The Jewish Spiritual Path: The Way of the Name
Author: Rabbi Dr. Joshua Golding
Publisher: Urim Publications
The mission of this book is to illuminate the Jewish spiritual path by utilizing ideas from Kabbalah regarding the Holy Name of Hashem, the Yod-Heh-Vav-Heh. As the author explains, the goal of the Jewish spiritual path is essentially to become closer to the infinite G-d by developing certain middos (good spiritual qualities).
The four letters of the Name represent four aspects of G-d, and also four levels of spiritual growth. Just as G-d has more “outward” or revealed aspects, and more “inward” or hidden aspects, so too the Jewish spiritual path begins with basic middos and advances to more elevated middos. Interestingly, the last letter of the Name corresponds to the more outward and lower level, while the first letter of the Name corresponds to the more inward and advanced level. It turns out that the Jewish spiritual path involves following the “way of the Name” or, in Hebrew, Derech Hashem. Hence, the title of the book.
Rabbi Golding goes into detail about which middos correspond to which letters. The middos of receptivity (kabbalah), thankfulness (hoda’ah), and humility (anavah) are associated with the last Heh of the Name. Rabbi Golding argues that receptivity itself is the very basis for spiritual growth. If we are not receptive to who and what we are, we cannot even begin to be thankful for the good that we have, nor can we be genuinely aware of our own limitations.
Next, the middos of benevolence (chesed), compassion (rachamim), and justice (gevurah) are associated with the Vav. It’s not enough to be passive receivers of goodness; we need to cultivate the active virtues of giving, sharing, and caring for others. This is part of what it means to “walk in G-d’s way.” But even these wonderful middos are still not enough. In order to have a more direct “interpersonal relationship” with G-d, we must receive or accept G-d as our King, and His commandments, with love (ahavah) and reverence (yirah). These are the middos associated with the first Heh of the Name.
Finally, even these middos are not the closest we can come to a relationship with the infinite G-d. The highest middos of bonding (deveikus) and self-Abnegation (hisbatlus) are associated with the Yud. It is through these middos that a person “binds his will with G-d’s will” and ultimately reaches what the author calls “being together with G-d.” This is the climax of the Jewish spiritual path.
Of course, the spiritual path is something we have to work at continuously throughout our daily lives. But the author explains how Seder Shacharis (the Morning Prayer) plays a special role in helping us to cultivate the middos of the Jewish spiritual path. Kabbalah teaches that the four stages of Shacharis correspond to the four levels of the path. The first stage is the morning blessings (birchos hashachar), which help us to develop receptivity, thankfulness, and humility. The second stage are the verses of praise (Psukei d’zimrah), which help us to “get out of our skin” and look around at the beautiful natural world which is bursting with G-d’s benevolence and compassion. This inspires us to follow G-d’s way by becoming givers and sharers. It is no accident that it is during the conclusion of Psukei d’zimrah that it is customary to set aside money for charity.
Next, in the third stage of Shacharis we read the Shema and accept the Kingdom of G-d and His commandments with love and reverence. Finally, the fourth stage is the Amidah, the silent prayer also known as Shemoneh Esrei, in which we strive to “bind our will with G-d’s will” and achieve a devotional state of “being together with G-d” at the culmination of this prayer.
Toward the end of the book, the author discusses the notion of silent meditation on the Name and its associations as a way of enhancing one’s spiritual life. He believes it is unfortunate that many Jews do not realize that there is a tradition of silent meditation within Judaism. In the appendix, he suggests seven different meditations involving various aspects of the Divine Name. Those who wish to hear guided audio meditations can find them on Rabbi Golding’s website, thewayofthename.com. The website also contains links to the author’s other publications.
The main thrust of this book is to serve as a practical guide. No prior knowledge of Kabbalah is assumed. The author thoroughly explains any concept which he draws from Kabbalah, and there are numerous footnotes to sources in classical texts such as the Zohar, Kisvei Ari, the writings of Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto, and others. The author hopes that his book will help enrich and energize our service of Hashem, and especially add meaning and depth to our davening.
Many of us are looking for ways to improve our davening and our connection with G-d in our lives. We may find ourselves asking, “Where do I even begin? How can I achieve that connection?” Rabbi Golding’s book gives us a clear, outlined approach to achieving this connection with G-d every single morning, as well as through our other daily prayers. I recommend The Jewish Spiritual Path: The Way of the Name for anyone looking to enhance their davening and develop a closer connection with G-d.