DEVEKUT (Heb. דְּבֵקוּת; lit. "cleaving"). The verb dvk occurs frequently in Deuteronomy (4:4, 10:20, 11:22, 13:5, 30:20) in the context of cleaving to God. The Talmud asks how it is possible for man to "cleave to God" Who is a "devouring fire" (Deut. 4:24) and answers that it is fulfilled by marrying the daughter of a scholar or assisting scholars materially (Ket. 111b). Elsewhere in answer to the same question, it answers that this is fulfilled by imitation of God, and emulating His attributes (the passage in Sotah 14a should obviously be based on the phrase "and cleave unto Him" in the verse quoted, and not on the words "Ye shall walk after the Lord your God").
Both the noun devekut and its verb davok have several theological and mystical meanings in kabbalistic literature. Sometimes it means no more than "being near to" or "to cleave." However, the most usual meaning of this term, if it can be said to have a usual meaning, is "communion with God," which is achieved mainly during the time of *prayer or meditation before prayer through using the right *kavvanot, the mystical interpretations and meanings given to the words of prayer. Usually, devekut is described as the highest step on a spiritual ladder, which is reached after the believer has mastered the attitudes of fear of God, love of God, etc. The aspect in the divine world, according to the kabbalistic concept of the ten Sefirot, to which the mystic prays when he aspires to reach the state of devekut, is usually the *Shekhinah, the tenth and lowest of the Sefirot, which is also the feminine element in the divine world. Usually, the kabbalists emphasize clearly that the communion achieved by the living mystic during prayer is transitory and incomplete in its nature. Only after death can a man hope that his soul will reach a complete and permanent state of devekut with God (again, usually with the Shekhinah), and the final state of bliss will not be achieved until the redemption, after the coming of the Messiah, when all just Jews will live together eternally in the state of devekut. This, the most conservative attitude, is expressed in the *Zohar several times (although other concepts are found in it too), and was widely accepted by the writers of kabbalistic ethical literature in the 16th–18th centuries, in Safed and in Eastern Europe. However, most kabbalists attempted to formulate a more ambitious concept of communion with God, which they described in many different symbols, revealing a wide range of spiritual attitudes toward the mystic's relationship with the divine powers.
One of the most common ideas to be found in kabbalistic literature is that devekut is itself a ladder, in which a man can climb from one Sefirah to another and raise his soul from one point to another in mystical contemplation. As the various portions and words of prayer and the various deeds that the commandments require correspond to different parts and powers in the divine worlds, so does the soul rise with the works and deeds toward the Sefirah to which it is intended. Thus the mystic may achieve devekut with the higher Sefirot, such as yesod (the ninth), tiferet (the sixth), din (fifth), and hesed (fourth) in the divine ladder. Kabbalists are more cautious when dealing with man's relationship with the highest Sefirot. However, there are expressions in kabbalistic literature which give the impression that devekut is possible even with them. In rare instances, devekut with the *Ein Sof, the divine essence beyond all Sefirot, is also mentioned; and in some radical pronouncements (e.g., by *Isaac of Acre), it is possible to interpret the kabbalists' words as describing the possibility of achieving devekut with the Ein Sof while still living. The soul breaks all ties that bind it to the body and uniteswith the highest aspect of divinity. Such radical expressions, however, are very rare, and the exact meaning of devekut in such passages is open to different interpretations. Therefore devekut is not the Hebrew term corresponding to what the Christian mystic means by unio mystica. There are tendencies in some kabbalistic writings (and even in the Zohar itself) which point toward such a complete union with God, but usually the kabbalists were much more conservative, separating devekut from complete union by delaying it to the time after death and the end of days, and by limiting it to the lower parts of the divine worlds.
Early in the history of kabbalistic literature, there are expressions of contemplative, intellectual devekut, such as the devekut ha-mahashavah ("the cleaving of thought to God"), which means the return of human thought to its origin in the divine wisdom; or the devekut ha-razon ("the cleaving of human will to God's"), achieved during prayer. However, in later kabbalistic writing, much more emphasis is placed on the union of the human soul with its spiritual origin in the world of the Sefirot. Sometimes there are some elements of ecstasy. The mystic's emotional state while approaching the state of devekut and while achieving it is described. In this case, the devekut is not an intellectual, contemplative state of mind, but a state of emotional exaltation. In such cases, there is sometimes a hint of a sexual element in the devekut between the mystic and the tenth Sefirah, the Shekhinah. However, such expressions are usually connected with the love of God, as the kabbalists interpreted it.
In most kabbalistic writings, there is a connection between the state of the devekut and prophecy, which is the outcome of such union between man and God. The fathers of the nation, Moses, and the prophets were described as people who achieved a lasting state of devekut. When devekut is achieved, Ru'ah ha-Kodesh ("The Holy Spirit") comes into contact with the mystic and gives him superhuman spiritual abilities. The idea of the devekut as the highest spiritual achievement in religious life was popularized by the writers of kabbalistic ethical literature, and numerous people who were not mystics became familiar with this concept. The last phase of this development was reached with the hasidic movement, where devekut became not only the supreme achievement of religious life but also its starting point. Devekut, according to *Hasidism, should be the believer's constant state of mind, even while he is dealing with everyday necessities of life and not only during the high points of prayer and religious activity.
The ideal of devekut as pointing to a complete mystical union between the human intellect and the Agent Intellect or God as an intellect is central in ecstatic Kabbalah as represented in the writings of Abraham *Abulafia. He draws upon the neo-Aristotelian theory of the identity between the knowing subject and its object during the process of intellection, but assumes that God may become the subject of human knowledge.
[Moshe Idel (2nd ed.)]
Scholem, in: Review of Religion, 15 (1950), 115–139; Scholem, Mysticism, index; idem, in: mgwj (1934), 494ff.; G. Vajda, L'amour de Dieu dans la théologie juive de moyen âge (1957), passim; I. Tishby, Mishnat ha-Zohar, 2 (1961), 289ff.; E. Gottlieb, in: Proceedings of the Fourth World Congress for Jewish Studies, 2 (1968), 203 (English section), and 327–334 (Hebrew section); G. Scholem, Ursprung und Anfange der Kabbala (1962), 265–71 and passim. add. bibliography: M. Idel, Kabbalah: New Perspectives (1988), 35–58; idem, Studies in Ecstatic Kabbalah (1988), 1–32; idem, The Mystical Experience in Abraham Abulafia (1988), 124–34; M. Pachter, Roots of Faith and Devekut (2004), 235–316.