OPEN SECRETS – bittul she-me-’ever le-ta’am va-daat


Selected Letters of a Jewish Mystic

Rami M. Shapiro

These selections are from a little book written by Rami M. Shapiro — Rabbi, poet, and author — to introduce his students to the non-dualistic teachings in the Kabbalah. He formulated the text as if it were written to his father’s father (his Zayde) by Reb Yerachmiel Ben Yisrael. Though the Rabbi is fictional, his teachings are authentic. The presentation represents the heart of Mystical Kabbalah.

29 Tichri 5637

My Dear Aaron Hershel,

You suggest that I did not go far enough in my last letter. You want to know how the practice of self-emptying works. If the answer helps you to stay with the practice, good. But if it distracts you from it, do not worry about the how and stay with the practice. The wisdom you seek will not come from abstract knowing, but only from direct experience. Nevertheless, here is how it works.

By following the breath, we quiet the mind. Our sense of separateness and independent being comes from the mind’s incessant chatter. When we just sit, watch and breathe, when we refuse to follow this or that thought or feeling, and simply allow them to rise and fall of their own accord, the mind slowly ceases its chattering. A deep quiet emerges. Thought ceases.

When thought ceases, the self fades. This is what the Psalmist meant when he sang, “Kalta Nafshi” [my soul is oblit­erated] (Psalm 84:3). The “I” — ani — becomes “Empty” — ayin [in Hebrew the two words are spelled with the same three letters: aleph, nun, yod]. This is what our sages call bittul she-me-’ever le-ta’am va-daat, annihilation beyond reason and knowledge, the end of thought.

Do not imagine, however, that the end of thought is the end of the matter. The dissolu­tion of self is not yet the fullness of God. Avodah be-bittul, the meditative emptying of Yesh into Ayin, finds its completion in tikkun ha-olam, repairing the world of Yesh with love and justice. Empty of ego, we experience a selfless love for all things as an extension of God. Overwhelmed with love, we naturally return to the world of Yesh where love can be articulated. We feel commanded to bring our experience of unity, love and compassion to bear in the world of Yesh, the world of seemingly disparate beings.

The emptying of self and the repairing of the world with love are two sides of the same spiritual practice. We are not seeking to escape the world, we are seeking to transform it. We do this by recognizing that we are God’s vehicle for revealing holiness and acting accordingly.


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