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Rav Aryeh Kaplan: Preparations to Achieve a Higher Consciousness Part One

The 14th of Shevat is the Yahrtzeit of Rav Aryeh Kaplan (1935-1983). Born in New York City , Rav Aryeh had a prolific but tragically brief career, producing over 60 works. After his early education in Torah Vadaas and Mir Yeshivos in Brooklyn, he studied at the Mir Yeshiva in Jerusalem . He also received a master’s degree in physics and was listed in the Who’s Who in Physics.

Several years ago, I received a telephone call from Moishe, a senior yeshiva student whom I knew for some time. A problem that had been bothering him for a number of years was becoming especially troublesome. He complained that since davening involved saying the same words day after day, praying had become meaningless to him. How can one say the same words three times a day, day after day, and still find them meaningful?

A week or two after that, a rabbi from a town in Long Island asked me to speak to Lisa, who had become involved in TM (Transcendental Meditation). When she came to my house I asked her to explain TM to me. She replied that it consisted of repeating a mantra over and over. The mantra was a special phrase given to her by her master.

“That’s all there is to it?” I asked her, incredulously.

“That’s it,” Lisa replied. “If you repeat the same phrase over and over, and do it in the right manner, it can bring you to higher states of consciousness.”

To be sure, TM, which is a type of avoda zara (idolatry), bears absolutely no relationship to davening. Nonetheless the range of psychological responses TM provokes may help us understand human reactions. If repeating a meaningless phrase can have a certain psychological effect, then repeating a very highly meaningful prayer may well have an even stronger effect. Didn’t Reb Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz teach a generation of Yeshiva bachurim that for a dance nigun to be savored, it should not be sung for three minutes and then be discarded for a fresh one, but that it should be repeated for as much as forty-five minutes at a time? Then the meaning of the words begins to sink in and penetrate the emotions. The repetition of key phrases over a period of time can also be effective.

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