah) are specific meditations relating to virtually every aspect of life, whether secular or religious: e.g. dressing, putting on Tefillin (phylactories), or the various religious holiday practices such as eating Matzah (unleavened bread) on the Passover, etc.  Since each person was constantly involved in these observances, the Kavanot would put him in a meditative state throughout the whole day.  Formal prayer too, where each word has a kabbalistic significance, was the focus of a whole system of meditations.

       The purpose of the Kavanot is to elevate the practioner to the higher universes, and combinations of Divine Names and much Gematria[1]

       In Lurianic Kabbalah then, the practice of Kavanah is very important.  Man's role consists in the restoration of the original harmony that was destroyed with the breaking of the Vessels; the unification of the name of God.  According to Luria, the Tikkun restores the unity of God's name the reuniting of the letters YH and WH which were torn apart with the Breaking of the Vessels  [2].  This reuiniting was known as Yechidim, "Unifications".  A great many yechidim were taught.  All involve the manipulation of the letters of the various names of God.  Sometimes two or more names were united, something the names were intertwined and various vowel points added.  Since the divine Names reflect spiritual forces, which have their counterparts in the human psyche, the effects of these Yichudim in elevating the consciousness can be dramatic [3].  Here there is an obvious and striking parallel with the Mantras of Indian Tantra and the corresponding but less well­known practices in Gnosticism (c.f. the various seemingly incomprehensible strings of vowels that occur in many of the Nag Hammadi texts).

 One simple example of mystical ascent through a Yichud can be given here.

"The lower soul (nefesh) is from the Universe of Asiah, which is associated with the name Adony ("Lord" ­ the divine name associated with the Sefirah Malkhut).  One should therefore meditate on the name Adony (ADNY) binding it to the name YHVH ("Yahweh" ­ associated with the Sefirah Tifaret) in the Universe of Asiah.  He should then bind this to the name Ehyeh (AHYH ­ "I Am" ­ associates with the Sefirah Keter) in the Universe of Asiah.

He should then meditate on this, elevating the name  Ehyeh of Asiah, and binding it to Adonoy of Yetzirah.  Adonoy of Yetzirah should then be bound to YHVH of Yetzirah.

(One proceeds in this manner) step by step, until he reaches Ehyeh of Atzilut.  He should then bind Ehyeh of Atzilut to the very highest level, which is the En Sof."
        [Kaplan, Meditatation and Kabbalah, p.225]

This theme of an step­by­step ascent through successive planes of consciousness is a common one in Kabbalah, as it is in the Gnosticism and Hermeticism of the Hellenistic age, which constituted the milieu from which Kabbalah developed.  But unlike those teachings, which were world-negating and concerned with personal transcendence, Kabbalah has as its aim the restitution of the Cosmos as a whole.

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[1] Kaplan, Meditation and Kabbalah, p.214

[2] Scholem, Main Currents of Jewish Mysticism, p.275

[3] Kaplan, Meditatation and Kabbalah, p.218]

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page uploaded 28 May 1998