Jewish Ecstasy

Accounts of intense encounters with God rare in Judaism.

Reprinted from The Jewish Religion: A Companion, published by Oxford University Press.

Ecstasy is the intense exaltation of spirit at the nearness of God, in which the worshipper transcends his self in wonder. Ecstasy is closely associated with devekut, the ideal stressed in particular in Hasidism. Since there is a marked reluctance on the part of Jewish mystics to record their most intimate religious experiences, very few accounts of ecstasy are found in the literature of Jewish worship. 

In fact, the only comprehensive analysis of the phenomenon is the Tract on Ecstasy by Dov Baer of Lubavitch, in which an attempt is made to distinguish between true ecstasy and various spurious forms. At a lower level, Hasidism speaks frequently of the state of hitlahavut (from lahav, flame), the state of burning enthusiasm during prayer in which the soul of the worshipper reaches out to God in yearning.

In some versions of Hasidism, it is believed that when the Zaddik delivers his discourse (his “Torah”) during the third meal on the Sabbath, the Shekhinah takes over, as it were, and speaks through him, the Zaddik himself being unaware of what he is saying.

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