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Judaism: Hasidic Mystics
Judaism: Hasidic Mystics

Knowing Less, Loving More

Thursday, June 30, 2022

For early Hasidic mystics, learning the Scriptures was important, but encountering God directly within the Scriptures was even more so. Jewish scholar Arthur Green translates from a collection of Hasidic teachings on contemplative prayer:

One who reads the words of prayer with great devotion
may come to see the lights within the letters,
even though one does not understand
the meaning of the words one speaks.
Such prayer has great power;
Mistakes in reading are of no importance.

A father has a young child whom he greatly loves.
Even though the child has hardly learned to speak,
his father takes pleasure
in listening to the child’s words. [1]

Another saying goes like this:

Sometimes while at prayer you may feel
that you cannot enter
the upper world at all.
Your mind remains below and you think:
“The whole earth is full of His glory.”
But really you are nearer to God than you know.
At such times you are like a child
who has just begun to understand
how close to God he is.
Even though your mind cannot yet transcend this world,
God is with you in your prayer. [2]

The Christian contemplative tradition also prioritizes transformation over information and a humble stance over certainty. Father Richard writes:

We must approach the Scriptures with humility and patience, with our own agenda out of the way, and allow the Spirit to stir the deeper meaning for us. Otherwise, we only hear what we already agree with or what we have decided to look for! Isn’t that rather obvious? As the apostle Paul states, “We must teach not in the way philosophy is taught, but in the way the Spirit teaches us: We must teach spiritual things spiritually” (1 Corinthians 2:13). This mode of teaching is much more about transformation than information. That changes the entire focus and goal of our reading and study.

We need transformed people today, and not just people with answers. As Eugène Ionesco wrote, “Explanation separates us from astonishment . . . ”. [3] I do not want my teachings and my too many words to separate anyone from astonishment or to act as a substitute for inner experience. The marvelous anthology of books and letters called the Bible is all for the sake of astonishment—not “proof” or certainty! It’s for divine transformation (theosis), not intellectual or “small-self” coziness. Ideas are not a problem—but a true inner experience is something else. It changes us, and human beings do not like to change. The biblical revelation invites us into a genuinely new experience. The trouble is that we have made the Bible into a bunch of ideas—about which we can be right or wrong—rather than an invitation to a new set of eyes. [4]


[1] Arthur Green and Barry W. Holtz, eds., trans., Your Word Is Fire: The Hasidic Masters on Contemplative Prayer, 2nd rev. ed. (Nashville, TN: Jewish Lights, 2017), 117.

[2] Green and Holtz, Your Word Is Fire, 121.

[3] Eugène Ionesco, Découvertes (Geneva: Albert Skira, 1969), 72.

[4] Richard Rohr, Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality (Cincinnati, OH: Franciscan Media, 2008, 2022), 1–2, 135.

Explore Further. . .

For an introduction to the mystics featured in this week’s Daily Meditations, watch Managing Editor Mark Longhurst interview Jewish mysticism scholar Arthur Green. 

Image credit: Carrie Grace Littauer, Untitled 7 (detail), 2022, photograph, Colorado, used with permission. Menachem Weinreb, two Jewish boxes of tefillin unwrapped (detail), 2021, photograph, Jerusalem. Arthur Allen, Untitled 12 (detail), 2022, photograph, France, used with permission. Jenna Keiper, 2022, triptych art, United States. Click here to enlarge image.

This week’s images appear in a form inspired by early Christian/Catholic triptych art: a threefold form that tells a unified story. 

Image inspiration: God, unveiled, in our deepest rituals and traditions as well as in the simplicity of light moving across stones and trees.

Story from Our Community:

I recall my first mystical experience at the age of 4 or 5, sitting on my bedroom floor by a large window and knowing I was not alone. My traditional Protestant church upbringing (order) eventually resulted in confusing crises of faith (disorder), that led to a brand new knowing of a loving God in a good world (reorder). I continue to loop back through it again and again and again in a very labyrinth-like way. —Karen H.

Share your own story with us.

Prayer for our community:

God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough,  because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.

Listen to the prayer.


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