By Dan Aznoff, Jewish Sound Correspondent
Prophets in the Far East and the Holy Land explored the use of religious meditation during various periods in history, but have adopted the use of the introspective form of prayer for completely different purposes.
Rabbi Shmuel Brody explains that Jewish meditation has its origins in the words of the Prophets. The practice, he said, was later extrapolated by the sages of the Mishna, the Kabbalistic masters of the 16th century, and eventually by the Chassidic masters of 18th-century Europe.
“In general, people think of meditation as something originating exclusively with Eastern religions to seek calm and an inner peace. But there is a uniquely Jewish meditation tradition that can be traced back to the Prophets,” said Brody. “Jewish meditation seeks a tranquil state as a means toward achieving its goal to deepen our practice of mitzvot and build a closer connection to our Creator.”
The spiritual leader of Ashreichem Yisrael, an Orthodox congregation in Seattle’s Seward Park neighborhood, teaches a class each Tuesday night that traces the history of meditation within Judaism that explores the practice from different Jewish sources, and then examines meditation based on those teachings.
“Our group explores the different powers of the soul — kochot hanefesh — and how to awaken them to influence the conscious self,” the rabbi explained. “We’re trying to activate those powers through the meditative practice.”
Mark Fefer is a member of Rabbi Brody’s congregation and has attended several of his classes on various subjects. He said the rabbi has an uncanny ability to translate Talmudic wisdom into guidance that relates directly to his life today.
“The rabbi’s classes are not limited to members of his own congregation,” said Fefer. “You don’t have to be a strict Orthodox Jew to gain tangible wisdom from his teachings.”
The rabbi agreed with Fefer, adding that the Seattle Jewish Meditation Group is committed to sharing the practice of authentic meditation rooted in the Jewish tradition for Jews of all backgrounds, regardless of previous experience.
Meditation, according to Brody, provides many Jews the language they seek to be closer to God. It provides the calm needed to reveal the soul. The rabbi went on to say that Jews have used meditation for thousands of years to reach “deeper thought, build spiritual character, and establish a personal relationship with God.”
Rabbi Shmuel Brody was raised in Silver Spring, Md. and earned his Bachelor of Talmudic Law degree from Ner Israel Rabbinical College. In addition to his duties with his congregation, Brody taught classes on the Talmud at Northwest Yeshiva High School from 2007 until two years ago. He and his wife Sarah have two children.
The weekly classes are held in a private home in the Seward Park community. The sessions last only an hour, but provide enough food for thought to last an entire week, according to Fefer. In the tradition of all Jewish gatherings from Eastern Europe, each session ends with some homemade kugel prepared by the rabbi’s wife, some pickles, and a l’chaim.