Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Art of Prayer


Translated by Aryeh Kaplan from “
Rabbi Nachman’s Wisdom” (Breslov Research Institute) / Sichos HaRan 75
© 1973 The Breslov Research Institute

The Rebbe constantly told us to force ourselves to pray with devotion, strongly binding our thoughts to each word. He said that true devotion is listening very carefully to the words you are saying.

The Rebbe had told many of his disciples to study the Kabbalistic writings of the Ari. But even they were not advised to follow the Kabbalistic meditations (kavanos) found in these works.

He said that perfect prayer is the plain meaning of such words as Baruch Atah Hashem —”Blessed are You, G d.” Devotion is concentrating on the meaning of the words and listening to them carefully.

The Rebbe would ridicule those who said that one should not force himself to pray. He advised us very strongly to pray with all our might, putting all our strength into each letter of the service.

He also instructed us to ignore all disturbing thoughts during worship. His advice was that we merely pray correctly, disregarding all distractions. He said that we should turn our minds away from all such thoughts completely.

The Rebbe also said that it might be impossible to go through the entire service with proper devotion. Still, each person can say a small portion with true feeling.

We see this all the time. One person might have deep feelings while saying the Ketores, the prayers in place of the Incense Offering. Another might pray best during the Pesukey DeZimra, the opening psalms.

I once saw a lesson regarding this in the Rebbe’s writings. It was never copied,[1] and I can only report what I remember. The Tikkuney Zohar states that there are masters of the hands and masters of the feet.[2] There is a transcendental counterpart of the human body, and each of its limbs corresponds to a portion of the service. Each person is also associated with a particular limb. When he comes to the part of the service pertaining to his limb, he is aroused to great devotion.

You may sometimes pray with great devotion. Then the feeling departs, and the words begin to seem empty. Do not be discouraged, for you have merely left your area in the transcendental form. Continue the service, saying each word in absolute simplicity.

Sometimes you will try very hard and still not be able to pray. But never become discouraged. This is the most important rule of all. Force yourself to say each word of the service. Make believe that you are a child just learning to read and simply say the words. In most cases, G d will then touch your heart with a flame and it will be aroused to pray with feeling.

Do not make a test of this. For deep inside, you are very far from prayer.

Prayer is very high. It is even above the study of Torah. How can you be worthy of serving G d in such a lofty manner?

Do your part. Simply begin the words of the service, Adon Olom Asher Malach, ”Lord of the world, who was King. . .” Listen to every word you say. Concentrate and do not let your thoughts stray. Simply keep your mind on the words of the service. Follow the order of the service, even without feeling. Continue word by word, page by page, until G d helps you achieve a feeling of devotion. Even if you complete the entire service without feeling, it is not the end. You can still say a Psalm. There are other prayers to be said.[3]

In general, you must force yourself to do every holy task with all your might. This is especially true of prayer. If you are not worthy, it is still forbidden to become discouraged. Be strong and cheer yourself as much as possible. This is discussed widely in the Rebbe’s published works.[4]

Pray in happiness, with a joyful tune.

Put yourself into a cheerful mood before you begin your worship. Seek out your good points, using them to bring joy to your prayers. This is discussed in Likutey Moharan, on the verse (Psalms 146:2): “I will sing to G d (azamra) while I have my being.”[5] The Rebbe’s teachings regarding prayer are very extensive, and can only be outlined here. If you are intelligent, you will understand the main points. Ponder this well, for it contains awesome advice, and is full of truth and sincerity.

Look further in the Rebbe’s lessons on the, verse (Exodus 15:5), “Deep waters covered them,” and on (Genesis 6:16), “A light you shall make for the ark,” appearing in chapters 9 and 112 of Likutey Moharan. Open your eyes and contemplate these lessons well.[6]

In these lessons the Rebbe says that the main thing is truth.

You may be distracted during your devotions, but grasp onto truth.

No matter what your level, you can speak the simple truth in your prayers.

Consider the Rebbe’s words, and you will certainly be Worthy of true prayer. It is an important rule in all devotion.

The Tikkuney Zohar speaks of “hands writing secrets.”[7] We once heard that the Rebbe said that these are the motions one makes during prayer.

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[1] A number of the Rebbe’s writings were destroyed at his express command. There was the Sefer HaNisraf (The Burned Book) which he ordered Reb Shimon to burn shortly before Pesach 5568 (1808), while the Rebbe was convalescing in Lemberg; Chayei Moharan 36b (#3); Yemey Moharnat 34b. There was also a chest of unpublished manuscripts that he ordered to be burned by Reb Shimon and Rabbi Naftali immediately after his passing, ibid. 40b.
[2] Cf. Tikkuney Zohar, Tikkun 18.
[3] Sichos Moharan 30a (#62).
[4] Likutey Moharan II, 48.
[5] Ibid. 282.
[6] Both of these lessons were given during the winter 5563. Lesson 112 was delivered at the beginning of the winter, while lesson 9 was revealed on Shabbos Shirah, 13 Shevat (Jan. 8. 1803), Chayei Moharan 4b (#3).
[7] Tikkuney Zohar 21 (44b); cf. Likutey Moharan II, 7:10.

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