Guest Posting By A Talmid - Alone With Hashem
Last year, I wrote about “The Bitul of the Degel Machaneh Ephraim”. I would recommend reading it first since I reference it many times in the following paragraphs that show what I learnt from last years article.
There are many great seforim that we learn from. Those that really teach us how to be better must have been written by someone who was able to fulfill what he was teaching. This is perhaps what gives the sefer the strength to influence us for the good. This came to mind after writing my post on the Degel last year. I had often looked through the sefer, but until now had never really appreciated the great lessons that are found throughout this sefer. It is not for naught that Degel Machaneh Ephraim is one of the most respected seforim of the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov.
There are at least 4 different times that the Degel mentions the teaching of Reb Nachman Horedenker on the verse: וְאִישׁ לֹא-יַעֲלֶה עִמָּךְ וְגַם-אִישׁ אַל-יֵרָא בְּכָל-הָהָר - “No man shall go up with you, and also no man shall be seen throughout the mountain” (Shemos 34:3). We can learn out from this that when one wants to serve Hashem, he needs to imagine as if there is no one else in the world but himself. The Degel then uses this teaching to explain several other verses. My feeling is that the reason why the Degel mentions this teaching so often, and he found ways to explain other verses with this, must have been because this was a teaching that he took to heart and constantly worked on. It wasn’t just another “subject” and then on to the next. Rather, “bitul” was a teaching that was in his blood, and, therefore, he would often see this teaching brought out in other places. Bitul is something that we need at all times, whether we’re praying, learning, eating, playing, etc.
Another teaching he mentions many times is what it says in the paragraph titled “Parshas Bo”. He also writes about this in Beshalach, Tazria and Acharei Mos. All these things are connected to “Bitul” and seem to support what I wrote about in the last paragraph, “Praise of the Degel”. Now, the Degel doesn’t need my stamp of approval. The only reason I’m mentioning this is that I reasoned that he kept on mentioning these teachings because we need to be constantly reminded of them. I therefore decided that I would try to work on the items I wrote about.
The words of the Degel and Likutei Moharan, about one imagining there is no one else around while davening to Hashem, were on my mind for much of the day. I tried to put the teaching into practice. When I daven Shemona Esrei, I try to block out any outside noise and imagine that I am talking privately to Hashem (which we really are doing, but don’t always internalize it). Many times I will find that the fellow davening next to me is davening so loud that I can hear every word. (Exactly what Likutei Moharan and other seforim hakedoshim say should not be done.) My first reaction is to think what a fool he is and how annoying it is, but then I realize that this is no way to think about another Jew. This is besides the fact that the Arizal says to say before davening: “hareini mekabel alai mitzvas asei shel ve’ahavta l’reiacha komocha”. Although you need 10 people for a minyan, there is a great difference if those 10 people like or dislike each other. If they dislike each other, technically you still have a minyan, but it obviously is not what a minyan is supposed to be.
In Likutei Moharan 281 it says that even a simple person can learn things out of a sefer that the author never intended. Reb Yisroel Dov of Velednik (Shearis Yisroel, Drush l”Succos al pi Pardes) based on the Baal Shem Tov says that even later seforim can be interpreted with “PaRDeS” (4 different methods of interpreting Torah: Pshat – simple explanation, Remez – allusions, Drush – expounding, Sod – secrets) This I put into practice in the following way. The Degel and Likutei Moharan said that you should not hear anyone else while davening and that it should be as if there is no one else there. This, based on my own extrapolation, is on a physical level; if I can daven without anyone praying loudly around me this works. However, if I hear others around me, instead of getting annoyed (definitely a bad trait), I have to interpret the teaching in the following way. Klal Yisroel is all one, like it says when we accepted the Torah “like one man with one heart”. Instead of getting annoyed at the noisy davener, I try to have in mind that there really is no one else there, because we aren’t separate people. My noisy neighbor and I, together with all of Klal Yisroel, are all part of one neshama. There really is no one else, since we are all one. In this way I come to like the noisy davener instead of getting annoyed at him. Additionally, I have noticed, that since I’m not distracting myself by being annoyed at the noisy davener is, I can concentrate better on trying to imagine myself as being in a private audience with Hashem. (This reminds me of what Rav Eliyahu Chaim Rosen said about hearing someone alse clapping during davening. If it bothers you, it’s a sign for you to concentrate more.)
Also, I have become more aware of the times we say in davening “Ein Od”, such as when we take out the Sefer Torah and say “Atah Horeisa” and in Aleinu we say “Ein Od”. On Shabbos and Yom Tov by Nishmas, we also make mention of this concept. All of a sudden parts of davening are coming alive. I am more cognizant of “there is no other but Hashem” that is in so many places that I usually blow right past without thinking about what I’m saying. Before I start Shemona Esrei, I try to imagine that I am in the Kodesh Hakodoshim (as outlined in Shulchon Aruch) with a private audience with Hashem, but that on a spiritual level I just a part of the “one person” that is Klal Yisroel. This helps me have in mind that I am davening for every member of Klal Yisroel and not just for myself and my family.
This might not sound like much, but the difference is night and day. The davening is not the same davening. Don’t think I’m fooling myself. I know that I have a long way to go (a very, very long way, to say the least), but at the same time I feel that I have come a long way. One has to realize when he has improved, but at the same time not be satisfied and keep on striving, realizing that there is no limit to how much we have to accomplish. Trying to live with “Bitul” makes life a lot easier, when you acknowledge that you aren’t in control and there is nothing else but Hashem.
Reb Chaim of Volozhin (Nefesh HaChaim 3, 12) says it is an "Inyan Gadol V'Segula Niflah" to erase and cancel "harsh judgements" if one implants in his heart that Hashem is the True G-d and אֵין עוֹד מִלְּבַדּוֹ (Devarim 4:35) – there is no power except for Hashem. If one does this, Hashem may help him through "natural" means are supernatural means, as the Gemara (Taanis 25a) says that Rebbi Chanina ben Dosa wife didn't have oil to light the Shabbos candles, but had vinegar, which miraculously stayed lit, to which he said: "the One who tells the oil also told the vinegar to burn".
It is well known that the Brisker Rov, a descendant of Reb Chaim Volozhiner, through concentrating on the words "Ein Od Milvado" was able to escape the Nazis in this manner. Only when he lost his concentration was he noticed by the Nazis. As soon as he regained his concentration, he turned "invisible" again and managed to escape to Eretz Yisroel.
The Degel says that when serving Hashem, it should be as if there is no one else but you and Hashem. I understand this as being the same as what the Nefesh HaChaim is saying. “Nobody else” in the Degel can mean absolutely nothing else – no other person, power or thing - only Hashem. We need to realize that there is nothing else that can affect us. Although everything seems so “real”, they are just messengers of Hashem, therefore we need to internalize that we have no one to rely on, but Hashem. Also, mentioned was the concept of Hashem being "One", which is the letter "Aleph" and also stands for "Alufo Shel Olam". There is a fascinating connection here. The letter "Aleph" spelled out in Hebrew is אלף, which has a numerical value of 111. The first letters of א׳ֵין ע׳וֹד מִ׳לְּבַדּו also equal 111. And of course we have a mitzvah d’oraisa to say twice daily שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל ד׳ אֱלֹקֵינוּ ד׳ אֶחָד, Hashem is One. He is One and there is no other.
What I realize is that every “little” item in every sefer is not just for intellectual purposes. It is meant to be put into action, enabling anyone to become a better Jew. Also, I realize that just as the Degel brought down certain teachings in multiple places to let us know that they need constant review. I had learnt many of these before, but only after spending several days putting together my article last year, which forced me to constantly review these teachings, did I really try to give serious effort to these teachings. If we try to work on our Avodah one step at a time, in a very short time we can climb to heights we thought were only attainable for others. Today on the yahrzeit of the Degel Machaneh Ephraim, may Hashem give us all the siyata d’shmaya to grow and attain our greatest potential.