Tag Archives: encounter

Crossing the Ford of the Jabbok

PrayingHear my prayer, O Lord, Give ear to my supplications! Answer me in Your faithfulness, in Your righteousness! And do not enter into judgment with Your servant, For in Your sight no man living is righteous. For the enemy has persecuted my soul; He has crushed my life to the ground; He has made me dwell in dark places, like those who have long been dead. Therefore my spirit is overwhelmed within me; My heart is appalled within me. I remember the days of old; I meditate on all Your doings; I muse on the work of Your hands. I stretch out my hands to You; My soul longs for You, as a parched land. Selah.

Psalm 143:1-6 (NASB)

Part of the Returning to the Tent of David series

This is the “flip side” to this morning’s meditation, The Christianization of Acts 15. Every couple of weeks or so, I have coffee and conversation with a friend who is smarter and wiser than I am. Certainly, his spirit is far closer to God than mine. I often tell him of my thoughts and feelings and he is direct and forthright in his response.

This is a continuation of my Returning to the Tent of David series since it has a direct connection to my reacquaintance with the church and how I have been conducting myself within its walls.

Apparently, I haven’t been doing so well.

I spend a fair amount of time expressing my point of view on this blog. I guess that’s OK since, after all, it is my blog, my platform for talking about my experiences as they occur. But I also air out my opinions of and frustrations with the church and its members on occasion. I commented to my friend that I felt my Sunday school teacher is rather dogmatic in how he presents his lessons. And the instant the words left my lips, I knew what he was going to say.

So am I, just with a different point of view.

I’ve been spending a lot of time presenting and expressing my opinions. But what about God? That is, who is expending the effort here and whose purpose is being served, mine or God’s? In my friend’s view, it’s the former, totally.

No, he isn’t being too hard on me and in fact, I have every reason to believe he speaks not only with an honest heart, but from the heart of God. I’ve been studying and using what I’ve learned as a sword or a club to “go after” those with whom I disagree, and without the slightest concern about God’s desires. I guess I assumed that if I was doing this, it must be what God wants, but that was arrogant presumption on my part. I never even considered the possibility that I wasn’t in the right spiritual frame from which to conduct such activities.

No, it doesn’t mean I’m going to stop going to church, attending Sunday school, or meeting with my Pastor (unless none of them will have me anymore). It does mean I need to take a step backward and start “preparing” for these actions in a different way.

Yes, studying the Bible is good. Studying intelligent and informative commentaries is good. But is it the mind and will of God that makes change, not the efforts of mere men.

There’s little doubt that my Pastor and I, in meeting together, are each trying to help the other change in a particular direction. Of course, I learn a great deal from these conversations, but I’m also hoping to impart something as well. But so far, I’m the only one doing the imparting. Has God been in my voice? Am I even aware of His presence in the Pastor’s office? For that matter, am I aware of God’s presence in the chapel during services or in the classroom during Sunday school?

Man aloneThe vast majority of the time, I must say “no.”

My friend keeps suggesting I “meditate” on the Bible, but the word “meditate” seems indistinct to me. He says it’s matter of considering a portion of scripture and mulling it over. What does it mean? What does it mean to me? What can it tell me about God and about myself? What scripture should I choose?

I meditate on all Your doings;
I muse on the work of Your hands.

I read books, including the Bible, as fast as I can, as if I’m in some sort of race to cover the maximum amount of territory in the least amount of time. I’m only mortal and my span on this sphere is exceptionally limited. God is infinite and forever. He can afford to take His time. After all, it is His time; He made it. Time exists only within His will and should He desire, time would cease to exist and scurry back to the nothingness from whence it came.

“In that day I will raise up the fallen booth of David,
And wall up its breaches;
I will also raise up its ruins
And rebuild it as in the days of old;
That they may possess the remnant of Edom
And all the nations who are called by My name,”
Declares the Lord who does this.

Amos 9:11-12 (NASB)

I keep coming back to these verses because they define my purpose within a “Hebraic” and “Messianic” context. I say “my purpose” but it’s really the purpose of any non-Jewish disciple of Messiah, “the nations who are called by My Name,” says the Lord. It’s the “job description” for Gentile disciples of the Jewish Messiah who perceive that they are operating within a Jewish religious and spiritual context and not necessarily inside of “goyishe Christianity.”

I’m not trying to be insulting, but consider who our King is and from where he will reign. Can there be any doubt that Moshiach our King is and will be King of Israel, King of the Jews, and only out of all that is he King of the World?

But I’m getting ahead of myself again. Humility is something I didn’t think far from my grasp, but a guess I am farther from its sheltering arms than I imagined. This isn’t my battle. I didn’t come here to fight. I came here to serve God. What an interesting thought, since it never occurred to me to say it that way before. I always thought, harkening back to Boaz’s book, that I returned to the church to help breach the gap between the traditional fundamental and evangelical perspective on Jesus, the Bible, and everything and how it all should be seen within the Jewish context, using Jewish terms, Hebrew language, and especially removing the paint from “Joseph’s” alien face (Genesis 45:4) to reveal the son of Jacob or more to the point, the son of David…the Jewish son and firstborn of Israel. The son of God.

man-without-a-coatIf this is how you want me to serve you God, then I have to admit I haven’t been doing such a good job. If this isn’t what you’ve wanted me to do, then I’ve been doing an even worse job than I thought.

How can I promote any form of healing at all by “banging heads” with other people or by beating my head against a wall? When Jacob wrestled the Divine, in midrash, it is said that Jacob wrestled with his doubts, or his evil inclination, or his own dark angel. He had to conquer something in himself before he could take the next steps back into the Land his descendants would one day inherit, the Land of Promise. Is that my mission as well, to conquer something within myself?

That I should slow down, take time with scripture, mull and turn over the Word in my mind and heart, meditate on His wisdom day and night is all worthy and right, and I’ve been in too much of a hurry to actually do it. Where will my spirit and the Spirit of God find a common meeting ground? Jacob arose at night, crossed the ford of the Jabbok and was left alone. There he encountered God. Jacob wrestled for the rest of the night and when the sun began to dawn, the battle was still raging. Jacob’s “companion,” seeing he had not prevailed, injured Jacob, permanently disabling him (see Genesis 32:22-32). But Jacob also received a blessing, a new name, and a mission to form a dynasty; to  ultimately become the father of a mighty nation that belongs only to God.

I seriously doubt my destiny is such a great thing in God’s eyes or in man’s. And yet there must be some reason for my existence, else God would have long since extinguished me, like I might blow out a candle. Not that I’m such a great light or even a small one. Who can glory in their own light when confronted with the blazing inferno of an Everlasting God? Only a fool. I pray that I am no fool, though I know I’ve been foolish.

God will judge us not according to how much we endured, but how much we could love.

-Richard Wurmbrand

Whatever God wants me to do could easily fail if it was all up to me. Having launched myself in a particular direction for nearly a year, I haven’t looked back and I haven’t checked the map. I just figured if I went in a nice, straight line, I’d end up where I’m supposed to be. But there are no nice straight lines in my terrain, only back alleys, narrow corridors, dark tunnels, and labyrinthine passages. Getting lost if I am the only navigator is a foregone conclusion.

…but whatever your original intentions, you have become truly lost.

-Ducard (played by Liam Neeson)
Batman Begins (2005)

extinguished_candleIs that me? Maybe. Or maybe it’s what I’m on my way to becoming. But according to my friend, it’s not too late. I can slow down the horse, so to speak, take stock of my surroundings, renew my connection to God, through the Bible, through meditation on His Word, through prayer, through sincere repentance. Like a watchman on the walls of the city at night, I rely on the Presence of God as I await the dawn, considering His mighty deeds, recalling Days of Old, meditating upon Him in my heart.

My voice rises to God, and I will cry aloud;
My voice rises to God, and He will hear me.
In the day of my trouble I sought the Lord;
In the night my hand was stretched out without weariness;
My soul refused to be comforted.
When I remember God, then I am disturbed;
When I sigh, then my spirit grows faint. Selah.
You have held my eyelids open;
I am so troubled that I cannot speak.
I have considered the days of old,
The years of long ago.
I will remember my song in the night;
I will meditate with my heart,
And my spirit ponders…

Psalm 77:1-6 (NASB)

And my spirit ponders…as I cross the ford of the Jabbok and am left alone in the dark…waiting.

Encounter with Now

Moses at SinaiNow Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, which is opposite Jericho. And the Lord showed him all the land, Gilead as far as Dan, and all Naphtali and the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, and all the land of Judah as far as the western sea, and the Negev and the plain in the valley of Jericho, the city of palm trees, as far as Zoar. Then the Lord said to him, “This is the land which I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, saying, ‘I will give it to your descendants’; I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not go over there.” So Moses the servant of the Lord died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the Lord. And He buried him in the valley in the land of Moab, opposite Beth-peor; but no man knows his burial place to this day. Although Moses was one hundred and twenty years old when he died, his eye was not dim, nor his vigor abated. So the sons of Israel wept for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days; then the days of weeping and mourning for Moses came to an end.

Deuteronomy 34:1-8 (NASB)

The final verse of the final portion of the Torah refers to “the strong hand and all the great awe, which Moses performed before the eyes of all Israel.” According to the Talmud, the phrase “before the eyes of all Israel” alludes to the incident when Moses smashed the Tablets of the Covenant when he found the Jewish people worshiping the Golden Calf.

An odd conclusion for the Five Books of Moses! The whole Torah ends by recalling the destruction of the Ten Commandments by Moses! Another interesting point to consider is that after completing the reading of this portion in the Synagogue, we immediately begin reading from the first portion of the Torah (Gen. 1:1): “In the beginning, G-d created…”

The reason that the Torah ends as it does – by alluding to the breaking of the Tablets of the Covenant – is the same reason that we start over again once we’ve finished. Both ideas are rooted in the same principle; we never just finish up and move on. Just when we think we’ve reached the end – when we get to the very last line of the very last portion – we are reminded that the Tablets of the Covenant were once destroyed and had to be remade.

Rabbi Ben A.
“Starting Over”

In many ways, the start of a new Torah cycle is about starting over. But like the Children of Israel at the death of Moses and being poised to cross the Jordan with Joshua as their leader and prophet, it’s also a continuation and even a radical change…or it can be. It probably should be, otherwise, you’re just recycling the Torah and spiritual learning year by year and as a result, not actually learning anything new.

As the Children of Israel discovered when Moses died (and Aaron and Miriam and an entire generation of Israelites before him), change inevitably means loss, sorrow, and grief, even as change can mean growth, progression, and fulfillment.

broken-tabletsWe know that after Moses destroyed the first set of tablets as a result of the sin of the Golden Calf, at the command of God, he made a second set. But it was God who made the first set and it was God who wrote on it. The second set was created by Moses and Moses wrote on it at the command of God. God gave the Israelites a “second chance” but it wasn’t the same situation as the “first chance.” Even if God grants you “do-overs,” you lose something, even if you don’t lose it all.

Rabbi Ben A. is the most famous anonymous rabbi. Using his pen name, Ben A. draws from his personal experience in recovery to incorporate unique Chassidic philosophy into the practice of the 12 Steps. He tells us that our spiritual journey is never complete and we are always starting over, but not quite with fresh start. There is not perfect “reset” button for our lives.

As newcomers looking at the Steps for the first time, many of us wondered what we were supposed to do once they were completed. The answer is that our recovery is never finished; it continues by beginning again. We remember that the life we now have was once in a state of apparent destruction, just as the Tablets containing the Word of G-d had been smashed. In our despair, we agreed to let go, and let G-d give us a new life. We learned to trust G-d. We cleaned house; and we repaired our relationships with others.

We remember that it is He who takes away our pain and gives us joy. It is He who takes away our sickness and gives us health. It is He who instills renewed energy into our desolate lives…it reminds us how the spiritual lives we now have began out of darkness, chaos and void. It is now our job to once again transform our lives with light, order and fulfillment.

Spiritual growth is like a 12-step program? A Spiritual recovery program? It seemed a strange thought when I first encountered it, but actually, it makes perfect sense. Who are we without God but human beings on a path to destruction. We repent, but repentance, forgiveness, and atonement are not accomplished in a single act. It takes time, perhaps a great deal of time…perhaps all of our lives, over and over, year by year, like the Torah cycle.

It is now as it was now a moment before. It grew no older. It was not touched, not moved nor darkened by the events that flickered upon its stage. They have vanished; it has remained. It perpetually transcends.

And it is immanently here. Tangible, experienced, real and known. For what can be more known than the moment in which you stand right now?

Yet, what can be so utterly unknown?

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman

Rolling the Torah ScrollLike the continual Torah reading cycle, we are constantly moving forward, continually experiencing and re-experiencing what we need and what God understands we need. But also, we only live inside of one instant in eternity at a time. It is always “Now.” We look to the future and remember the past, but it is always now. When you read Beresheet last Shabbos (if you follow the traditional Torah readings), it was “Now” and when you read Noah next Shabbos, it will also be “Now.”

It’s what we do inside of each instant of life that creates or inhibits the progression, the growth, the journey toward drawing closer to God. We may have done terrible damage to ourselves and to others in the past, but the past is just that. It’s gone, though the consequences can still be with us. It is now. It is always now. You are always in now. Living inside of now is like guiding a ship by working the tiller to move the rudder. Now you move it one way. Now you move it another. Now the tiller moves the rudder and now the ship moves in response. Moment by moment, every action you take in an endless progression of “now events” creates the sequence of our lives and results in consequences for us, for our loved ones, and in our relationship with God.

Rabbi Freeman concludes:

If you are here only now, what is the purpose?
And if all is transient, why be here now?

Grasp the now by both ends and every moment is divine,
every experience is precious.
For you have grasped G‑d Himself.

I will tell you a secret that can be told, and within it a secret that cannot be known: Take the Hebrew present tense of the verb to be, and prefix it with the letter yud to indicate a perpetual state of now-being—and you will have the name of G‑d.

G‑d is now.

Over two weeks ago, a friend of mine challenged me to experience God more fully. I felt backed into a corner knowing that I should want such an experience but dreading it as well. I didn’t want to change and I knew God would require it if I turned to Him. Now…yes, right now, God is also backing me into a corner. The choice of whether or not to turn to Him is still mine but God is limiting my options. The consequences for not accepting His challenge are becoming more dire, and I see that He has been allowing me enough rope and may yet let me swing if I continue in that direction.

ancient-sail-boatSo what do I do? I do what God wants, I do what God requires, not because I have no choice, but because God has made it abundantly plain what the result of my choices will be.

I know there is a future, a wonderful and terrible future. Where I’ll be standing when that future becomes “Now” depends on which direction I move the tiller, which direction I choose to turn the ship. The wood is in my hands, I can move right or left, the ship is traveling forward into the storm. Moving one way leads to disaster, with my ship and everyone on it being broken apart on jagged rocks, and moving the other way leads to safe haven. I may have seen this before but I chose to ignore it, believing I had time before I had to make the final decision. Now, what I once saw vaguely and disregarded has become a present reality viewed with absolute and crystal clarity.

Now I grasp the ship’s tiller, I apply pressure. I feel resistance. The tiller moves and with it, the rudder. Now the ship begins to change course and…

…and Moses dies. And the Children of Israel mourn. And the Ark goes ahead of the Assembly into the Jordan. And Joshua leads. And we read the last few lines in Deuteronomy. And we hastily re-roll the scroll. And we read, “When God began to create heaven and earth…”

O Hashem, You have scrutinized me and You know. You know my sitting down and my rising up; You understand my thought from afar. You encompass my path and my repose, You are familiar with all my ways. For the word is not yet on my tongue, behold, Hashem, You knew it all. Back and front You have restricted me, and You have laid Your hand upon me.

Psalm 139:1-5 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

And now…

Articulating an Encounter with God

saul-on-the-roadNow there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.” And the Lord said to him, “Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.” But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel.

Acts 9:10-15 (ESV)

This is part of the section of Acts 9 Christians typically call “the Conversion of Saul” (Acts 9:1-19). It is what Pastor Randy’s message was about during last Sunday’s sermon, and it is what Charlie taught to the Sunday school class I attended after the worship service.

There’s just tons and tons and tons I could comment on, especially regarding the material and discussion in Charlie’s class, but I’m going to address almost none of it in this week’s “church report.” If I did, I’d probably start more of a messy debate than I really want to deal with. But rather than talk about the things I don’t always agree with the church about, I want to talk about something that actually “clicked” for me.

In fact, when I heard some of the folks in class mention this, I practically wanted to jump for joy. I’d never heard Christians talk like this before. It was as if they were reading my mind.

Let me explain.

Have you ever heard any Christian say something like, “And then the Lord told me to do such-and-thus?” How about this one: “I felt that it was a calling from the Lord for me to do such-and-thus?”

I’ve heard those phrases from time to time and I’ve always wondered about how those Christians could know that what they were experiencing was from God vs. a “message” they were telling themselves based on what they wanted to hear from God. When I’ve made such a statement before, I’ve usually been criticized for not understanding how the Holy Spirit moves in people’s lives. But get this…the members of my class who were vocal about it agreed with my assessment. One gentleman even said it gives him goosebumps in a “creepy” way when people talk like that.


I even felt comfortable enough to weigh in with my own opinion.

Now just to be clear, no one was saying that God doesn’t work in our lives, direct us in our actions, and require that we serve Him.

It’s just not based on a “calling” such as we see in Paul’s encounter with Jesus in Acts 9. An interesting opinion that’s been coming out of the church I attend for the past several weeks is that Acts is a “transitional” book and doesn’t describe what we can typically expect in a Christian life. We can’t expect to have a “Paul on the road to Damascus” encounter with Christ. We aren’t going to (probably) see a blinding white light or hear a Bat Kol from Heaven. And we aren’t going to receive an amazingly clear-cut calling to perform a specific set of actions from Jesus the way Paul received it.

Or for that matter, we won’t have an experience like this one, either.

Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.” And the Lord said to him, “Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.” But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized; and taking food, he was strengthened.

Acts 9:10-19 (ESV)

covering-eyesDon’t get me wrong. It would be great for Christ to talk to us and we could talk back, just like the conversation Ananias had with the Master, but such is not to be (to the best of my knowledge). It would be great if we could receive such specific information and even better if, like Ananias in verses 13 and 14, we could respond back, even questioning our instructions. Of course, that sort of communication presupposes that, again like Ananias, we would then respond in obedience, even if it was against our better (human) judgment, and do what we were told to do, That sort of communication presupposes that we would even act in obedience to restore the sight of someone who, up until a few days ago, had been a bitter enemy bent on imprisoning us and even killing us. It would mean we would have to obey the Lord and learn to address our enemy sincerely and with compassion as “brother.”

That doesn’t happen too often.

It must have been a difficult thing for Ananias to do, but he did it because he was a Jew and a disciple of the Master who was obedient to God.

But that doesn’t particularly mean what Paul and Ananias experienced transfers in any way to what we experience. Paul heard a voice from Heaven. When a modern-day Christian says, “the Lord spoke to me,” what do they “hear” if anything at all? We are not Paul. We are not Ananias. There’s no real evidence in New Testament scripture of Christians receiving a “calling” as many believers use the expression. I think the best we can hope for is this.

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.

1 Corinthians 12:1-11 (ESV)

The entire chapter of 1 Corinthians 12 describes how we are all different and all possess varying skill sets within the body of believers, but our gifts originate from a single Spirit and we serve One God.

I’m sure you have noticed what you’re good at and what you’re not so good at. I’m sure you have been in situations where what you’re good at can (and hopefully has) been applied to serving other people and serving God. Beyond specific skills, anyone can donate a can of food to their local foodbank. Anyone can visit a sick friend in the hospital. Anyone can listen to a friend who is going through a tough time tell you their troubles for an hour or so just because you don’t want them to feel alone.

But it doesn’t mean that God has “called” you to do this or that or such or thus.

So the question came up, how do you know you are where you are and doing what God wants you to do?

That’s a tough one. It really is. We tossed that one around in class for a bit. Some folks think that if they’re in a situation and there’s no adversity, then that’s where God wants them to be. Problem is, sometimes God puts you in a spot where you’re going to experience adversity, such as what Christian missionaries face in certain African countries. Just because there are problems doesn’t mean you’re in the wrong place to serve God.

My own litmus test (and this is just me) is that when I find myself doing something I never would have chosen for myself in a million years and it is something that is helping other people and serving God, then that’s where God wants me to be.

walking-side-by-sideNo, it’s not like God always puts me in uncomfortable and even miserable situations. In fact, on Saturday, I had a meeting with Pastor Randy to discuss some work I wanted to do for the congregation (yes, I met with him on Shabbos…if that bothers you, then you’re going to have to get past it). We ended up talking about a great many topics near and dear to my heart. I discovered that we have many attitudes and opinions in common and I even managed to bring up subjects with him that I thought might be premature, given how little time we’ve had to get to know one another.

I’ve had my doubts in the recent past that this church was where God wanted me to be. No, I haven’t heard even a single audible word from God for or against my being at this church, but the way things seem to be presenting themselves, I can see that there’s a fit between this church and me (no one was more surprised than I was).

Am I being “called?” Nah, probably not. But God does work in our lives in ways we can’t always explain or even understand. Beyond what I’m saying in today’s “church report,” I can’t really articulate the experience. I just know that like my bi-monthly coffee companion said not to long ago, I have encountered God in church.

Imagine that.

If Water Can Wear Down A Stone

prayer-hitbodedutSet aside time each day to meditate and pray alone in a room or some meadow and express your innermost thoughts and feelings and personal prayers to God. Use every kind of appeal and argument. Use words that will endear you to God and win His favor. Plead with God to draw you closer and let you truly serve Him. This is Hitbodedut.

You should hold these conversations in whatever language you speak best. Our set prayers are said in Hebrew, but if this is not one’s native language, it is difficult to use it to give expression to all one’s innermost thoughts and feelings and the heart is less drawn after the words. It is easier to pour out your heart and say everything you need in your own language.

You should tell God everything you feel, be it contrition and longing to repent over the past or requests and supplications to come truly close to God from now on, each person according to his level.

Be very careful to get into the habit of spending time every day on your personal prayers and meditation. Fix a regular time for this and then be happy for the rest of the day!

-Rebbe Nachman of Breslov
Translated by Rabbi Avraham Greenbaum

Sunday before last, I was having my bi-monthly coffee encounter with my friend. We spoke of many things, including matters both painful and necessary to me, but one of the topics we briefly touched upon was hitbodeut. I should say that neither of us could remember the name, but this is what we were describing when discussing an encounter with God. To briefly quote from Wikipedia:

Hitbodedut refers to an unstructured, spontaneous and individualized form of prayer and meditation taught by Rebbe Nachman of Breslov. Through hitbodedut one may establish a close, personal relationship with God and gain a clearer understanding of one’s personal motives and aspirations. However, Rebbe Nachman states that the ultimate goal is to free oneself of all negative traits that obstruct the spiritually-transforming non-dual realization of the “Imperative Existent,” which is the Divinity inherent in all being.

Mystic aspects aside, why am I bothering to write about this? Those of you reading my blog who are aware of hitbodedut, probably know far more about the practice than I do, and those of you who don’t can simply reduce the concept down to a way to be alone and talk to God. What’s the big deal?

First off, I have been aware of hitbodedut off and on for a few years but mentally, I always manage to lose track of both the term and the practice. This is a sort of “bookmark” in my memory so if I lose my place again, I can just search my blog and find it. Beyond a reminder, there is also what we know about how Jesus prayed:

At about morning light he left and went to a desolate place.

Luke 4:42 (DHE Gospels)

But he departed to the wilderness areas and prayed.

Luke 5:16 (DHE Gospels)

As he was praying alone, his disciples were gathered to him.

Luke 9:18 (DHE Gospels)

Although we can’t draw a direct connection between these examples of Jesus praying from Luke and Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, we can say that both of them seemed to practice a similar manner of prayer, withdrawing to wilderness areas or other places to be alone in order to pray. Even in his most desperate hour, Jesus continued to seek his Father alone.

Afterward, Yeshua came with them to a courtyard that was called Gat Shamnei. He said to the disciples, “You remain here until I have gone over there and prayed.” He took Petros and the two sons of Zavdai with him, and he began to become distressed and disheartened. He said to them, “My soul is bitterly troubled to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” Then he went a little bit away from them, fell on his face and prayed, saying “My Father, if it is possible to be so, let this cup pass from me, yet not according to my will, but according to your will.”

Matthew 26:36-39 (DHE Gospels)

I’ve often wondered if Jesus wanted to be alone, why he also took his closest companions with him. Maybe he wanted them to keep watch in case anyone might come who would disturb his prayers. Maybe he wanted them to pray for him in his hour of terror and hardship, before the betrayer came. What is he trying to say to us? Is it better to be alone with God than to pray in assembly?

But as for you, when you pray, go into your room, close your door behind you, and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees the secret things will {openly} be generous to you.

Matthew 6:6 (DHE Gospels)

Being alone with God can be a lonely or terrifying experience. It can be lonely if all you experience is the emptiness of your own words. It can be terrifying if God answers you.

Really? How can I say that? Sure, we all have experienced times in prayer when it seems as if God isn’t listening, as if He has taken a two-week vacation to some distant place, leaving us to fend for ourselves, but why would God answering prayer be terrifying?

Because it’s God. He’s not a “cosmic teddy bear” who allows us to hop on His comfortable lap as if He was Santa Claus. We are trying to be seriously alone with the creator of the entire universe, who can and has laid waste to the surface of the Earth. Do we…do I know what I’m asking for?

And how can Nachman of Breslov say, “and then be happy for the rest of the day?”

Hitbodedut is of the greatest value. It is the way to come closer to God, because it includes everything else. No matter what you lack in your service of God, even if you feel totally remote from His service, tell God everything and ask Him for all that you need.

If at times you find yourself unable to speak to God or even open your mouth, the very fact that you are there before Him wanting and yearning to speak is itself very good. You can even turn your very inability to speak into a prayer. Tell God that you feel so far away that you cannot even speak to Him! Ask Him to have mercy on you and open your mouth to tell Him what you need.

Many great and famous Tzaddikim have said that all their achievements came only through Hitbodedut. Anyone with understanding can recognize the supreme value of this practice, which ascends to the most sublime heights. This advice applies to everyone equally, from the very least to the very greatest. Everyone is capable of practicing it and can attain great levels. Happy are all who persist in it.

It is also good to turn Torah teachings into prayers. When you study or hear a teaching of a true Tzaddik, make a prayer out of it. Ask God when you too will be able to fulfill this teaching. Tell Him how far from it you are and beg Him to help you attain everything contained in the lesson.

A person of understanding who wants the truth will be led by God in the path of truth, and he will learn how to practice Hitbodedut and offer words of grace and sound arguments to persuade God to bring him to true service.

Hitbodedut rises to a very high place. This applies especially to turning Torah teachings into prayers, which creates the greatest delight above.

Hitbodedut is the highest level: it is greater than everything.

When God helps with Hitbodedut, it is like a person talking to his friend.

prayers_in_the_darkI get the sense that the “talking to his friend” part is more familiar to some Christians than to many religious Jews. I could be wrong of course, but when I pray from a siddur, the words communicate a more formal relationship with God, a greater awe, the powerful majesty, as we stand before the King of all Glory. Not exactly like schmoozing with a good buddy.

But then again, that’s not exactly right, either. God is closer, more intimate than a friend. As the Master says, He is our Father, our “Abba.”

It is very good to pour out your heart to God like a child pleading with his father.

Doesn’t God call us His children? “You are children to the Lord your God” (Deuteronomy 14:1) . Therefore it is good to express your thoughts and feelings and all your troubles to God, like a child nagging and complaining to his father.

Even if you think you have done so much wrong that you are no longer one of God’s children, remember that God still calls you His child. As the Rabbis taught: “For better or worse, you are always called His children” ( Kiddushin 36a) .

Even if you think God has rejected you and told you that you are no longer His child, you must still say: “Let Him do His will – but I must do my part and continue acting as His child.”

How good it is when you can arouse your heart and plead with God until tears stream from your eyes and you stand like a little child crying before his Father.

Confusing thoughts may enter your mind, but if you stand firm, God will send you another thought to encourage you. You may think you are no longer one of God’s children. But if you do your part, God will eventually send you thoughts of encouragement.

Jesus encouraged his disciples to pray to their Father who is in Heaven. These were his Jewish disciples but by extension (and since we have no other model from the time of Jesus), we may apply the teachings of the Master about prayer to we non-Jewish disciples as well. What choice do we have?

I know Nachman of Breslev is addressing Jews in his teachings, but he does say, “From the smallest to the greatest, it is impossible to be a truly good person without Hitbodedut,” implying that one’s station in life or relative level of spirituality is beside the point. No matter who you are, unless you pray Hitbodedut, that is, pray totally from the heart, you are missing something.

Can we small, finite creatures be intimate with an infinite and Holy God?

Christianity seems to think so and sometimes I think some folks are a little too intimate. I’ve never been one of those who thinks that I can simply sit down at my kitchen table and share a casual cup of coffee with Jesus. He’s a King, not my next door neighbor. Not even his own disciples treated him so commonly.

But I’ve got to “reboot” my journey by starting somewhere. I’ve got to attempt to rise to a higher level. Even if I get it wrong, it’s better to stub my toe while walking the path than to stand frozen in one spot out of appearing foolish or a fear of failure.

During your Hitbodedut, it is good to say: “Today I am starting to attach myself to You!”

Make a new start each time, because everything that comes later is always in accordance with the beginning.

No matter what happens, it is always good to make a new start each time and say, “Today I am beginning…” If things were already good, now they will be even better! And if they were not good before, then you certainly need to start anew.

You’re probably familiar with the phrase, “today is the first day of the rest of your life,” generally attributed to Charles (“Chuck”) Dederich, and that seems to be part of what the Rebbe is saying too. Each day is a new beginning. Every moment is a fresh opportunity. The Master said, the spirit desires but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41). We want to draw nearer to God, but there are so many things we let get in the way. After a while, we start to feel as if there are too many barriers and we stop trying.

But while we live there are always opportunities. Pushing the walls aside is as easy as finding some place to be alone and then starting to talk to God. Our first words can always be, “Today I am starting to attach myself to You!” Even if nothing seems to “happen” first, be patient.

Even if many days and years pass and it seems as if you have accomplished nothing with your prayers and conversations with God, don’t give up! Every single word makes an impression.

“Water wears away stone” (Job 14: 19 ) . It may seem that water dripping on hard stone could not make any impression, yet when water drips on stone continuously for many years, it can literally wear a hole in the stone. We actually see this.

Even if your heart is like stone and it seems that your words of prayer are making no impression at all, still, as the days and years pass, your heart of stone will also be softened. For: “Water wears away stone”.

rabbi-akiva-stone-waterThere is a story told about the great Rabbi Akiva that applies to us and particularly (I hope) to me.

Rabbi Akiva was a shepherd, a laborer, an am ha’aretz – religious in observance, but ignorant of Torah knowledge. At age 40, he didn’t even know how to read the aleph-beis.

One day, while sitting by a brook, Akiva noticed a steady trickle of water hitting a rock. It was only a drip, but it was constant – drop after drop after drop. Akiva observed something incredible: A hole had been carved out by that steady drip of water. He wondered how that could be. He concluded: If something as soft as water can carve a hole in solid rock, how much more so can words of Torah – which is hard as iron – make an indelible impression on my heart.

That marked a turning point in Rabbi Akiva’s life. He committed himself to Torah study, and went on to become the greatest sage of his generation, with 24,000 students learning under him at one time.

-from “Like Water on Rock”

It is said of Rabbi Akiva: If water can wear down a stone, then every Jew can and will study Torah…If water can wear down a stone, the Jewish people can overcome Rome…If water can wear down stone, then the Temple can be rebuilt…

If water can wear down a stone, then I can encounter God in prayer.

And so can you.

5 Days: Encounter

meeting-a-strangerOne who responds “Amen” after a blessing surpasses the one who recites the blessing.

-Berachos 53b

“Amen” is an expression of confirmation, whereby we attest that what the other person has said is indeed true. Thus, when someone recites a blessing expressing gratitude to God or asserting that God has commanded the performance of a particular mitzvah, one is making a declaration of one’s faith. When we respond by saying “Amen,” we are essentially stating, “What you have said is indeed true,” and thereby we are not only concurring with what was said and expressing our own faith, but also reinforcing the other person’s statement and strengthening the other person’s faith.

There are things that one can do that will strengthen other people’s faith in God, and things that will weaken it. In Torah there is a concept of arvus – mutual responsibility – by virtue of which one is obligated to try to strengthen other people’s belief and trust in God. Although every person has free will, and God does not intervene to deter someone from committing a wrong, people who have suffered because of someone’s misdeeds often feel that God has abandoned them. Thus, if we deal unfairly with others, we may not only cause them to be angry at us, but also bring them to doubt God for allowing an injustice to happen. While such reasoning is faulty, the one who caused it is nevertheless responsible for causing the victim to feel that way. On the other hand, when we behave in the manner which God wishes, the result is kvod shamayim – bringing glory and honor to God, and strengthening people’s faith. Our actions can and do affect how other people will think and act.

Today I shall…

try to behave in a way that will result in people having greater respect for and trust in God.

-Rabbi Abraham J Twerski
“Growing Each Day, Tevet 11”

On Sunday afternoon, I had my periodic “coffee meeting” with a friend of mine. It was cold, windy, and threatening to snow, which is the perfect time to sit in a coffee shop, sip some hot java, and chat.

Oh, the conversation started out with small talk but that’s not where it ended up.

Have you ever been in a situation where someone said something to you and your internal response was “I wish he hadn’t said that,” not because it wasn’t true, but because it was true and you didn’t want to hear it?

I think most of us have at one point or another in our lives and last Sunday afternoon was the most recent occurrence in mine.

Can you encounter God in church?

I know that sounds like a silly question if you’re a Christian, but church was the last place I thought I’d ever encounter God in a meaningful way.

Let me explain.

My most recent “church experience” has been like a process of steps. I walk into the church, Bible in hand. I get the program, the pamphlet or whatever it’s called from the older lady standing near the door. We greet each other and I move on. I weave my way through the crowd of people chatting with each other and head for the door of the sanctuary. At the doorway, I’m greeted by several other gentlemen, one or two of which may engage me in brief, light conversation. Once that’s done, I try to find a seat near the rear of the chapel where I’ll be out of the way.

I busy myself before services by reading the contents of the pamphlet, paying extra attention to the outline for the day’s sermon. I’m usually greeted a couple more times by people I’ve made a casual acquaintance with.

People enter, settle down, and services begin.

The service has a pattern which is almost always the same. There’s singing, praying, the reading of the daily Bible passage, sometimes an appeal for donations for missionaries or other worthy causes and needs, the passing around of the plate for offerings, more singing, and the Pastor delivers his message while I rapidly take notes.

I usually slip out to use the men’s room during the last hymn because afterwards, the service ends and everyone floods out and lines start to form. I might even manage to get a cup of coffee before Sunday school.

Then I go to Sunday school. For the first few minutes, there’s the usual casual conversation between everyone else since they are all friends. I politely listen. Class begins and I struggle not to say too much, aiming for not saying anything at all.

Class ends, church ends, and I go home.

waiting-for-mannaAt what point in all that would I encounter God?

Oh, I’ve encountered God in a meaningful, supernatural manner that I can’t even begin to articulate, but those “meetings” are quite rare.

And I believe I encountered God over coffee last Sunday afternoon, but it wasn’t what you would call supernatural. I forgot that God can insert people into the stream of your life who will tell you what you need to hear (though not necessarily what you want to hear).

He said several things.

  • People go to church to encounter God.
  • Anyone who wants to encounter God should spend time in prayer and reading the Bible, asking and expecting to encounter God.
  • Don’t seek Judaism and don’t seek Christianity, seek God.


He said a lot more too, particularly on the dynamics of how to make connections and relationships. The following metaphor is my own but it applies.

If you are single and you want to make an impression on a girl, you don’t do so by showing up for dates only sometimes. If you have a standing date with your girlfriend every Sunday morning, if you like her and want to develop a relationship with her, you’ll show up for your date every Sunday morning unless something serious comes up to prevent it. You don’t just go hit and miss and still expect her to want to develop a relationship with you. She won’t think you’re very trustworthy and reliable. She won’t spend the time and energy to try to connect with you if she doesn’t see you making the same effort.


I’ve been viewing going to church as only an obligation. Who in their right mind dates a girl if it’s only an obligation and not a desire?

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

Hebrews 10:24-25 (ESV)

That sounds like an obligation but an obligation of love.

To be honest, I don’t always want to encounter God in a meaningful way, because some of those encounters aren’t easy to take.

Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”

Job 1:20-21 (ESV)

If he should set his heart to it and gather to himself his spirit and his breath, all flesh would perish together, and man would return to dust.

Job 34:14-15 (ESV)

Fear of the Lord may be the beginning of wisdom but it’s also fear.

But God cannot be avoided and without God, life is nothing.

Man’s life is dependent on the air around him. Without air he cannot live and the quality of life is dependent on the quality of air. In an atmosphere of Torah and mitzvot there is healthy life. In a G-dless environment life is diseased, and one is constantly threatened with the possibility of being stricken with contagious maladies.

“Today’s Day”
Shabbat, Tevet 11, 5703
Compiled by the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Translated by Yitschak Meir Kagan

torah-tree-of-lifeThe Rebbe goes on to describe how we can purify our environment by studying words of Torah, but taking the message down to basics, what is being said is that God must inhabit our environment for us to be who He designed us to be. We must encounter Him in order to live the life He has planned for us.

No matter how uncomfortable or even frightening those encounters may be.

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.

Hebrews 13:17 (ESV)

That reminds me of what Pastor Randy said to me the second Sunday after Thanksgiving. I skipped going to church the Sunday after Thanksgiving because I was wiped out and wanted some rest. Pastor made some remark, supposedly joking, asking where I was the week before. I figured I wasn’t very important to anyone at the church and my missing a Sunday or two wouldn’t be a big deal. Maybe it’s a bigger deal than I thought. I still don’t feel important at church, which isn’t necessary, but I don’t feel even slightly significant, either. But that’s my fault.

If church is an opportunity to encounter God rather than just a Biblical and social obligation, then it becomes something entirely different from what I first thought. Next Sunday is the last day of my countdown to zero and the end of the year.

Or, it’s a new beginning and a fresh encounter.