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In the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov, it talks about "cleaving to the letters" during prayer or Torah study. It has to do with the Hebrew letters and a special way of visualizing or focusing on them during prayer or study. It seems to be an actual method or technique for meditation. What does this mean on a practical level? I know this has something to do with meditation and kavanah.

Is anybody familiar with this, and is anyone able to provide some actual instructions for how this is to be done? I would highly appreciate it.

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I think what this is saying is that one should treat the words properly.

There are two ingredients to a proper tefilla as Hashem needs it. The first is with kavana, which means putting one's soul into it; concentrating and contemplating the words, feeling the meaning of the words with love and fear; meaning it sincerely. If you would like further information about davening with kavana in english, I recommend purchasing a "Pathway to Prayer" book and reading the introductions*.

The other is davening with dveykut, with cleaving. This means even if you don't know what you are saying (and what business is it of ours anyway), you do know that these are not your words, they are Hashem's precious words. They are profound, powerful words written by prophets, that fulfil the needs of Above.

ולא לחינם אמרו החכמים דתפילה צורך גבוה הוא

It wasn't for nothing that the Sages said that prayer is the needs of Above (Aruch Hashulchan OC 89:8)

Saying them with dveykut means treating them with awe, saying them slowly and carefully like handling fine china. It is intimately connected, and aimed at bringing about a cleaving to Hashem, and it therefore means being aware of Who you are saying them to, and how much you mean to Him, and how important your tefilla is for Him, how precious these words are to Him, and being aware that this is in His service, not our own. Indeed, one can't cleave to someone else if one is busy with one's own needs.

The mashal is told of the wife who complains to her husband that he doesn't say "I love you" enough. He retorts that she knows he loves her, he will tell her if that changes, and therefore he doesn't need to say it. She doesn't accept this: she needs to hear it, it's not about his need. He moans and says "if I say it, will it make you happy?" and when she affirms, he grumpily (with a smirk) says "fine, I love you, now will you let me read my newspaper?". She is indeed happy, even though she would agree he still needs to keep working on his kavana.


Here is a short shiur that discusses this, and you can find several others on this channel. Rabbi Friedman is a great teacher of Chabad Chassidus, whose Rebbeim have made it their mission to bring down the teachings of the Besht to every day life, and this answer is an introduction to how they teach their chassidim to daven, and something that has improved my tefilla service greatly upon learning (I am not a Chabad chassid).

* Note, I would say that the appendix on the word "Baruch" would be hard to fit with the teaching of the Besht you are bringing without a fuller explanation, and therefore please bear in mind that there are opinions that either oppose or clarify what is explained there.

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  • G-d has no “needs”, including our prayers. The translation you are bringing from Aruch HaShulchan is better understood as “Prayer is for the need of elevation.”, meaning elevation of the sparks of Holiness residing hidden below in the material world in order to reveal G-d’s presence. This is the effect of proper intention in prayer. That there is no place devoid of G-d and there is no other aside from Him. All the “cleaving” & yichudim of the letters referred to in the OP’s question are in that context. The article linked from Moshe Idel clearly cites this. Jul 19, 2023 at 10:52
  • Please respect the fact that the word need is appropriate, and while I admit that there are a lot of people who are very concerned that it might be misunderstood to imply the opposite of any of the true items you listed, there are others who think weigh the risks differently, including Rabbi Friedman and I believe the Rebbe, given what he wrote in maamarim. That, and connection between what you said and what I said is worth discussing in a long farbrengen and I deeply respect your opinion, but would be out of scope here, so I am satisfied with my answer. Thanks for your comment
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Jul 19, 2023 at 11:01
  • The “devekut” process is the actual techniques of visualization, breathing and even pronunciations, likened to mantra recitation that are a part of Jewish prayer. This is a big part of the subject of the teaching from the Baal Shem Tov which follows the same teachings passed via Ramchal, Shelah, Ari z”l, Ramak, Gikatilla, Yitzchok of Akko, Avraham Abulafia and many others. It is what is called the path or way of prophesy. Jul 19, 2023 at 11:04
  • My suggestion would be that you should try calling Manis, Rabbi Friedman, and ask him directly if he has studied the subject of Jewish meditation and yichudim as taught by the Baal Shem Tov, the Maggid of Mezeritch, the Alter Rebbe, Mitteler Rebbe to the present. This is not the subject of his teachings, nor his approach. This question is asking specifically about the practical application of devekut of letters (yichudim), meditation and the subject of kavanah in that context as taught by the Baal Shem Tov. Jul 19, 2023 at 11:17
  • Reb Yaacov, it is entirely possible that more than one interpretation of this question exists and more than one answer is available from the Torah of Chabad and the Besht, this is one of those cases and I don't think it would be relevant to call Rabbi Friedman about this. Please consider writing your own answer from your own interpretation, and sources, and the OP will decide which one answers their question, if any, as is the purpose of SA, and I believe this comment discussion isn't in line with that. You can view Reb Manis' Torah on his 2000 videos to see where he is coming from
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Jul 19, 2023 at 11:33

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