Monday, December 27, 2010

Hisbodedus: The Divine Conversation

Photo © Dovid Sears

Selections From “Rabbi Nachman's Advice” (Likutei Eitzot)
Translator: Rabbi Avraham Greenbaum
Breslov Research Institute

To taste the hidden light of Torah, the secrets which will be revealed in time to come, you should seclude yourself as much as you can to pray and speak to God. Take a good look at yourself and make a reckoning. What are you doing with your life? How is your time spent? Is this the right way to spend your life - to behave as you do before the Holy One, blessed be He, who bestows goodness upon you every moment of the day? Weigh all the different aspects of your life very carefully. If you make yourself the judge over everything you are doing, you will be able to rid yourself of all fears and worries. You will never be afraid of earthly powers - princes or rulers, wild beasts, robbers or the like. Nothing in the world will frighten you. Only before God will you stand in fear and reverence. This is the way to elevate the fear that is within you to its true root, which is in Da'at,understanding. You will attain perfect knowledge, because you will know before Whom to stand in awe: God alone, in His greatness and glory. Then you will be able to understand the revealed Torah and you will attain genuine humility. You will learn how to put your whole soul into your prayers. All sense of self and physical being will be totally nullified as you pray, and you will be able to pray without any thought of personal gain. When you reach the point where your sense of self and physicality totally disappear, as if you were simply not in the world at all, then you will discover the hidden secrets of the Torah. This is the concealed light that is destined to be revealed in time to come. All this you can achieve through hisbodedus, secluded prayer (15).

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When a person meditates and speaks to God, the very words he speaks are ruach hakodesh, the holy spirit. As soon as a person makes this meditation a regular practice and prepares himself, indeed forces himself to speak to God, then God Himself sends the words to his mouth.

Make sure that the words you say are always new and fresh. Search out new ways to appeal to God. Always choose words that will find favor. Purify your heart by devoting your mind to thoughts of Torah and holiness, and then you will find the right way to meditate and speak to God (21, 156).

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Letters of Torah are present throughout the Creation. By expressing your yearning and desire in words, you invest these letters with strength for good. You give new life and strength to everything, drawing goodness and blessing into all the worlds. Numberless souls are stirred to make their own return to God, all through the words of the prayer you utter before your Maker. How precious are the longing and yearning which you express before God. The main thing is actually to pronounce the words. Make a regular practice of this and spend a lot of time each day working on it. It will help the whole world (31:8,9).

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Everyone must strive to be totally merged with the Source of his being. To achieve this requires bittul, self nullification. The only way to attain bittul is through secluded prayer with God. When a person goes aside to converse with God, he nullifies everything else and attaches himself only to God. In this way he becomes merged with his Source (52).

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The best time to seclude yourself to pray is at night, when everyone is asleep. Ideally you should go to a place outside the city and follow a solitary path, somewhere that people don't go even in the day time. Empty your heart and your whole consciousness of all your involvements in the everyday world. Then work to nullify all of your character traits, one after the other, until in the end you nullify all sense of self completely. First work on one character trait, then another and another, until you reach the point where you are free of any self-centeredness and any sense of independent existence. You must be as nothing in your own eyes. Then you will be worthy of attaining true bittul, and your soul will be merged with its root. The whole universe will be merged with you in your Source. You and everything with you will be merged in the Unity of God (Ibid.).

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The ideal time for hisbodedus is at night: seclude yourself and express yourself before God. Speak with all your heart and search out the goodness of your soul. Find the good points which are within you and cleanse them of all the evil in the soul until you pour out your heart like water before God. This is the way to attain true joy and to subdue the power of fantasy, which is the source of all lust and desire. Through this you can acquire a good memory - which means always to remember the World to Come and never to lose sight of the end purpose of this life and its ultimate destiny. This is how you can return to God (54).

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A person may be praying with great intensity or at the height of meditation, when suddenly he falls from his level. This is because somewhere there is a flaw in his faith. He should feel heartbroken and ashamed. How could he fall from heaven to earth? He should arouse tender pity for himself because of his plight. He should literally sigh! This sigh will bring him back to his level (108).

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When a person speaks to God and uses every kind of argument and appeal to "conquer" God, then God Himself has great joy and pleasure. He Himself sends words to this person's mouth so that he will be able to "conquer" Him. How else could flesh and blood win a victory against God? It is only because God Himself helps him (124).

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When a person speaks to God and pours out his pain and anguish, confessing his sins and grieving at the enormity of what he has done, the Shechinah (i.e., the immanent Divine Presence) herself rises before God and pours out her pain and sorrow. Because every flaw in the soul of man is also a "flaw" in the Shechinah. And the Shechinah will seek to bring him comfort and devise ways and means of repairing the damage (259).

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How good it is to pray to God and meditate in the meadows amidst the grass and the trees. When a man goes out to the meadows to pray, every blade of grass, every plant and flower enter his prayers and help him, putting strength and force into his words (Ibid. II, 11).

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It has already been explained how important it is to seclude yourself and pray, and how powerful a method this is. It is the path by which we can come close to God. Everybody should set aside fixed periods every day and express himself before God in his own native language. It is much easier to say what you need to say when you are using your own language. You should set forth whatever is in your heart. Use every kind of appeal and argument. Use words that will endear you to God and win His favor. Plead with Him to draw you closer. Every individual knows his own personal pain and sorrow and the distance that separates him from God. It is impossible to convey the true greatness of this method. It is superior to all others. It is the way of serving God, and through following it everyone can attain the ultimate good in this world and in the World to Come. There is nothing that cannot be accomplished by prayer and entreaty. The greatest of the Tzaddikim achieved what they did only through this practice. Think about it carefully, and you will see the greatness of this path. Set aside one hour every day for this, and the rest of the day, be happy. Then you will be truly blessed (25).

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It is good to turn the Torah that you learn into prayers (Ibid.).

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It is true that weeping and crying are good when you plead and entreat before God. But don't fall into the trap of saying psalms and prayers with the constant thought and expectation that you are going to burst into tears and cry. It will only confuse you and prevent you from concentrating. The most important thing is to say what you are saying honestly and with all your heart. Let your ears hear and your heart attend to the words which your lips are uttering. If you are moved to cry, good. If not, don't be distracted because of this (95).

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All the tzaddikim and all of the truly righteous attained what they did only through secluded prayer and meditation. This practice has never been more necessary than in our age, situated as we are at the end of the period of the exile, subject to the full force of the evil inclination and the forces of the Sitra Achra, the Other Side. People are weak, spiritually and physically. The only way to escape from the power of the evil inclination and all the other obstacles holding us back from God is to follow this practice determinedly and make a fixed time every day to talk to God in our own native language. Be totally honest and open your heart before God, whether to beg for forgiveness for what happened in the past or to appeal to God to help you in the future by releasing you from the traps you are caught in and drawing you closer to Him. Even if you find you are unable to express yourself before God, even if you can say no more than a single word, this is still good. Even if you can say nothing except "Master of the Universe" it is also good. The mere fact that you make an effort, that you prepare yourself to speak, that you feel a longing to speak - even if you find you can say nothing – all this is very precious in God's eyes. If you are determined and persistent and you make yourself speak before God, in time God will help you and then you will be able to express yourself with words filled with vitality, freshness and grace. Your words will bring blessings down from the Heavens and you will attain' true and enduring good. This is the path to serving God, because all the different ways of serving God require prayers and appeals to God if we are to accomplish them well. If you remain firm in 'following this path you will be blessed indeed. Small or great, no one can serve God honestly and truthfully except through hisbodedus, secluded prayer (25, 100).

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Even when you feel your heart is not in what you are saying, don't let this discourage you. Persevere, and you will usually find that in the end your heart will be aroused and the words will flow from you with genuine fervor. Speech has tremendous power to arouse a person's heart. And even if the days and years pass by and you think that all your words and meditation have accomplished 'nothing, don't let yourself be thrown off course. "Me words have left their mark. There is no doubt about it. It is the same as when water is dripping on to a stone. It may seem as though mere water is incapable of having any effect at all on the hard stone. Certainly the effects of the water are not visible. But if the water continues dripping for a long time without interruption you can see for yourself that it will wear a hollow in the stone. The same is true of the heart, even when the heart is as hard as stone. The words and the prayers may all appear to have no effect. But with the passing of many days and years the heart will be worn away by the words.

When a person is meditating, it is a good thing to say: "Today I am justbeginning to attach myself to You." You should always make a fresh start, because every activity is greatly influenced by the way you start it. In the words of the popular saying: "Starting is half the battle" and this way you can never lose. If things were going well before, now they will go even better. And if God forbid they were not going well before, then in any case you would have had to make a new start! (Rabbi Nachman's Wisdom 234).

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When you speak to God you should arouse your heart to the point where your soul all but flies out of you. This is true prayer (Likutey Moharan 11, 99).

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When God helps you to pray you will be able to express yourself before Him in the same way that a person speaks to a friend. You should get into the habit of talking to God like this - as if you were speaking to your teacher or your friend. For God is close by. He can be found everywhere. The whole earth is full of His glory (Ibid.).

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How good it is if you can pour out your prayer before God like a child complaining and pestering his father. And it is good if you can stir your heart so much with your words that the tears literally pour down your cheeks, like a child crying to his father (Rabbi Nachman's Wisdom 7).

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It is possible for you to scream in a "still small voice" (Kings 19:12) without anyone in the world hearing you. Not a sound emerges from your lips. You just imagine in detail exactly how you would scream (Ibid. 16).

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A broken heart is precious indeed. You should understand that a broken heart has nothing to do with depression. When a person is depressed it is a form of anger and irritation. But someone with a broken heart is like a child nagging his father or a baby crying and screaming because his father is far away. A broken heart is precious in God's eyes. It would be good if one could go through the whole day with a broken heart. But this would easily lead the majority of people to fall into depression, and depression is very destructive. Therefore, the best thing is to set aside a certain period each day to pray with a broken heart and then spend the rest of the day in joy.

© Breslov Research Institute

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