March 3, 2009


From Yitzhak Buxbaum’s anthology, “Jewish Spiritual Practices” (Jason Aronson), pp. 631-633. This useful volume also includes a separate chapter on Hitbodedut, pp. 610-615, which includes a sampling of primarily Breslov teachings on this topic.

A Full Day Set Aside

Considering all the normal distractions to concentration on heavenly matters, it is an excellent custom every so often to set aside a full day devoted exclusively to religious practice. If possible, this can be done regularly -- once a week or once a month.

The Sabbath, of course, is a day for spirituality once a week, but it is not really meant for hard spiritual work. Although the teachings quoted below emphasize fasting and repentance and fear of God, that particular character is not absolutely necessary to the idea of a weekday set aside for spiritual practice. However, there is something of a balance between the Sabbath, which is for service of God and repentance from love, and this one weekday set aside for repentance with the emphasis on fear.

As Rabbi Moshe Leib of Sassov said:

During the six workdays the attribute of fear is stonger, and on the holy Sabbath the attribute of love is stronger. (Eser' Tzachtzachot, p. 54, #37)

[Other Kabbalists and Chassidic masters, too, encourage this practice:]

- You should seclude yourself one day a week when you can fast, pray, do tshuvah, make confession for your sins, and fix everything that needs fixing and attach your mind in dvekut to God. (Rabbi Nahum of Tchernobil, Hanhagot Tzaddikim, p. 35, #7)

- One day a week you should separate yourself from other people and be alone, just you and your Creator. You should attach your mind to Him as if you were standing before Him on the Day of Judgment (Rosh HaShanah), and speak to Him, blessed be He, as a son to his father and a servant to his master. (The Ari, quoted in Tzavaot v’Derech Tovim, p. 58, #2)

- You should seclude yourself one day a week if possible, in a special room devoted to spiritual practice -- where you can fast and do tshuvah and study Torah... On the day of the fast, go to the mikveh and immerse yourself no fewer than two times -- once to remove your uncleanness and once to draw on yourself holiness. During the whole day be especially careful not to engage in any idle talk -- just involve yourself in Torah and the fear of God all day. See to it that everything you do be only for the sake of heaven, and with love and fear of God. You should cry before your Creator that He forgive you all your transgressions; be careful, however, that you do not have any insincerity mixed into your crying, God forbid, for that is dangerous altogether, God forbid. On the evening before the fast and on the one after the fast do not eat any meat. (Rabbi Aaron of Karlin, Hanhagot Tzaddikim, p. 3, #3)

- Every month separate yourself apart for one day, if possible in the synagogue or Beit Midrash (study house), where you can be alone with God without distractions. Or, if that is not possible, then be in your house, but in a room with the door closed and locked. Do not talk with anyone, but divide the day into three: one part to search your actions and arrange to fix what needs fixing, one part for Torah study, and one part for prayer. Make this day go from one evening to the next, or if you are physically weak, just from morning to evening. And let this holy time be holy: do not think at all about worldly things but immerse yourself in holiness the whole day. (Derech Hayim, 2-27)

- You should fast at least one day a week. On that day forget about all your other affairs, about everything else in the world, and stay by yourself… Direct your thoughts to God, to cling to Him and to be embittered over how long you have rebelled against the Great King. You should cry and mourn with a broken heart, with many supplications and praises of God… And do this all your days until you find favor in the sight of the King, blessed be He. (Rabbi Elijah de Vidas, Totza’ot Hayim, p. 33)