Question & Answer With Space Cadet - Davening In An Open Area
A Simple Jew asks:
Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 18:8 states, "One should not pray in an open area such as a field because when a person is in a private area, such as an enclosed space, the awe of the King comes over him, and his heart is broken and submissive. However, if he is travelling he is permitted to pray in a field; but if he can, he should pray among the trees."
How does your inner hermit relate to this halacha?
Space Cadet responds:
My "inner hermit" has no problem. It is my "outer hermit" that must come to grips with this halakha (which is actually stated in the Gemara in Berachos). Personally, I find that standing under an open sky arouses my feelings of awe toward the Infinite. It also creates a certain psychological spaciousness, which can put me in touch with the "space" surrounding the mental clamor of my busy thoughts and feelings. Chazal don't seem to be addressing this, but are more concerned that one who is standing in prayer might feel a certain arrogance if there were nothing physically over him to remind him of God's watchfulness.
Maybe this reflects the difference between prayer as scripturally mandated -- when we are in trouble and call out to God for help -- and prayer as understood by the Jewish mystics, as a way of communing with Hashem and ultimately experiencing deveykus. Feeling a physical presence over one's head, be it green and leafy or painted white and decorated with flourescent lights, is a lot less abstract than the mystery of the seemingly endless heavens. Despite the Rambam, maybe we need to "corporealize" G-d ever so subtly in order to set up a dialogue. Because we are human and mugbal and don't really know how to "converse" with the Creator, who is by definition bli gevul and totally beyond us.
I have gone out to the fields to do hisbodedus with the Breslover Chassidim several times, and seen that people are not particular to look for trees to stand under, unless they are readily available. Maybe this is because the halachah is not so strict about this, as your quote from the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch indicates. But it might also be that while hisbodedus tends to combine both types of prayer, personal and mystical, it leans toward the mystical -- at least the way Reb Nachman describes it in Likutey Moharan I, 52 ("HaNeor BaLaylah"). We're supposed to purge our inner being of all feelings and evil passions and ultimately even the least trace of ego in order to attain the realization Reb Nachman says awaits us after all this: that everything is an expression of the Mechuyav HaMetziyus -- G-d -- including what a moment ago we took to be "ourselves." This isn't the same thing as regular tefillah, when we are supplicating G-d about one problem or another.
Aside from this, maybe we could say that by using the Rebbe's teachings as guidance for our prayers during hisbodedus, he is the "big tree" we're standing under. In that case, there's no problem from either point of view!