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Hitbonenut (Chasidic Meditation) in Our Generation

Sensitivity for the changing mentality of each generation, with its constantly renewing scientific worldview that also brings about cultural change, requires adaptations in the work of Chasidic meditation, or Hitbonenut. Unlike studying, whose main purpose is gathering knowledge and understanding the content found in books, the purpose of Hitbonenut is to internalize things in the mind and heart: “Know therefore this day, and consider it in your heart, that Havayah is God in heaven above, and upon the earth beneath: there is none else”[1]; the goal is the settling of things in the mentality of the contemplating person, in his awareness and experience.[2] Therefore, contemplation must be fascinating for the contemporary individual and suitable to his or her worldview. So, to continue the Chabad contemplation tradition, we need to offer deep contemplation that suits the reality perception of our generation.

While in the past it was clear that “the definition of ‘world’ [olam] referred specifically to space and time,”[3] today's scientific worldview has expanded to also include energy and mass. As explained extensively elsewhere,[4] the fundamental structure of God’s essential Name, Havayah, in our generation is,

vavenergy (force)
heimass (matter)

Time and space, correspond to wisdom and understanding, since they are like "two companions that never part"[5] (as they are perceived in today's scientific picture including Einstein's general theory of relativity, as dimensions of a single space-time continuum)[6] they are the relatively concealed realm of reality, whose boundaries and substance are unknown. On the other hand, energy and matter (which Einstein unified with his universally famous equation[7] E = mc2) correspond to the revealed part of reality, since they are readily seen and experienced by our physical senses.

There is a leap between stages in this four-level model of the universe. Between time and space, there is a contraction-like leap. Time/wisdom constitutes the "beginning of the revelation"[8] of the nothingness that brings existence into being; it is the beginning of the revelation of "[know that] you come from nothingness"[9] (מֵאַיִן בָּאתָ). It is this “nothingness” (אָיִן) that is revealed to "the wise who sees what will be brought into being"[10] (חָכָם הָרוֹאֶה אֶת הַנּוֹלָד)—the eternal coming into being from nothingness.[11] Space/understanding is considered the "beginning of reality,"[12] i.e., it constitutes "the possibility of reality,"[13] a connotation for the World of Creation in which understanding nests, and that is the creation of space in which the existence of reality is possible. Thus, time enables the summoning or the invitation of reality to appear from the nothingness, but still requires a contraction-type leap to conceal the nothingness from which reality is created and which provides a space where existence will be possible.

After the creation of time and space, described in the first two verses of the Torah, the light-energy appears in the third verse (force as energy, relative to ordinary light, refers to the electromagnetic force). The light particle, the photon, is massless and the transition from energy to matter also requires a leap. This leap is described in Kabbalah as a result of "the condensation of the lights"[14] from which vessels were created. In physics, the leap is the result of a mysterious particle to which belongs the mysterious number 137, the fine-structure constant, which is the ratio between the speed of the wave to the speed of the lightest particle[15]).

This structure can be extended further to include three more concepts that evolve from the realm of reality (which includes time and space) and its building blocks (referring to energy and mass). First, there is motion. Within space and time, particles of matter move as a result of energy. Pure motion, without friction or resistance, continues indefinitely—unidirectionally, if the universe is unlimited, or back and forth, if the universe is limited. Even the transition from a state of a dormant particle to one that is in motion is something of a leap, which still requires some examination to see how it is defined scientifically.

Then comes a huge leap—from random motion to life. A leap of this type can be seen taking place between the descriptions of the second and third days of Genesis. At first, this leap leads to life in the form of the plant kingdom and then continues to the life inherent in living creatures. Motion, like the four levels that preceded it, has no way to overcome, if only temporarily, entropy. But life is a miraculous phenomenon that contradicts and fights against the law of entropy. The leap to life begins with motion, following the statement that "all living things are in motion."[16] Thus, motion is what enables the appearance of life. The next stage, the seventh (and cherished element[17]) in this contemplation is the leap from life to intelligent life, life that can be defined as sentient or intelligent (intelligence). The mind of the intelligent creature is expressed through all its senses and among the people of Israel it also includes free choice.[18]

Let us offer a numerical allusion analyzing these seven levels. The value of the first four: “time, space, force, matter” (זְמָן מָקוֹם כֹּחַ חֹמֶר) is 559, half the value of the Shema, “Hear, O Israel: Havayah is our God, Havayah is one.”[19] The numerical value of the three remaining levels, “motion, life, intellect” (תְּנוּעָה חַיִּים שֵׂכֶל) is 949, which among other things equals “love of Israel” (אַהֲבַת יִשְׂרָאֵל), or the product of “love” (אַהֲבָה) and “wisdom” (חָכְמָה). The numerical value of all seven levels is thus 1508, the product of “grace” (חֵן) and Havayah, God’s essential Name, whose value is 26.

This multi-stage structure for hitbonenut—Chasidic meditation—forms the foundation for a spiritual education,[20] garnered at seeing the grace of God in all things in reality. It follows the order of creation, from how time and space emerge from nothingness and then proceed to develop until the intellect is revealed (with the apex of the intellect being the Divine intellect of the Divine soul).

Preceding all seven stages, which are all stages of existence, stands the nothingness, the ayin. After all, everything, beginning with time and space, comes into being out of nothingness. The first to be created from nothingness is time—the very essence of its existence is intangible and still relatively considered nothingness, as captured by the famous saying, “the past is no more, the future has yet to come, the present is but the blink of an eye”[21] (הֶעָבָר אַיִן, הֶעָתִיד עֲדַיִן, הַהֹוֶה כְּהֶרֶף עַיִן).

Kabbalah explains that the existence of time stems from the Torah.[22] “Torah emerges from wisdom”[23] and “wisdom will emerge from nothingness.”[24] Now, the study of the Torah is meant to be experienced with "awe, fear, trembling, and sweat" (just as it was when the Torah was initially given at Mt. Sinai). Every time we engage in learning Torah, we are meant to experience it as if this is the first time the Torah was given.[25] Time too is experienced with a sense of fear. We may surmise that the reality of time begins from a “tremble”[26] (רֶתֶת)—the creative tremor, which like a Big Bang, creates the “blink of an eye” that is the present moment. This tremor or shaking creates the inner pulse of time alluded to in the Torah’s very first word, “In the beginning” indicating the formation of time[27]; the letters of “in the beginning” (בְּרֵאשִׁית) permute to spell the word meaning “abrupt”[28] (בַּת רֹאשִׁי) and referring to the sudden backward motion of the head.[29] Out of the space-time created from the tremble, all of reality begins to grow, step by step. Indeed, it should be considered that even the "beginning of the revelation" of nothingness, as in “wisdom will emerge from nothingness” is real in comparison to the nothingness that preceded its revelation.

The Mittler Rebbe of Chabad states[30] that, every day a person needs to contemplate the entire order of evolution (סֵדֶר הִשְׁתַּלְשְׁלוּת), from the light of the infinite that preceded the contraction with its various levels all the way to reality—to its different degrees—and up to the created reality we encounter every day before our eyes. However, in our times, it is possible to propose the contemplation we have proposed here, with all its stages and leaps, which also describes the entire process of creating reality from nothingness.

Still, there is a significant difference between what the Mittler Rebbe prescribed and our suggestion here. By the Mittler Rebbe, we contemplate the evolution of reality from above to below. Our seven-stage contemplation proceeds in the opposite direction, from below to above, in what is essentially a process of development (like an evolution) from bottom to top, from the simple to the complex. The order from the simple to the complex was known by the early philosophers as the “natural order”[31] (קְדִימָה בִּזְמַן), the order of development of Nature itself. Even if the roots of time and space are ultimately higher, their reality constitutes a relatively simple concept.

In other words, in our meditative structure, we start from the Divine nothingness, from which the simple and lowest foundation is formed first, and then higher and higher complexity emerges. Thus, relatively speaking, following the process from above to below corresponds to the Written Torah—the Torah that itself descended from heaven to earth (“Those situated above will come down”), while following the process from below to above corresponds to the Oral Torah, which “grows” from below (completing the second half of this saying, with “The lower ascends”[32]).

These two directions and approaches are characterized by the relationship between a groom and a bride. For our generation, the generation of the coming of the Mashiach, which is a feminine generation,[33] contemplation from below to above (using the natural order) is more appropriate. Going from below to above is akin to the concept of reflected light, which tends to “return to [above] its origin.”[34]











[1]. Deuteronomy 4:39.

[2]. See also the shiur from the 7th of Elul, 5782 (can be found in Hebrew on

[3]. Tanya, Sha’ar HaYichud VeHa’emunah, ch. 7.

[4]. In a seminar dedicated to Einstein’s special and general theories of relativity. A transcription of the seminar appears in Mivchar Shi’urei Hitbonenut vol. 15 and this particular topic is covered from pp. 163ff.

[5]. See Zohar 3:290b and 1:123a.

[6]. From the perspective of the Torah’s inner dimension there are two possible ways to see the relationship between time and space. One possibility is that the empty void created by the contraction of God’s infinite light is itself space, while time is represented by the ray of light that entered the empty void. This first option follows the philosophical stance expressed by Rav Sa’adyah Ga’on in Emunot VeDe’ot end of ma’amar 1 and in Maimonides’ Guide to the Perplexed 2:13 and 2:30. Another possibility is that time precedes space and allows it to come into being. These two options correspond to the relationship between wisdom and understanding, which have separate origins, with

[7]. Which stands for Energy equals mass times the square of the speed of light, where the square of the speed of light is alluded to in the two mentions of the word “light” in the verse describing light’s creation, “God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.”

[8]. See Eitz Chaim 42:1.

[9]. Avot 3:1.

[10]. Tamid 32a.

[11]. Tanya ch. 43.

[12]. See Shiurim BeSod HaShem LiYerei’av vol. 3, p. 163.

[13]. See Sefer Hama’amarim 5662, p. 356 and Sefer Hama’amarim 5686 p. 30. See Sod HaShem LiYerei’av 2:1.

[14]. See Eitz Chaim 7:1.

[15]. The electron, which moves around the atomic nucleus, which is why we call it an Ofan (אוֹפָן) in Hebrew. The value of Ofan (אוֹפָן) is exactly 137.

[16]. Rabbi Avraham Abulafia’s Mafte’ach HaRaayon, tav.

[17]. Vayikra Rabbah 29:9.

[18]. See Midbar Shur, 43 (p. 314).

[19]. Deuteronomy 6:4.

[20]. As explained in the part of the Tanya known as “Chinuch Katan,” the introduction to the Tanya’s second part, the Gate of Unification and Faith.

[21]. Mareh Mussar, hei. See Pele Yo’etz s.v. De’agah.

[22]. See sources cited in Torat Menachem vol. 19, p. 88, note 46.

[23]. Zohar 2:121a and also 2:85a.

[24]. Job 28:12.

[25]. Berachot 22a.

[26]. The value of “tremble” (רֶתֶת) is 1000, the secret of the 1000 lights given to Moses at Mt. Sinai. This tremble (pronounced Retet) is the source of the reading of the Book of “Ruth” on Shavu’ot.

[27]. Guide to the Perplexed ibid.

[28]. Pardes Riomonim 10:8.

[29]. See Yoma 38b.

[30]. Kuntres HaHitpa’alut (Likkutei Bi’urim) 53b.

[31]. Maimonides, Milot HaHigayon, sha’ar 12.

[32]. Shemot Rabbah 12:3.

[33]. See shiur from 7 Adar 5777 (available on

[34]. Mittler Rebbe, Sha’ar HaEmunah ch. 15.

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