KosherTorah School for Biblical, Judaic & Spiritual Studies


Understanding Kavanot

Lurianic Kabbalistic Meditations


by Ariel Bar Tzadok

Copyright © 2015 by Ariel Bar Tzadok. All rights reserved.


Kabbalah contains some very exotic forms of meditation. Two of these forms practiced in the Lurianic Kabbalah are kavanot, and yihudim.

Kavanot are the meditations underlying prayer, and yihudim are internally contemplated unifications of supernal spiritual realms. Both of these systems are very complex, and can take a very long time to learn. Yet, even when all their intricacies are learned and superficially understood, almost no one grasps the underlying psychological insights that one must understand in order to actually implement the system, and make it work.

The major problem in implementing these exotic meditative systems is not the difficulty of learning their intricate details. Rather, the problem is a simple misunderstanding. According to the Ari'zal, and Hayim Vital, the originators of this system, all rectifying acts of spiritual ascent, and supernal unity occur exclusively within what they term the “inner worlds.” These inner worlds are clearly described as the five levels of the soul, referred to as the NaRaNHaY. It is equally and unequivocally stated that the spiritual ascent and the supernal unity of the “outer worlds” will only be accomplished by the Messiah, and then, only when he comes to redeem the world, (and not before).


So then, what is the problem with rectifying the inner worlds of the NaRaNHaY, and leaving the outer worlds to the Messiah? There would be no problem if only one understood what this properly meant, and then went about to pursue, and practice it in its correct way. Essentially, when pieces of a puzzle all fit together properly, we can see the correct big picture. If however, one fundamentally has no idea of the proper big picture then one ends up putting the puzzle together in a most bizarre and incorrect way, and does not even know that one has done anything wrong. This correctly describes the experience of maybe 99% of today's so-called Kabbalists.


What exactly are these inner worlds of the NaRaNHaY that the originators of the Kavanot/Yihudim system speak of? Without a clear understanding of this, how can one expect to actually elevate any spiritual realms, or unite any supernal domains? Without knowing the proper first step, all further steps leads one further down an improper path.

If one desires to practice the Kavanot/Yihudim system one must understand the first step properly. Let us turn to this understanding, grasp it clearly and correctly, and then take this proper first step into an exotic, and most profound new world.

The inner worlds are referred to as the light of the five-fold soul, the NaRaNHaY. The five levels in the human soul actually refer to states of consciousness, which manifest as personality orientation. In brief, the five levels of the soul are the Nefesh soul (physical consciousness), the Ruah soul (emotional consciousness), the Neshama soul (rational consciousness), the Hayah (imaginative (un)concious), and finally the Yehida (soul essence, totally and permanently unconscious).

Elevating the supernal worlds through kavanot and yihudim meditations is performed by integrating, and uniting within one's mind, one's levels of consciousness. This is not performed as a mere rational, intellectual projection, but rather as a journey into one's personal imagination, combining feelings (heshek), thought, (kavanah), and deep contemplation (hirhur).

The higher dimensions of thought are referred to in Lurianic system as the “mohin” (brains). Specifically, these are the upper Sefirot of Hokhma and Binah, but can also include Da'at, and Keter. Anyone who has ever been exposed to the Lurianic system immediately recognizes how complicated it quickly becomes. One needs good depth of exposure, and study before one can ever truly master the terminologies, and their true meanings within the context of the system. Therefore, to try to elaborate in any detail what exactly are Sefirotic mohin would be a futile gesture. It is best to offer a simple, and relevant definition describing them simply as the “powers of thought, or consciousness, within the general process of mind.”

The kavanot and yihudim are generally geared towards uniting supernal worlds. Generally, and simplistically speaking within the context of Lurianic terminology, this is usually the bringing down of the mohin from the higher worlds into the lower worlds. This might be mentally constructed as visualizing the light of the Ayn Sof descending out of the great unknown, and into one of the many Sefirotic Faces (Partzufim) of Keter. This is visualized in the form of specifically associated holy names, unique spellings of holy names, or other distinct terminologies to describe the sefirotic location. From this receptacle in Keter, the supernal light is passed down through the Sefirot, and then through the lower worlds, to eventually and finally rest upon the object or performance of one's intentions. Needless to say, this is a most condense and brief summary, but nevertheless, it does, at least in one application explain what exactly the kavanot system seeks to perform.

For many modern Kabbalists, the specific details of Lurianic kavanot usually create a wall of division between themselves, and the necessary psychological foundations of what exactly, in general, one is attempting to accomplish when performing these meditations. Herein lies the problem. For many of the modern Kabbalists, the worlds and realms of the Sefirot are external to themselves. They believe that somehow, magically, in their minds, they are reaching out and tapping into realms and domains in the external universe. They, therefore, demand of themselves exacting precision in terms and names used in these meditations for fear that one wrong thought of movement of the supernal light into an inaccurately associated image of a holy name would create spiritual imbalance, and thus bring disaster to the supernal worlds themselves. Needless to say, such ideas are just illusions, and possibly delusions as well.

In reality, the supernal worlds that one seeks to tap into are the worlds within one's own mind. The sefirotic pattern that one seeks to adjust is the pattern within one's own mind, and body. The yihudim (unification) meditations that one seeks to create should be integrations (yihudim) within one's own mind, body, and consciousness. When one recognizes the highly personal, and transformational applications of the kavanot and yihudim practices they become enriched with depth, and individual meaning. Instead of tapping into far away worlds not very receptive to our influence, we can, in turn, tap into our own inner worlds, and using this very complicated system focus on mental, and emotional repair to our own inner selves.

The NaRaNHaY five-level soul represents different levels of human consciousness. The Lurianic system teaches that the five-level soul must be fully actualized. This is a life-long process. The kavanot and yihudim systems offer numerous different symbolic, visualized forms to assist this accomplishment.

The intricacies of the system help give form to very subtle layers of refinement within the human psyche. This is what makes this system so very valuable, and worth the investment in time and effort to learn. Yet, the value of the system must be understood and applied correctly, as applicable internally to individual rectification. Only in this way, after personal application to the individual, can the result from the one be projected out on to the collective whole. For the individual can never be separated from the hive-collective.

This concept is actually put into worlds and spoken as a prayer prior to the performance of one's religious duties. Yet, like so many things, the words of prayers are often merely recited, without much thought as to what they actually mean.

For the sake of the unity of the Holy One, blessed be He, and His Shekhina, . . . in the name of all Israel.” One performs one's rituals in order to meditate upon supernal unions in the higher worlds. Just remember that these higher worlds are the higher realms of human consciousness inside the mind of the individual. And, as one focuses on oneself, there are reverberations from within one's personal mind and consciousness, into the greater mind and collective unconscious of humanity. This is how the system was originally designed to work, and function.

Any system, regardless of what it is, if not properly understood, will not be properly used. The Lurianic system of kavanot and yihudim is our case in point. Yet, while its intricate details are important for the system to work, understanding its underlying psychological factor is even more important.

As long as one focuses on the basics, one does not need to worry about all the advanced intricacies. This is why, with a basic understanding of the system, kavanot and yihudim can be used by anyone. One should never fear that making a mistake somehow in using an incorrect term, symbol or name, will cause actual damage in some supernal realm. This idea is based on a faulty premise, and is worthy of dismissal, without any further concern or worry.

Kavanot and yihudim meditations are beautiful expressions of Kabbalistic transformations. They are valuable additions to any meditation program.

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