Question & Answer With Rabbi Micha Golshevsky - Tapping Into Deveykus
A Simple Jew asks:
Does Rav Itche Meyer Morgenstern have any advice on how to turn on to daven with deveykus from a siddur in a minyan if a person is uninitiated into the kavannos of the Arizal? As an example, the peirush Keser Nehora from the Berditchever Siddur gives one all sorts of "cues" about ahavah ve-yirah but provides little guidance how to tap into these religious emotions aside from instructing us to concentrate on these concepts.
Rabbi Micha Golshevsky answers:
It was Purim a few years ago and I was at Rav Morgenstern's table when a few bochurim from Ohr Sameach arrived and asked him to say something in English. I will always remember his words to them: "Now that Artscroll had produced a full Shas in English, there are no excuses. We must fulfill the dictum of shivisi Hashem l'negdi samid. Every person must be 'thinking in learning' at all times. This just takes some perseverance. As you get used to it, it gets easier. For someone who understands the deeper meaning of things, everything he encounters immediately recalls to his mind to dveikus to Hashem. This person merely needs to have an interest in thinking about Hashem. For the uninitiated this takes much more effort but it is our obligation…"
But I did ask Rav Morgenstern your question. It was only at around one in the morning that I was finally ushered into his study. The first thing we discussed was your question and my own tentative take on it. I said, "Virtually every one of the shiurim I have translated emphasizes a different path to forge a closer relationship with Hashem while davening (or doing anything else for that matter). The shiurim definitely enable even the uninitiated into the kavanos of the Arizal to daven with greater dveikus. When one learns the avodah that underlies the Torah of the Arizal, it purifies a person so that he can more easily draw ever nearer during davening or anytime, whether he focuses on the Arizal's kavanos or not. One who understands and focuses on what the kavanos mean starts to realize the very powerful effect every prayer has on the upper worlds. This realization engenders inspiration by its very nature. That is how the Magid explains why some learn the Arizal even if they don't think about the kavanos during davening. This learning flames one's heart to true dveikus since he starts to realize ad heichan hadevarim megi'im—what are the full ramifications of his actions!"
Rav Morgenstern answered, "People often make an error about this subject. Many don't realize that the main thing is the da'as. If one's da'as, on'e mind, is rectified, everything is easy. Rebbe Nachman says in Likutei Moharan I:5 that one has to guard his mind from the chametz of illicit thoughts, since it serves as the foundation of all impurity. This is why the Vilna Gaon writes that thought is part of the world of Asiyah, Action. When your da'as is rectified, your actions and ability to concentrate and connect during davening follows suit. This is a big focus in the Torah of the Rashash as well: correcting your thoughts."
Rebbe Nachman writes that mental confusion (which is often the echo of earlier thoughts and obsessions) tends to haunt us during davening, making it very hard to concentrate. So the first thing one has to do is to purify what he is thinking about during the day. I think what Rav Morgenstern said about one who understands a little regarding the deeper meaning of things is very telling. The more one learns deeper concepts and ideas correctly, the more he feels the imminence of Hashem in every experience. Surely this will help his davening as well.
I would like to cite two short excerpts from the Rav's shiur on Pikudei to show what I mean: "The first step… is prayer, especially Shemonah Esrei. One who feels the sweet taste of Shemonah Esrei to such an extent that every one he recites is a different and deeper experience will also find the deep reasons for all mitzvos. The ability to access the inner dimension of mitzvos depends on one's tefillos. Even one who knows the reasons behind the mitzvos can fulfill them with true dveikus only in the merit of prayer… One who toils to find the light while learning Torah is able to access the beauty of tefillah. Although tefillah is the source of connecting through Torah, the details of how to attain the light of connection to Hashem with dveikus can only be found in the Torah."
Many people, even those proficient in Hebrew with excellent learning skills and broad knowledge of Chassidus, fail abysmally when they try and learn the Arizal. One needs to have a lot of patience and humility when learning this Torah. You also need to concentrate on connecting to Hashem through the learning. It is important to know that it will take a while for everything to fit together, or to put it as Rav Morgenstern says so aptly, "You never start learning at the beginning in Kabbalah; you are always in the middle."
Rav Yitzchak Moshe Ehrlanger told us in a shiur once that in order to learn Kabbalah, one must be able to "hang" things until everything starts to fit together. For English speakers I recommend the summary "Reishis Chochmah" which can be found in English at the TrueKaballah.com website here. There are many other good resources there as well. For those who know Hebrew, the "Masok M'dvash"—"Otzros Chaim" is a good choice. Although there are many other paths to understanding, learning "Otzros" is the surest.
I would like to conclude with a story I heard from Rav Ehrlinger, "In shiurim, there are always those people who don't "get it" They ask questions that are irrelevant and are obviously not progressing towards understanding the Arizal's deep Torah. Once I had such a person in my weekly shiur for a while. He missed a shiur and I figured he may have given up as many such people do. However, the next week he was back. To my delighted surprise he was completely changed. I couldn't believe it! Every question was right on target. He was obviously getting it in a meaningful way. Although I never pry, I couldn't resist asking what the source of his newfound understanding was. His answer revealed a very important yesod in succeeding in unlocking the deep Torah of the Arizal.
"He said, 'I saw that I just was not getting it and I didn't know what to do. I decided to take a weekend off and go to Meron to spend the entire Shabbos tearfully begging Hashem to let me grasp the pure Torah of the Arizal in the merit of the holy Rashbi. I guess my prayers were answered…"