Some time ago, I posted a review of Rodger Kamenetz’s The Jew in the Lotus on Amazon. The book, a favorite among Jewish meditators, is partly about a Jewish delegation’s visit to the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala, India. The delegation traveled there to share the strategies that Jews have used to survive as a people during our nearly 2000 years in exile.
After reading the book, I remember thinking that the most important lesson we should have shared with the Tibetans was about the very positive value of attachment.
Why is attachment something we should share? In my opinion, attachments are the keys to Jewish survival. For example, God promised Abraham that his descendants would inherit the land of Israel. If we had not been spiritually attached to the land as a result of God’s promise, we never would have had the desire to survive and return. This attachment, a great yearning, has had great value.
In Hebrew there are a few different words for attachment. Each expresses a different sense of what attachment means.
One is hit-dahb-koot, which means “to cause oneself to cling to” or “to cause oneself to adhere to.” It’s a deep and serious attachment, in love and in awe/fear. It’s rooted in the word d’veikoot (or d’veikoos), and implies a constant awareness and mindfulness that we are always in God’s presence. Being there, our desire to do God’s will, which values compassion, justice and surrender, completely supersedes the self-centered desires of our own egos. With perfect d’veikoos we will not, even for a moment, lose our connection to God. This kind of attachment can be very positive.
Another word for attachment is hit-kash-root. It means “causing oneself to be connected to” or “causing oneself to be tied to.” Jewish mysticism teaches that each of us is a soul consisting of many parts. One part is attached to its root in the highest spiritual world, a spark of God’s “light.” It also attaches us to each other. We want that attachment.
A third word for attachment is hit-khab-root, which could be translated as “drawing oneself into a very close relationship.” Its root means “friend” or “joined together.” It’s God’s relationship with the world that allows the infinite light of existence to enter, which is what allows for tikoon, repair. Without that relationship, the world would revert to chaos in an instant.
All three of these kinds of attachment can connect us to the everlasting, infinite One.
The same word d’veikoos is also used in the Torah for when two people get married. It describes how they “cling to each other and become one flesh.” Jewish mystical teachings say that our entire reason for being is to elevate the physical via the spiritual, especially in our relationships. Instead of offering a celibate, monastic life to reach the pinnacle of spirit as some religions do, Judaism asserts that some of the highest levels of spirituality are found in the attached state of marriage. The relationship between God and Israel is even likened to a marriage, and the giving of the Torah at Sinai, a wedding.
It’s clear that Judaism considers some kinds of attachment, including the very deeply attached relationship of marriage, to be very positive.
But not all attachments are positive. Some attachments are negative. Judaism’s Mussar movement is about cultivating mindfulness to become aware of and then change our bad habits and negative character traits.
What does attachment have to do with Jewish meditation? We usually think about meditation as a way to free ourselves from attachments; but, in Jewish meditation, attachment is a goal. Almost all of the classic Jewish meditation texts teach that meditation is about attaching ourselves to God. The practical forms of Jewish meditation foster that attachment. It may take the form of cultivating inner silence or compassion or equanimity. It may require us to work on mindfulness and self improvement, as in the Mussar approach. It may be in the form of prayer or visualizations. Or it may require social action.
Silence, compassion, equanimity, prayer, visualizations and social action are important, but according to traditional sources, we have to make sure that we don’t mistake (to use a Zen metaphor) the finger pointing at the moon for the moon, or the road for the destination. In the end, the reality is attachment to God.
Len Moskowitz is a rabbinical student at Yeshiva University and currently translating a 19th century work of Jewish theology and mysticism into English. He has been meditating for twenty years.
keep it short and sweet (or bitter. but not too bitter.)