Throughout history, humankind has strung, counted and worn beads not only as a form of religious devotion, but as an act of meditation to focus the mind, help solve problems, and dispel fear. The use of prayer beads is not a practice recently invented or introduced, but is archetypal in nature, and common to every major faith tradition. This is the third reflection on our path towards self-realization and virtue, meditating on the role of sacred beads in our prayer and faith.
Judaic practice focuses not on counting rosary beads like other religions, but on wearing the tefillin. The Jewish tefillin is cuboid leather boxes containing prayer straps, upon which are written the Commandments of God. The Jews literally bind the Commandments to themselves when they wrap the straps around their arm and head. This act demonstrates humility in serving God by disciplining and sublimating the desires of the heart, body and mind. The tefillin helps the worshiper to focus within, enabling a humble and uninterrupted contemplation.
Numerology in Judaism is greatly significant. Within the tefillin, the five hollow compartments for parchment inscriptions – four in the leather head box, one in the arm box – represents the number of senses which must be subdued to become closer to God.
When we sit in contemplative prayer and become more aware of our True Self, we see what the Jewish mystical thought holds; that God’s presence lies hidden inside every part of the physical universe. Residing within, transcending the moment and individual desires, and looking at oneself objectively with a view to rectifying mistakes are part of this way of experiencing the connectedness and sanctity of all forms of life.
St. John of the Cross