Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Secretly a Chossid

I am not a mystic. I don't really buy into chassidus, kabbalah, or tzaddikim. However, on Friday nights I have an opportunity to walk back from shul by myself. It is a good twenty minute walk back to my house. I usually walk alone. And I usually talk to G-d.

I don't like organized prayer. A long time ago, there was a dispute among the Sages about whether prayer should be set into a rigid structure or left to each individual. The rigid structure opinion won the day, for many valid reasons. But it doesn't do it for me. The walk does.

There is a concept in Chassidus called hisbodedus, seclusion. Rabbi Nachman of Breslov believed that it was a key aspect of connecting to G-d. I truly believe he was onto something. Here's what he had to say:

The only way to return to the roots of one's being and merge in the unity of God is through nullifying the self. One has to efface the self completely until one becomes wholly merged in God's unity. The only way to achieve this state of self-transcendence is through hitbodedut. By secluding oneself and giving voice to one's inner thoughts in the form of personal prayers to God, one is able to remove all negative traits and cravings to the point that one nullifies all materialism in oneself. Then one is able to become merged in the Source.

True hitbodedut is practiced in the depths of night, at an hour when everyone is free from their toil in the material world. During the day people are so busy chasing after the material world that it distracts the spiritual seeker from attaching himself to God. Even if he personally is quite detached from the material world, the mere fact that everyone else is then busy chasing after the vanity of the world makes it very difficult to attain self-transcendence at such a time.

Hitbodedut must also be practiced in a special place outside the city on a "solitary path" (Avot 3:5) in a place where no-one goes. For in a place where in the daytime hours people are busy chasing after the vanity of the world, even though they may not be there at this hour, it is still a distraction from hitbodedut, making it impossible for the spiritual seeker to attain the state of total communion with God.

For this reason it is necessary to go alone at night on a solitary path to a place where no one goes even by day. There one should seclude oneself and empty one's heart and mind of all worldly involvements until one attains the state of true self-transcendence and communion.

Likutey Moharan I, 52


Blogger Shoshana said...

It's interesting to me that the way to nullify one's self is through being by yourself, focusing on noone else but you.

I do agree with you though. While I do have my moments when in shul, I feel my more spiritual and strong connections with Hashem are while speaking to him personally and alone.

June 01, 2006 5:09 AM  
Anonymous ליטוואק said...

FYI, there is also a non-Hassidic tradition of hisbodedus too, however, it is not that well-known today it seems (actually the Hassidic one doesn't seem too popular either among the masses). Spirituality in Judaism is not the sole province of Hassidisim, contrary to what some may want you to believe.

A general comment re the decline of hisbodedus - I think the great changes in Jewish life, esp. over the last century or so, when so many Jews moved from small towns (shtetlech) to large urban areas, has negatively impacted on hisbodedus, as 1) it's harder to find a nearby place where you can find solitude in such an area, 2) urbanites might be afraid of being alone in the forest, esp. at night, not being comfortable in nature, or having the survival skills of their forefathers. This great urbanization of course is not limited to Jews, it's part of a greater world shift in that direction.

June 01, 2006 12:37 PM  

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