We saw previously that prayer is more than a wish list, but a tool for self-transformation. This tool can bring the desired outcome as a consequence of the rectifications we do, but it should never be dependent on it.
Most people associate prayer with Shacharit, Mincha and Ma’ariv, the three prayer sessions instituted by the sages. While this is correct, it’s definitely not the full picture. In fact, we still have the Tikkun Chatzot (rectification of midnight) and the practice of Hitbodedut ([prayer in] seclusion) which we will be speaking about today.
Origins of Hitbodedut
Hitbodedut is the type of prayer that one performs alone and usually in his own words and mother tongue. Ideally, it should be done in an isolated place like the woods, a beach or a desert where one can focus more properly but can be done anywhere clean really. There are barely any rules to doing Hitbodedut, except maybe do it in an uninterrupted time frame. Yet, many Rabbis, including Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, attest to the supreme importance of doing at least one hour, preferably at night.
While the concept of Hitbodeut was popularized in Breslov circles, its origins come much earlier, specifically from the Zohar. There, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai introduces the idea of the Mara D’Chushbana (the master of accounting). This refers to one who is constantly judging himself and he, therefore, has a special illumination and blessing, which can be attained by anyone who does this exercise.
Basically, during this time, one expresses his/her innermost feelings to Hashem, his/her failings, and hopes for the future. A person can praise Hashem, cry, laugh, dance, ask, clap his hands, request, and do pretty much what he feels like as long as its proper and directed to Him.
The concept of Judgments
The mechanism behind decisions made in Heaven is very complex indeed. Divine Providence is very difficult to understand but at the same time, Hashem gives us glimpses of what he expects us to do to gain favor, effectively changing our destinies.
We saw in previous articles that Hashem employs two main forces to manage His Creation. The first one is Chassadim (lovingkindness) and the second one is Gevurot (Strengths) or Dinim (Judgments). These two polar opposites complement one another and are essential to maintain the balance between pleasure and pain, reward and punishment, while still keeping our free will.
Contrary to popular belief, we are not meant to “eliminate” the Judgments, but rather to “sweeten” them. They are not “bad” per se, although, left unmitigated, they feed and empower the forces of evil. And, the Zohar teaches us, later expounded in detail by Rebbe Nachman of Breslov in Likutey Moharan, “the Judgments [Dinim] can only be mitigated at their source”. This is the fuel for elevating the female waters, generating the male waters in Heaven to affect a divine union and bring down the blessings we need in life. In other words, we need this judgment to elevate the fallen sparks below, and through this, we can effectively draw down abundance.
The effects of Hitbodedut
It’s written in the Tava’at HaRivash that the Ba’al Shem Tov used to say that the words of Hitbodedut are a form of Ruach HaKodesh (Divine Spirit), since it emanates from a state of Dvekut (bonding) with Hashem. Besides granting a person greater self-awareness, it has a powerful calming effect on a person, much like when one expresses himself to his psychologist.
The purpose of this is to achieve a mental state, more than a physical state, of self-isolation and bring one to true Teshuva. Teshuva is achieved when we are able to, by connecting to Hashem in a most intimate way, we elevate our fallen sparks to their source. These sparks contain the judgments inside us, which are often preventing us from achieving our rectified state.
Our sages teach us in the Midrash Rabba (Devarim 5:5) a fascinating lesson that “when Judgment (din) is done below, it is not done above, and when Judgment is not done below, it is done above”. On a macrocosmic level, it refers to the Sanhedrin and courts of Law, which must uphold Justice based on the truth of the Torah. When this happens, peace comes to the world, and Hashem’s court is “dismissed”. However, when the judges are corrupt or simply ignore the cases, then Hashem’s court is called to intervene, and that’s when calamities strike Creation.
Rebbe Nachman of Breslov teaches us that the same thing happens on an individual level: when a person judges himself constantly, then there’s no need for other judgments from Above to come to his life. In other words, his suffering is alleviated. And the opposite happens when a person does not judge himself.
Hitbodedut then becomes a wondrous tool to elevate us and sweeten the judgments and, in a way, this is what Hashem expects of us. Start it out for 5 minutes every day, then 10, and eventually you will become a true Mara D’Chushbena!
May all your prayers be elevated and have a wonderful Chag HaSukkot!
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