November 18, 2009


From Ozer Bergman’s “Where Earth and Heaven Kiss: A Guide to Rebbe Nachman’s Path of Meditation” (Breslov Research Institute), pp. 163-166.

So Many Choices

Rabbi Ozer Bergman

Every now and then, use your hitbodedut as the first stage of defining and refining the values by which you want to live. Use it also as the venue in which you begin to formulate the goals and the plans that, stage by stage and step by step, will reflect your chosen values.

What exactly are those chosen values? Until you choose what you want out of life, you cannot formulate or pray for a plan to live by those values. As every good novelist knows, you always write the ending of your book first. Why? Because how the book ends will determine everything else that will be written in the story. Similarly, the ending which you choose for your life’s story will impact every decision you make. There is no more important choice you will ever make.

Alice asked the cat, “Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”

“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the cat.

To make the right choices in life, you must turn your ear—and your heart—to listen closely and carefully, to hear through all the reverberating sounds and calls, the cacophony of wild beasts and wild claims. Your goal is to detect the genuine voice of Creation and reject its echoes. The genuine voice is a quiet, subtle, barely detectable whisper—until you hear it. Then it roars. You’ll never be able to hear it, though, unless you want it. If you don’t hear it, it’s either because you don’t want it at all or you don’t want it enough.

Rebbe Nachman once said to Reb Noson: “Everything you see in the world, everything that exists, is for the sake of free will, in order to challenge people.”

There are so many choices and oh so many voices—some yelling, some whispering, some in your face, some tugging and your sleeve. Some are so seductive, some so compelling. It can be maddening. A person may feel so overwhelmed that he makes a blind decision just to silence the noise.

Even if you have a fairly clear idea of what you want, some voices can mimic yours so well that you may believe that what they are saying is really you speaking. Is the choice you are making really yours? Is that really where you want to go? Are you fooling yourself or being fooled? Even if you’re sure that the choice is yours, are you certain that it leads to safe harbor?

Rebbe Nachman once remarked to Reb Noson, “You speak to people. Ask them, ‘What?’ Ask them to cut through all their excuses and rationalizations and honestly consider: What legacy will you leave for yourself? What will be your destiny?”

There’s an interesting experience one has almost immediately upon dying, an experience that is forced upon him: he gets to see that this world is vanity. He finally takes note that many of his “important concerns” were nonsense. This insight results from the great yishuv hadaat, the calm reflection, that comes when a person finally stops running and starts observing life from an unbiased perspective. Sadly, it is then too late to make use of this all-important piece of wisdom.

Lying there dead, one realizes that he wasted his days in vain. He will know that his most overwhelming desires were nonsense and confusion. Who really forced him! But a person must die before he fully perceives this truth.

Most things that people fear cannot harm them at all. The only time a person can think clearly is when he is dead. When he is lying on the ground, with his feet to the door, he will finally see the truth. Then he will realize that all his fears and worries were foolish and for nothing. What could anybody have done to him?!

While your fullest and most complete realization of this truth will hopefully wait for a good long while, Rebbe Nachman offers a valuable tip in the meantime: Use hitbodedut to reflect well on what you are doing. There is no need to wait till you’re absolutely dead and no longer able to busy yourself in the world to take a good, hard look at what’s truly important—and what is not.

Dedicating some of your hitbodedut to “comparison shopping” can be of inestimable value. An honest appraisal of the success that this world offers reveals that such pleasures are as permanent as passing shadows. They are, as Rebbe Nachman pointed out, as real as sunbeams in a dark room. It looks as if something is there, but if you try to grab it, you come up empty-handed.

Understand that this world is transient. From the day you’re born you begin to die. You’re never again going to live this day, this hour or this minute, ever. You need to remind yourself of this fact often because part of God’s genius was to hide it from us. Nothing is going to remain of all your fame, fortune, steak dinners or sexual pleasures. It may be necessary to occasionally make use of any or all of these for some nobler goal, but in and of themselves they have no value.

With hitbodedut you can detach from the furious and spurious pace and gauge accurately where your current path is leading. It usually takes more than an hour or two of hitbodedut to come to the intellectual realization and deep-rooted acceptance that this world has no enduring value. However long it takes, the hitbodedut invested is well worth it. Those sessions are your first steps and the crucial keys to easily divest yourself of your phobias and desires. From there, you can make hitbodedut the forum in which you determine, affirm and create your desire for living a life that is Jewish inside and out, from the inside out.