Tuesday, July 15, 2008

There But Not Really There

The Degel Machaneh Ephraim taught that a person must have two abilities if he wants to be able to serve Hashem in absolute truth. First, a person must have the ability to visualize that he is alone in the world with only his Creator. Second, he must be able to join himself to all of Hashem's creations, no matter how big or small, and to all the neshamos of His people.

Back in the days when I was first learning how to daven from a siddur, I often wondered if it would be preferable for me to daven alone so I could better focus on the purpose of what I was doing and not to be distracted by others. Understanding that the halacha clearly says that a person must daven with a minyan, I did not attempt to stubbornly supplant my personal inclinations for Hashem's expressed command. It would take some mind-bending and highly-creative pilpul to be able to misinterpret the Gemara's statement [Yerushalmi - Berachos 5:1], "When one davens at home, it is as if he is surrounded with walls of iron."

While I wrote about a successful three-part strategy that I employed for the Rosh Hashana davening two years ago, it hasn't been until very recently that I started following this strategy on a regular basis. I now attempt to keep the Degel's teaching in mind and imagine that I am alone with the Ribbono shel Olam when I am davening in shul; rarely looking up from the letters printed in the siddur and continually reminding myself that He is listening and knows the intention of my heart.

I have also tried to keep in mind Reb Nosson of Breslov's teaching from Likutey Halachos that a person can transcend place and time by attaching himself to Hashem since He is above place and time. Bringing this idea down into practical application, whether I am on public transportation saying Tehilllim, saying Birkas Hamazon at a restaurant, or davening in a crowded shul, I imagine that I am all alone in another location where I would find it easiest serve Hashem at that very moment.

Following the Degel's advice to be there but not really there at certain times has helped me immensely. The locations I imagine routinely change, and my connection to the Ribbono shel Olam slowly seems to be growing stronger.

מצוה גוררת מצוה וקדושה גוררת קדושה


At July 15, 2008 at 7:32:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great Post ! ASJ, thanks for raising this issue... I also often think that davening in mynian is meanlingless whereas davening alone and in lenght is much more spiritual... Despite the halacha... Thanks for all your insights, keep it on !

At July 15, 2008 at 10:17:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

beautiful. yishar koach. written b'tuv ta'am voda'as.

At July 15, 2008 at 12:54:00 PM EDT, Blogger AS said...

Excellent great insights! Good strategies too

At July 15, 2008 at 1:37:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

About sixteen or seventeen years ago, I worked as a writer for the Bostoner Rebbe of NY's newly-formed mosdos (which entailed all sorts of writing, from "thank you" letters to historical essays in their annual dinner journal to editing translations of Divrei Torah by the Rebbe).

Once I took up this subject with him -- the problem of davening in a minyan and trying to feeling alone with Hashem. He advised me to imagine that I was standing near my favorite tree in the forest; and when I really felt that I was there, to daven the seder ha-tefillah, even though I was physically still in shul.

So your strategy surely is legitimate!

However, in a related vein, one of my chaveirim once complained to our teacher, Rav Kenig of Tzefas, that he sometimes felt overwhelmed by the throngs of people in Uman on Rosh Hashanah and found it hard to daven in the main shul. (Most people I have spoken with have the opposite experience, but this is how my friend felt.)

Rav Kenig told him, with a slight tone of surprise, "The davening there is so beautiful! Just let go of yourself and experience the hiskallelus -- the unification of the multitude into one harmonious whole!"

At July 15, 2008 at 3:31:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Beautiful, inspiring and great advice for tomorrow's minyan. Sh'Koach ASJ!!! :)
-David, 22

At July 15, 2008 at 4:50:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The walls of iron can be made into partitions of silk. A useful suggestion is to imagine that you are surrounded by a tall box that is open in front of your face forward and above. Thus, you are both separated and connected to the tzibbur at the same time. After meditating on that image, it becomes easier to be alone with Hashem and others.

..it also helps to tune out people talking of otherwise engaged near you, during davening.

Another useful technique is 'makom kavua". This becomes your place and also helps to be separate but connected at the same time.

At July 15, 2008 at 6:21:00 PM EDT, Blogger Neil Harris said...

You should continue to be matzliach! Awesome post.

At July 15, 2008 at 11:44:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

thanks, it was great when you said, if you want to transcend time and place then connect to H" who transcends time and place!

At July 15, 2008 at 11:49:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

ok, ok. i know what the halacha says...but doesn't also say that if you daven at home and you are 'with the minyan' you are still 'with them'?

but actually: for me, even tho thankfully i can do amidah pretty fast, i really don't like to rush through the prayers.

minyan davening can be a discouragement for me because of this. people walk in, rip through it and it's done. yuck.

sometimes,like on a shabbos, it can feel better, because there's more singing!

but regular mincha/maariv?

i wish they'd sing at those too.

At July 16, 2008 at 2:20:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

sometimes when i'm davening in shul and am really really deep into the shmone esrei, a vision comes to me of a tremendous fire ascending from each person in the shul, coming together and ascening as one huge fire up to shamayim! extremely poerwful!

At July 16, 2008 at 6:32:00 AM EDT, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

Thank you all so much for the feedback on this posting!


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