From Rabbi Moshe Yehoshua (“Alter”) of Teplik’s anthology of classic Breslov teachings on secluded meditation and prayer, Hishtapkhut HaNefesh, translated to English by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan as “Outpouring of the Soul” (Breslov Research Institute). (Footnotes not included in this online version, although we have restored a few to the body of the text.)
AUTHOR'S INTRODUCTION (Reb “Alter” of Teplik)
“Who is the person who desires life?” (Psalms 34:13). Who is truly concerned about himself? Who is the one who wishes to be worthy of serving God through prayer, which is a person's main source of life, as it is written, "Prayer to God is my life" (Psalms 42:9). Through prayer, one can also bring life-force to all the spiritual universes.
Let such a person pay close attention to the lessons gathered in this book, which speaks of the importance of prayer and meditation, especially regarding "pouring out one's soul and heart like water before God's presence" (Lamentations 2:19). He will learn how to ask God for all that he needs. both materially and spiritually. This is the only way that one can receive divine help at all times.
This holy path is an ancient one that has been walked by our patriarchs, prophets and sages.
Before Adam was created, the Torah states, "All the bushes of the field had not yet grown, and the plants of the field had not yet sprung up, because God had not brought rain upon the earth, and there was no man to work the soil" (Genesis 2:5). This is speaking of the sixth day of creation, and Rashi notes that this seems to contradict the verse which says that on the third day, "the earth brought forth plants" (Genesis 1:12). Rashi explains that the plants only emerged as far as the surface of the ground, and there they remained until Adam prayed for rain. The rain then fell and all the plants and trees began to grow from the ground.
It is also taught that when Noah left the ark and saw the terrible destruction all around, he began to weep and cried out, "Lord of the Universe! You should have had mercy on Your creatures!"
God replied to him, "Foolish shepherd! Now you are complaining! Earlier I told you, 'I have seen that you are righteous in this generation' (Genesis 7:1). I warned you, 'I am about to bring a killer flood upon the earth to destroy all life' (Genesis 6:17). I told you all that so you would pray for the world. Now that the world is destroyed, you are opening your mouth, before Me with prayers and supplications!”
When Noah realized his mistake, he offered sacrifice and prayed to God for the future. The "appeasing fragrance" (Genesis 8:21) that God smelled was the fragrance of Noah's prayers (Zohar Chadash 23a; Cf. Zohar I, 254b).
We also find many examples of Abraham's prayers. When God told Abraham, "The outcry of Sodom and Gomorrah is very great" (Genesis 18:20) and threatened to destroy the cities, Abraham immediatly “drew near” (Genesis 18:23) and began to pray and plead to God that He would spare the cities if fifty, or finally even if ten righteous were to be found within their borders.
Our sages also comment on the verse, "Abraham got up early in the morning, and went to the place where he had stood before God" (Genesis 19:27). They say that this alludes to the fact that Abraham instituted a daily morning prayer (Bereishith Rabbah 52:13).
We also find that God said to Abimelech. "Return this man's wife, since he is a prophet and he will pray for you" (Genesis 20:7). The Torah then relates, "Abraham prayed to God, and God healed Abimelech" (Genesis 20:17). The Midrash notes that when Abraham offered this prayer, the knot was unbound.
When Abraham's servant, Eliezer, went to find a bride for Isaac, he expressed his thoughts to God in prayer, and said, "God, Lord of my master Abraham. make me successful today, and do kindness to my master Abraham" (Genesis 24:12). The Midrash states that he said, "Lord of the Universe! We are trying to complete what Abraham accomplished with his prayer when You granted him Isaac. Now complete that act of kindness and grant a wife for his son."
Regarding Isaac, the Torah says, "Isaac went out to meditate in the field toward evening" (Genesis 24:63). The Talmud notes that this alludes to the fact that Isaac instituted a regular daily afternoon prayer (Berakhoth 26b).
The Midrash states that Isaac was totally involved in prayer, and Rebecca said, "This is certainly a great man!” She therefore asked, "Who is this man walking in the field to meet us?" (Genesis 24:65).
Later when Isaac married Rebecca and found her to be barren, the Torah states, "Isaac prayed for the sake of his wife" (Genesis 25:21). The Midrash states that according to one opinion, he offered a wealth of prayer, while others say that he prayed so much that he was able to overturn the decree with his prayer.
The Torah says of Jacob, "He worshiped in that location" (Genesis 28:11). The Talmud states that from this we see that Jacob instituted a regular daily evening prayer” (op cit.).
Jacob also prayed at length to God and said, "If God will be with me and watch me... giving me bread to eat and clothes to wear..." (Genesis 28:20). The Midrash states that God took the meditation of the Patriarchs and made it into the key for their descendants' redemption.
The Midrash also notes that during the twenty years that Jacob was with Laban, he did not sleep nights. but recited the fifteen "songs of ascent" in the Psalms (120-134). Jacob would spend entire nights meditating and praying to God.
When Jacob was returning to the Holy Land. he sent emissaries to Esau. However, his main weapon was prayer, and he said, "O God... Deliver me, I beg You, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau" (Genesis 32:12).
We also find that all the Matriarchs were constantly involved in prayer. The Midrash says that God made the Matriarchs barren “because He desires the prayers of the righteous."
The Midrash also says that when Sarah was taken to Abimelech's palace, she spent the entire night prostate on her face, saying, "Lord of the Universe...”
When Isaac was praying for Rebecca, the Torah says that he prayed "opposite his wife" (Genesis 25:21). The Midrash states that Isaac stood in one corner and prayed, while Rebecca stood in the other corner and prayed.
The Torah notes that Rachel said, "God has judged me and has heard my prayer" (Genesis 30:6). She then said. "I have been twisted around with my sister through all of God's roundabout ways" (Genesis 30:8). Rashi explains that Rachel did so with prayers that were precious to God.
When Rachel finally gave birth, the Torah says, "God heard Rachel's [prayer] and He opened her womb" (Genesis 30:22). Scripture later speaks of "Rachel weeping for her children" (Jeremiah 31:15).
In describing Leah, the Torah says, "Leah's eyes were tender" (Genesis 29:17). The Talmud teaches that they were tender because she had wept and prayed so much that she would not become Esau's wife (Bava Bathra 123a).
Jacob's sons were also involved in prayer. Thus, when Jacob sent Benjamin with them to Egypt (Genesis 43:13), he told his sons, "Here is the money, here are the tribute gifts, and here is your brother."
"But it is your prayers that we need!" replied the sons.
"Then here is my prayer," said Jacob. "May God Almighty grant you mercy before the man (Genesis 43:14). May He who will eventually say 'enough'to all suffering now say 'enough' to my suffering."
When Joseph was in prison in Egypt (Genesis 39:20), he also spent his time in prayer. We thus say the prayer [during the Selichoth service], "May He who answered Joseph in prison also answer us!"
When Joseph took Benjamin, the Torah says, "Judah approached" (Genesis 44:18). The Midrash comments that Judah approached God in prayer.
When our ancestors were in Egypt, the Torah tells us that "The Israelites groaned because of their work, and they cried out, and their cry came up to God." (Exodus 2:23). At the Red Sea, it is similarly written, "Israel cried out to God" (Exodus 14:10).
Commenting on the verse, "My dove in the clefts of the rock.... let me hear your voice" (Song of Songs 2:14), the Midrash states that God is speaking to Israel, saying "Let Me hear the same voice with which you cried out to Me in Egypt." From here we see that God desires the Israelites' prayers.
Throughout the Torah and the works of our sages we find Moses constantly engaged in prayer and supplication to God, both for himself and for Israel. When Israel sinned with the Golden Calf, “Moses entreated God" (Exodus 32:11). Moses later described his prayer: "I threw myself down in prayer before God for forty days and forty nights . . . (Deuteronomy 9:18).
The Midrash states that God taught Moses how to pray. At Marah, God told Moses to say, "Make the bitter into the sweet.” Later, when the Israelites sinned with the Golden Calf, Moses said to God, "Just as you told me at Marah to pray that You make the bitter into the sweet, take the bitterness of Israel's sin and make it sweet again."
When Moses was praying for God to forgive the sin of the Golden Calf, he kept praying until all his strength was exhausted. He was willing to give up both this world and the next for his people, as he said, "If [you do not forgive them] -- obliterate me" (Exodus 32:32).
When the Israelites sinned by listening to the spies, Moses prayed for them (Numbers 14:13). When the people grumbled against God, Moses prayed for them (Numbers 11:2). When Miriam was stricken with leprosy, Moses cried out, "O God, please heal her!" (Numbers 12:13).
When it was decreed that Moses not enter the promised land, Moses describes his response: “I supplicated (ve-ethchanan) before God" (Deuteronomy 3:23). The Midrash states that he offered 515 prayers, the numerical value of ve-ethchanan. The Midrash concludes that if Moses had offered one more prayer, he would have been answered. The Midrash also speaks of the many prayers that Moses said on the day that he died.
Before sending Joshua as a spy, Moses prayed, "May God protect you from the advice of the other spies" (Sota 14b, citing Numbers 13:16). When Caleb saw that Moses did not pray for him, he made a point of throwing himself on the grave of the Patriarchs to pray that he would not be tempted to follow the other spies.
After the rebellion of Korach. the Torah states that "Aaron took the fire pan" (Numbers 17:12). At that time Aaron offered many prayers to God to forgive the Israelites. We thus say [during the Selichoth service], "May He who answered Aaron with the fire pan also answer us."
Similarly. when Pinchas stood up before the congregation (Numbers 25:7), he prayed, as it is written, 'Pinchas stood up and prayed" (Psalms 106:30).
When the Israelites were defeated at Ai, "Joshua tore his clothes and fell to the earth on his face before the Ark ... and said, 'Alas, O Lord God” (Joshua 7:6, 7).
In the days of the judges, whenever the Israelites sinned, God was angry with them and placed them in the hands of their enemies. Israel's response was to cry out to God until God had mercy on them, and raised up a judge to deliver them. This was true of each of the judges.
When the Philistines had put out Samson's eyes and bound him with brass fetters, Samson called out to God, "O God, Lord, remember me, I pray. Strengthen me this one more time!" (Judges 16:28).
When Hannah realized that God had sealed her womb. she wept and prayed to God at great length (I Samuel 1: 12). The Talmud states (Yoma 29a) that from there we see that whoever prays at great length is answered. It is also taught that whenever the righteous pray at length, they are answered. Hannah said, "I have poured out my soul before God" (I Samuel 1:15). She later said of Samuel, "This is the child for whom I prayed" (1 Samuel 1:27). Scripture records, "Hannah prayed and said..." (I Samuel 2:1), upon which the Midrash comments, "She began to pray and confess."
Later, when the Philistines had overpowered Israel, Samuel said, "Gather all Israel to Mitzpah and I will pray to God for you" (I Samuel 7:5). Scripture says, "They went to Mitzpah and drew water, pouring it out before God" (I Samuel 7:6). The commentaries note that they spilled out their hearts before God like water. It is then recorded, "Samuel cried out to God for Israel, and God answered him" (I Samuel 7:9).
All the prophets also were constantly involved with praying. Elijah thus said, "God, Lord of Israel, before whom I stand, is life" (I Kings 17:1). The commentaries note that he was saying that he was accustomed to standing before God in prayer.
When the son of the woman of Tzarphath died, Elijah called out to God and said, "God my Lord, let this child's soul come back to him," and the Scripture records that "God listened to Elijah's prayer" (I Kings 17:21, 22).
Similarly, at Mount Carmel, when he gathered all Israel along with the Baal's prophets to reveal that there is a God in Israel, Elijah approached God and said, "God, Lord of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that You are God in Israel ... Answer me, God, answer me!" (I Kings 19:36, 37).
Although Elisha performed many miracles, the Talmud states, "Whatever Elisha accomplished, he did through prayer" (Megillah 27a).
When Jonah was swallowed by the giant fish, the Scripture records that "Jonah prayed from the fish's belly" (Jonah 2:2). Scripture also records the "Prayer of Habakkuk" (Habakkuk 3:1).
It is written, "[God] hears the prayers of the righteous" (Proverbs 15:29). The Midrash comments that this is speaking of the prayers of the prophets of Israel. It is written, "If they are prophets ... let them pray to the Lord of Hosts" (Jeremiah 27:18).
King David spent his entire life engaged in prayers, supplication, and entreaty to God, expressing his thoughts to God until he was worthy of composing the Book of Psalms. It is thus taught that the verse, "[Noah] sent out the raven" (Genesis 8:7) refers to David who cried out to God like a raven. David would go out to the mountains like a raven to meditate, as it is written, "David climbed the ascent of the Mount of Olives, and he wept as he climbed, with his head covered" (II Samuel 15:30) (Zohar Chadash 23c).
After King Solomon built the Holy Temple, he, too, prayed to God, as it is written, "Solomon stood before God's altar in the presence of the entire Israelite community, and he spread his hands [in prayer] to heaven" (I Kings 8:22).
When King Hezekiah was sick, it is recorded that "Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to God" (Isaiah 38:2). His prayer is then recorded at length.
When Daniel was asked to interpret King Nebuchadnezzar's dream, it is recorded. "Daniel went to his house and informed Chanania, Mishael and Azariah, his companions, so that they would pray to God in heaven concerning this secret" (Daniel 2:17, 18).
Later, Darius made a law "that anyone who makes a petition to any god or man for the next thirty days ... shall be cast into the lion's den" (Daniel 6:8). Daniel's response is recorded: "Daniel knew that the decree was signed, but he went to his house, and although the windows of his upstairs room were open to Jerusalem, he kneeled three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had always done" (Daniel 6:11).
When Daniel was then cast into the lions' den, he prayed with great intensity. We thus say [during the Selichoth service], "May He who answered Daniel in the lions' den also answer us."
Daniel also cried out to God regarding the destruction of Jerusalem, as he recorded, “I set my face to God, seeking Him with prayer, supplication, fasting, sackcloth and ashes. I prayed to God, my Lord, and confessed, saying, ‘O Lord, the great and awesome God ... Turn your ear, My God, and listen . . .' I thus spoke in prayer” (Daniel 9:3 ff).
When Chanania, Mishael and Azariah were thrown into the fiery furnace, they were defivered only because they prayed to God, as discussed in the Zohar (III, 57a). We thus say [during the Selichoth service], "May He who answered Chanania, Mishael and Azariah in the fiery furnace also answer us."
Ezra similarly records, "I proclaimed a fast there at the Ahavah River, so that we might humble ourselves before our God, and seek Him in a straight way ... So we fasted and prayed to God ... and He heard our prayer” (Ezra 8:21, 23).
When he discovered that the Israelites had married gentile women, Ezra cried out bitterly and said, "I am ashamed and humiliated to lift my face to You, O God..." (Ezra 9:6). His entire prayer is then recorded.
When there was a decree against the Jews in Shushan, Mordecai and Esther prayed to God a great deal, as we see in the Book of Esther.
Shortly after this, the Great Assembly ordained all the formal prayers that a person must address to God each day.
During the Talmudic period, all the sages would constantly engage in personal prayer. The Talmud thus records the prayers that many of the sages recited after the formal Amidah (Berakhoth 17a). The sages also composed many prayers for special occasions, such as the traveler's prayer (tefillath haderekh).
They also ordained that before a person measures his grain, he should say. "May it be Your will, 0 God my Lord, that You send Your blessing in this pile of grain. " Similarly, before entering a city, one should say, “May it be Your will that You bring me into this city in peace.” After composing all these prayers, they finally said, “If only a person would pray all day long!”
In later times, many holy men composed prayers and poems (piyutim). Thus, the Ari and his disciples composed a large number of prayers, such as those found in Sha'arey Tzion.
The Baal Shem Tov also engaged constantly in meditation and revealed the importance of prayer, as we find in the works based on his teachings.
Rabbi Tzvi of Zidichov writes:
“The best time to meditate is after midnight. One should rise and pray for his soul, which because of its sins. is so far from the Fountain of Life. At that time, he should review all that has passed, and speak out his heart, like a slave lying prostrate before his master. He should express his prayers like a child addressings its father. The language should be that which he usually speaks, so that his words will be fluent, and he will be able to express the pain in his heart for all the sins that he has committed, begging for forgiveness and atonement. The Zohar (III, 124a) thus teaches, ‘Since the Holy Temple has been destroyed, the only thing left for us is prayer.’ One should ask God to help him to worship, and to be in awe of the Divine with a perfect heart. One should pray in this manner at length; this is obviously more precious to God than any fast.”
He then quotes a manuscript of Beth Middoth attributed to the Ari, which states, "One must meditate, secluding himself with God. He must speak to God with quiet trepidation, as a slave speaks to his master, or a child to his father. "
All the disciples of the Baal Shem Tov followed this path. Finally. the Baal Shem Tov's great-grandson. Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, renewed this ancient path which our ancestors had always followed, and he exceeded in prayer, supplication and meditation, in the fields and forests. It was he who enlightened us and taught us the proper way to follow this path. He told his followers, "Give me your hearts, and I will take you on a new path. which is really the old path upon which our fathers always walked."