With a voice that combines an exotic hybrid of his French roots, a decade in Israel, and a nod to the Pacific Northwest incorporated from his current environs in Seattle, Bet Alef Meditative Synagogue’s Rabbi Olivier BenHaim’s new six-step meditation CDs feature his self-described straightforward technique that is geared to the novice practitioner.
“Souls’ Journey: Meditation and Kabbalah,” his inaugural release out on April 21, is a two-CD set designed to orient the student into the Jewish mystical, Kabbalistic tree of life.
To train the aspiring listener, BenHaim begins and ends each session with a “three-fold” chant of the Hebrew word for peace and wholeness, “shalom.”
“This is Jewish,” BenHaim told JTNews. “This is from our own book. Meditation has always been part of our past and our texts.”
Once oriented to BenHaim’s chants and his use of the Hebrew names for the five levels of the soul — or as he prefers to call them, “levels of consciousness” — the student begins his or her approach toward the five levels that Kabbalists say are accessible to all of us.
“I believe you can move through the tree of life through meditation,” said BenHaim. “They were states that the Kabbalists themselves had access to. We can experience what the Kabbalists experienced themselves in their bones and in their personal experience.”
BenHaim explained that the second track is a relaxation, centering, breathing, and grounding meditation. Instructions, he said, are simple and clear.
“It’s not convoluted and we don’t use highfalutin words,” he added. “It’s a very down-to-earth practice that follows the Kabbalistic system, but most importantly, follows our day-to-day human experience.”
His advice to would-be practitioners is that they practice with one each week, master that level, and build up to the more advanced lessons.
“I wanted to make it very easy for people to find 15 minutes during the day, to plug it in, and just do it,” BenHaim said.
During the sessions, BenHaim addresses one of the central teachings in Judaism often tackled by rabbis and mystics alike: The duality of the yetzer ha’tov, the good inclination, and the yetzer ha’ra, commonly called the evil inclination. Judaism says the human personality has both; however, the good-evil dichotomy is a misunderstanding of our essential natures, they say. The yetzer ha’ra is really where we form our ideas and plans for our lives. Some benefit us and others don’t.
While meditating about this aspect, BenHaim asks the listener to become introspective and to pay attention to his or her own thoughts and reactions.
“A lot of the yetzer ha’ra is out of the emotional body,” said BenHaim. “How can we not be enslaved to our emotions — to not be under their dictate? We can be responding instead of reacting.”
The techniques in the lessons, according to BenHaim, are a compilation of approaches that have been used by mystics and Kabbalistic teachers he has studied over the years.
The five aspects of the Kabbalistic vision of “soul,” explained BenHaim, exist within us like concentric circles that lie at the core of who we are.
“Track four is a meditation that talks about the level of nefesh, which is entering into our body,” said BenHaim. “Where are the sensations? Where are they coming from? Really being aware of whatever is happening in our body.”
By using these methods, said BenHaim, meditators can access these aspects of their personality and transcend their attachment to them.
The goal, he said, “is dissolving our identification with these concentric circles starting with the outer layer and working our way in. Ultimately,” he writes on his website, “what one discovers at the center is one’s own True Identity, the Face of the One that is every one.”
BenHaim freely admits that his CDs are not meant to be a substitute for the experience of meditating in a group or a class, or with a personal guide, but he does make himself available to users for any questions or comments they may have through his site.
Mainly, he wants to get these typically esoteric mystical techniques into the hands of many more people who can’t or won’t study meditation in the other formats. Also, by having a CD, students can “plug-in” at their convenience, whenever they have the time.
In addition to dissolving the five states of the soul, BenHaim also wants to disabuse those who have the idea that meditation is “un-Jewish.”
“You’re not betraying the faith,” said BenHaim. “I will always be a student of Kabbalah.”