For the week ending 5 December 2009 / 17 Kislev 5770


by Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman -
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From: Jerry

Dear Rabbi,

Does the concept of a halo or aura around a person appear in Judaism?

Dear Jerry,

The answer is yes. In Jewish mystical sources the Hebrew terms are “hila” (emanation of light) and “ohr hamakif” (surrounding/enveloping light). It’s very interesting, in fact, that the terms for these concepts are nearly identical to the ancient Hebrew words. Halo is as in the verse “Hilo [His light] aley roshi [is upon my head]” (Job 29:3); and aura is as in the word “ora” which also means light.

The fact that we find illustrations of light surrounding the heads of holy people from different cultures seems to indicate that this is a universal phenomenon that reflects the spiritual elevation of a person and can be perceived by others. The depiction and description of aura is similar to this, although in a more varied and individual way.

However, Judaism offers the earliest and most intense description of the “hila” in the Torah’s depiction of Moshe when he came down from Mount Sinai (Exodus 34:29). His face literally beamed rays of light [not horns! – an unfortunate myth based on the Septuagint’s mistranslation of the word “karan” (radiated) as “keren” (horn)] — which were so intense and palpable that the people were blinded by the light and could only look at Moshe after he veiled his face. His “hila” was so brilliant that it could be perceived by all but viewed by none.

Similarly, ancient Jewish sources describe the pure, holy and elevated plane of a fetus in its mother’s womb as G-d lighting a candle over its head while an angel teaches the baby the entire Torah. In this very spiritual state, while the soul is still greatly aglow with the light of the upper realms before becoming occluded by the material of this world, the fetus is literally a little bundle of light as its head is surrounded by the “hila” of the Divine Presence.

Many of the Jewish kabalistic texts are replete with references and discussions of the “hila” and the “ohr hamakif”. They deal with the properties and intensity of spiritual light/energy and their colors, their causes and their differences and variations between different people. In general, the intensity and color of a person’s “hila” and “ohr hamakif” are functions of his connection to G-d through the Torah and the mitzvot. An example of this is found in Rabbi Chaim of Voloshzin’s “Nefesh HaChaim” (Gate 1, ch. 6):

"When a person fulfills all of the mitzvot in perfection, with all of their details in the plane of action, and infuses [this body of mitzvot with a soul of] intense purity and holiness of thought and intention, he rectifies [energizes/harmonizes] all of the upper worlds and realms which in turn reflect back upon him and infuse within all of his creative powers and limbs the elevated holiness of these worlds such that the Glory of G-d hovers around him constantly."

This is the source of the aura of light often perceived around the bodies of the righteous tzaddikim generally, and particularly glowing from their foreheads and faces, and on their hands which are the instruments of thought and deed respectively.

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