Human hands dwell in heavenly heights: Worship and mystical experience in thirteenth century Kabbalah

Seth Lance Brody, University of Pennsylvania


From its inception in twelfth-century Provence, the Kabbalistic tradition contends that the performance of the Scripturally ordained commandments performs a theurgic function, upholding the ongoing unfolding of the process of divine emanation and drawing divine light and energy $\{$shefa$\}$ into the universe. Halachic praxis simultaneously enables the Kabbalistic devotee to enter into a state of altered consciousness or adhesion $\{$devekut$\}$ to God. Current discussion of Kabbalistic spirituality, originating with Gershom Scholem, tends to differentiate between the "theurgic" and "transformative" sides of Kabbalistic practice and to present them as constituting divergent goals for mystical intentionality and life. Our analysis of thirteenth-century sources dealing with contemplative prayer and the priestly cult indicate that on the contrary, the theurgic efficacy of a Kabbalist's worship is a product of his experiential adhesion and absorption into Divinity. Spanish Kabbalistic sources from the thirteenth century present two distinct models of devekut or adhesion to God. Catalonian writers such as Azriel of Gerona depict mystical illumination as a process of mahashavah devekah, mind's ascent of the emanational ladder and unification with Divine Wisdom. The Kabbalistic adept immerses both his consciousness and the Sefirotic pleroma within the ground of divine being, imbuing both with an influx of generative power and transforming his soul into a channel for the terrestrial manifestation of God's energy. In the Zohar, Moshe de Leon depicts devekut as constituting the soul's visionary assimilation to the mystery of the union of Malkhut and Tiferet. Here too, Sefirotic unity is often depicted as being engendered by the devotee's identification and experiential participation within the masculine and feminine polarities of divine being. This thesis explores the manner in which these conceptions of devekut serve as the conceptual foundation for the practice of contemplative prayer and exegetical analyses of the Temple Cult, demonstrating further that these discussions of the Cult served as a major vehicle for the expression of Kabbalistic notions of the nature of mystical praxis and self-image.

Subject Area

Religious history|Theology

Recommended Citation

Brody, Seth Lance, "Human hands dwell in heavenly heights: Worship and mystical experience in thirteenth century Kabbalah" (1991). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI9211913.