From Rabbi Perets Auerbach’s “The Science, Art and Heart of Hitbodedut.” Explantory notes have been omitted from this online version. This work-in-progress may be purchased by contacting the author by email: email@example.com. We thank Rabbi Auerbach for permitting us to present this and other excerpts from his writings here.
An ancient meditative technique is to say over a word many times. You internalize its nature, and its message becomes actualized in the awareness. This can be used as a method (Likkutei Moharan II, 96). The simplest, strongest thing is to chant “Ribbono shel Olam,” “Master of the Universe.” While saying this, one can ponder an infinite spectrum of Divine truths. Speech is extremely powerful (ibid.). Saying something is not just a sort of self-suggestion – it really invokes spiritual realities. Placing the mind and speech in “Ribbono shel Olam-space” really hooks the self to God. This is intensified if one merges with the word and “breathes” it in and out.
Similarly, any word/idea can be used in this way. “Shalom (peace)” is a powerful word/concept/idea to repeat and meditate on. Wherever one turns his attention and mouth, so that aspect will be awakened above and below.
“I make known Your faith with my mouth” (Psalms 89:2). “Faith depends upon a person’s mouth” (Likkutei Moharan II, 44). The Tikkunei Zohar (Introduction) states that “Malchut (kingship) is the mouth.” It is the last sefirah that mobilizes them all into expression. Speech that comes from it concretizes realities, both in the world and in the self. Saying anything is a powerful tool to make it happen – especially when the words are said to God. Repeat in a chant to God anything of a positive nature that you wish to materialize, within or without.
This applies even more so to specific words of emunah (faith), which also corresponds to malchut. Saying words of faith is itself an expression of faith, and brings one to greater faith (Sichot HaRan 146). Simply saying, “God, I believe in Your power to help Me!” strengthens belief and thereby helps to make manifest the needed aid.
If a person finds himself stuck without words, this very problem can be made into a prayer: “Ribbono shel Olam, I have nothing to say to You! Please open my mouth to communicate, because I want a connection with You...” Many things pass over a person in this world, and at times even this might be too difficult. Therefore, one should know that just taking some time to sit before God and yearn for Him is very precious and makes a great impression above (Likkutei Moharan II, 25).
The state of not being able to relate to God reflects being in the “empty vacuum (chalal ha-panui),” which the Arizal teaches was the prerequisite for the creation of all the worlds (Eitz Chaim, beginning). However, one who turns this very quandary into a prayer rectifies this problem at its root and reveals the Divinity hidden in the empty vacuum (Likkutei Moharan I, 64). This evokes a tremor in creation and helps everyone in the world to relate to and find God in all the places of concealment. For as Rabbi Nachman explains, if God seems distant it is only because He wants to bring you very close (Likkutei Moharan II, 12).
“There is no speech, no words” (Psalms 19:4). “To You silence is praise” (ibid. 65:2). “He sits alone (badad – the root of hitbodedut) and is silent” (Lamentations 3:28).
“Silence is golden.” Thus the Talmudic sages observe, “If a word is worth a selah (coin) - silence is worth two” (Megillah 18a). Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai said to his son, “Elazar, your silence built both Temples (corresponding to binah the upper, and malkhut, the lower” (Zohar I, Introduction). The Sages also state, “The best medicine of all is silence” (Megillah, loc. cit.), and “Silence is a fence for wisdom” (Avot 3:17). The Chashmal in Ezekiel’s “Merkavah” vision is ‘chash (silence)/mal (speech) – “speaking silence” (Chagigah 13a). “Sounds of silence.” As mentioned, if someone is wordless, simply sitting before God wanting to speak to Him, this is a great thing. Simply being alone before Him isolates the awareness and focuses it on God’s omniscience.
Moreover, silent hitbodedut can be utilized to come to a great awareness. Rabbi Nachman once told his disciple, Reb Noson, that one should turn red from shame before God’s awesome Presence (Si’ach Sarfei Kodesh, Vol. I, 730). The self is abashed once it is awakened to know that it is really before God every moment. This extends to include all worlds. Every single instant, they are all renewed yesh me-ayin, “something from nothing,” by the Divine will. They are all as naught before Him (Zohar, Daniel, Introduction). Practice this, and the silence associated with being “locked up” can be released, unearthed, and transformed into expanded consciousness.
The above ideas about bitul (nullification of ego) can be more deeply implanted in one’s awareness through prostrating before God in hitbodedut. This was practiced in the time of the Temple and is also mentioned in the Talmud (Berakhot 34b). It is a basic principle that “externality awakens internality” (Mesilat Yesharim, chap. 7). The outer position of physical prostration helps bring the inner awareness to a state of nullification (Likkutei Torah from the Ba'al HaTanya). “They stood packed and prostrated with room” (Avot 5:8). All of Israel crowded into the Temple’s courtyard on the three pilgrim festivals (Chagigah 4b). Despite the fact that in the courtyard there was standing room only, when everyone bowed down each person found plenty of space around him. This is because the state of bitul (nullification) elevated them to mind-expansion (mochin de-gadlut), which propelled them into the exalted level of transcendent space.
Some mistakenly think that prostration should not be done anymore, because it is still practiced by idolaters. This is not true. In the time of the Temple idolaters also practiced it, and yet it was done. Today we also find prostration to be part of the services of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the “Days of Awe.” If so, there is no reason for the individual not to practice prostration. However, for halakhic reasons it is important to place an interruption, such as a towel, between the body and the ground (Orach Chaim 131:8).
“We have no one to rely upon except our Father in heaven” (Sota 49a). Sometimes a person needs to be emotionally stripped bare in order to come to this realization. When the Temple stood, there were wellsprings of spiritual experience available. Unquestionably, this was a great thing. However, the awesome lights that were accessible also presented a subtle test: Would one on a high level still be able to recognize that he is really absolutely nothing and totally throw himself on God? This is included in Rabbi Nachman’s teaching that one must be an expert in walking, in “running and returning” (Likkutei Moharan 6:3). “Running” refers to times of spiritual ascent. The expertise required at such times is to use the light to become more nullified to God, and not as a ‘spiritual Cadillac’ to indulge in.
“Tefilah l’ani . . . the prayer of a poor man” (Psalms 102:1). This is the remarkable quality of King David. Despite the fact that he was a king who lived surrounded by luxury, he always felt completely poor before God. He begged God for whatever he needed out of a realization of being undeserving, unworthy, and destitute. The Zohar tells us that this supplication of a poor man is the highest type of prayer (Zohar III, 195a).