Now that we are aware that there is a spiritual interface, and that for every facet of ourselves there is a corresponding attribute above, it is time to learn a little about Jewish meditation and prayer. Prayer and meditation are the path of Jewish spirituality. For every physical journey, there is a corresponding spiritual journey. But one thing you should know about Israel travel - it is more spiritual. For that reason, even physical travel in Israel feels spiritual. So, to begin with, we need a map. The kabbalists described it this way: Outside of Israel, the spiritual path begins in the world of asiya. But in Israel, the traveler begins in the next higher world, yetzira. Now, if we were kabbalists, we would make use of the names of G-d, each corresponding to one of the sephirot, in order to join the ohr ("illumination") of that sephira with its cali, or "vessel." Just like when you call someone by name, you expect him to turn to you. Similarly, when you pray to G-d using His names, you hope to draw G-dliness and spirituality into the universe via the sephira with which that name is associated. That works if your soul is on the level of the ten sephirot, in the world of Atzilut (emanation). If you are always on the level of yichuda ila'ah ("supernal unity," described earlier), aware primarily of the One Above, and have no evil inclination, then you are capable of using divine names to bring holiness into the world. However, very few of us are on that level. Those of us who are on that level (and don't think that I'm talking about you), do not need this pamphlet. They know because they are there, in the world of Atzilut. If you're not, then the use of names of G-d is simply a mechanical exercise, perhaps gratifying because you have knowledge of things beyond you, but having no real meaning in terms of perfecting yourself or the universe.
So, what's left for us "spiritual plebeians?" Actually, big stuff. We can meditate on spiritual concepts until they become so real to us that we see them "in our minds eye." The process, known as hitbonenut, comes from Chabad Chassidic literature. We may not actually be on the spiritual level of the concepts themselves, but by regular meditation upon them, we can capture the spiritual world in our imagination and thereby transform our souls. We were all born with a G-dly soul (a "spark" of the One Above) and almost of us (99.9% and more) with an animal soul, as well. The latter pulls us toward all that is physical in the world. But, when by way of focus and concentration on spiritual matters, we manage to instill a little bit of holiness in our power of imagination, it persuades the animal soul that it too can be holy. That's no mean accomplishment. It's one thing to bring G-dly light and illumination down into the world. That's a gift from above that may or not stay around. It's quite another thing to actually get your physical soul to take on G-dly attributes because it wants to. That's called transforming the world. You might think that you're only affecting yourself. You're not. Everyone has a ‘portion' in the universe, a part of it that is meant for him to rectify and elevate. When you properly meditate and manage to persuade even a small part of your animal soul that it's good to "go G-dly," you are also transforming your own portion and share in the universe. And like we said, that's big stuff.
That's the Chassidic approach. The kabbalist wants to bring G-dly light down from Above to below. The Chassid, and especially the Chabad Chassid wants to work with what's below, with the creation, and elevate it. Meditation and prayer are like a ladder; they start in the lowest worlds and end in the highest. So, therefore our map starts with the world we live in – the physical world – and we try to elevate it. The Hebrew word for world, olam, comes from a root meaning hiddeness and concealment. Any olam conceals G-dliness; some to a greater extent, and some to a lesser extent. The world of greatest hiddeness and concealment is the world that we live in - the physical olam of asiya, or action. This is the world "where the action is" – where perfection and rectification takes place. The creatures of the world of asiya are divided into the mineral, vegetable, animal and human categories. Our meditation has to focus on the spiritual root and source of these creatures. By finding their source in our minds, as well as using them in the Torah-proscribed way, we actually elevate them to their source.
Above asiya is the world of yetzira, or formation. Yetzira is the world of archetypes and templates of creation. The creatures of the world of asiya exist as spiritual entities in the world of yetzira, each as a subset of a more inclusive spiritual creature known as an angel. For example, all of the members of the cat family in the world of asiya might be included in an angel of yetzira that is the source of all the felines of creation. Since the various qualities that apply to physical felines are quite contradictory at times (some cats are big, some small, some wild, others domestic), any creature that includes them all would have to be spiritual, rather than physical. This could be the angel in the world of yetzira that subsumes and is the source of all felines in the world of asiya. The entire world of yetzira is composed of such angels, or templates of creation that subsume and are the source of all the physical categories in the world of asiya. Even the mineral and plant categories have spiritual sources, or angels, in the world of yetzira. Everything that exists as an individual, separate creation in asiya exists as a "part" or component of a spiritual creation known as a malach, or angel, in yetzira.
Above the world of yetzira is the world of bria, or creation. If the creatures of the world of yetzira are the spiritual templates (angels) for the physical creations of asiya, then the creatures of bria are even more refined and spiritual. The angels of yetzira are said to be of the category of G-d's speech, while those of bria are said to be of the category of His thought. The word bria starts with the word bar, meaning outside in Aramaic. Bria is the first world that is "outside" of G-dliness; that is, it imparts awareness of being separate from G-dliness. In the world of atzilut, there are no creations – only emanations, or sephirot. Just as sunrays are connected with the sun, so the sephirot in the world of atzilut are connected with G-d. There is no sense of separation in the world of atzilut. Creations, though, give the impression of being separate from their source. Even so, the creations (angels) of bria are so refined that they are said to possess only "possibility of existence." The angels of bria represent only the possibility of creation, while the angels of the world of yetzira are the spiritual templates, or archetypes of creation. While an angel in yetzira might be the archetype of the feline family, for example, its source in bria would be the much more refined angel that is the "possibility of existence" of all felines. Thus, bria is the world of "possibility of existence."
Atzilut is the world of G-dly awareness. It is the realm of tzaddikim, or those people who have so refined themselves that their true, natural awareness is only of G-d. They have no evil inclination. For them, the world of atzilut and above is real, and all that is below, in the worlds of bria, yetzira, and asiya, is fleeting and transitory. Prophecy comes from the level of atzilut, but only Moses himself lived constantly on this level. The rest of the prophets lived on lower levels but received revelations from the world of atzilut. We all have a little bit of Moses and the prophets inside of ourselves, but only on rare occasions do we catch conscious glimpses of it. For the most part, the spark of atzilut within us suffices by "sending messages" and influencing our behavior via the lower levels of the soul. It does not openly reveal itself. That is because of our own lack of refinement and transgressions. However, again, with work, we can hope to attain an experience of what the Zohar calls yichuda ila'ah, or the elevated consciousness mentioned previously in which G-d is our primary awareness and all else is secondary or unimportant. This is characteristic of the world of atzilut.
Proper Chabad meditation (hitbonenut) focuses on the specific creatures of each world, starting by searching for the spiritual counterparts of the physical creations of asiya, and then focusing on their origins in the angels of yetzira and of bria, and finally focusing upon the sephirot of the world of atzilut, which are the ultimate source of the qualities of creation. There are of course more refined levels and olamot above the world of atzilut, all the way to the infinite light of the One Above even before the tzimtzum, or great contraction. But, that is for more advanced meditators who are already well-immersed in the practice of six hundred and thirteen mitzvot, in the study of Torah and the refinement of character traits. If the subjects mentiond here seem to be esoteric or beyond normal awareness, that is because of our own lack of spiritual refinement. The Jewish sources (Rambam, Hilchot Yesodei HaTorah 4:13) describe these matters as basic and required knowledge, for "…both young and old, man and woman, the open-minded and the narrow." In our generation, it is Chassidic literature that imparts knowledge of these spiritual matters.
One more bit of advice before you get started; it is advisable to undertake a three-point program before beginning meditation. One should first immerse himself in the mikveh, then study the holy sources, and then give a bit of tzedoka (alms to the poor or support for an institution), before finally meditating. The mikveh purifies the body, the study prepares the mind, and then the giving of tzedoka elevates both the giver and the receiver.
Study in the morning before prayer should of course focus on the texts that discuss the details of creation and man. These texts are generally from the realm of Chabad Chassidic literature. The study prepares the mind, as mentioned before. Meditation then brings the subject "home" to the meditator so that he feels it in his heart as well as his mind. Then, finally he can begin to pray, which in Jewish sources is called the "service of the heart." It is in the heart that both the G-dly and animal souls dwell, so the "service of the heart" has the potential to transform and elevate the animal soul. And of course, "that's what it's all about."