Prayer From The Heart: Hitbodedut

I cannot think of a better time than the present to introduce a lesser known Jewish prayer practice, advocated by Rebbe Nachman of Breslov (1772 – 1810). It’s called Hitbodedut (Hebrew), meaning “self-seclusion.”

The Ba’al Shem Tov and other renowned Jewish mystics were devout practitioners.

May the Force Be With You!

Our greatest Tzaddikim have attributed their achievements to Hitbodedut, but it’s for everyone equally and anyone can reap supreme value through it, attaining the greatest closeness to God. Hitbodedut rises up to a very high place.   

Rebbe Nachman, Likutey Moharan II, 25

How can you get in on it? It’s simple, as the most powerful things usually are.

You have spontaneous, open and direct conversations with GD about anything and everything, in your own vernacular or any language you speak best. Nothing is too trivial or mundane.

Pray for everything. If your garment is torn beyond repair, pray for a new one. Do this for everything, large or small. Speak to God the way you would speak to your friend.

Rebbe Nachman

Location, Location, Location — Nachman believed the best place to practice is alone in the woods or meadows, where Momma Nature has your back. No minyan of humans, just helpful foliage (and critters).

“When one goes out to the woods and meadows to pray, every blade of grass, every plant and flower enter his prayers and help him, putting strength and force into his words.”

Rebbe Nachman

How cool and Kabbalistic is that? Very! Kabbalah tells us the Nitzutzei Kedusha ניצוצי קדושה (Holy Sparks) are in EVERYTHING animate and inanimate: i.e. animals, trees, rocks, plants, blades of grass, grains of sand.

Day or Night? The “middle of the night” was considered to be an ideal time to practice.

Moonlight is believed to be a powerful spiritual aid for energy healing and recharging the chakras in many spiritual traditions.

Don’t feel safe going out in woods at night? I get it. Who wants to be in the woods at midnight where Jason or Freddy Kruger might be hanging out?

No worries! You can use your own backyard, a private room, cover your head completely with a tallit (prayer shawl), or your own bed covers. King David wrote the Book of Psalms in bed, beneath the covers! (Sichot Haran #68).

Roots and Robbers!

Jewish prayer originally began with each person pouring out his heart to God in his own words and language. According to the law, the original form of prayer remains primary. Speaking to God from the depths of your heart in the language you know best is the essence of prayer. This is how all the great mystics attained their high levels.

There’s another advantage as well. When one recites scripted prayers, there are maligning forces lying in wait along the pathways of these prayers, for like highway robbers, they know the road all too well. But when a person takes an uncharted and spontaneous path that springs directly from the heart, they cannot ambush.

Rebbe Nachman, Sichot Haran #229 / Likutey Moharan II, 97

Wow! There’s a lot to unpack in the second paragraph!

Formulaic Jewish prayers are in Hebrew, but the original and principal form of Jewish prayer is in your own native tongue/s, allowing your words to flow freely from your heart. (Rebbe Nachman, Likutey Moharan II, 25).

Tongue-Tied? Rebbe Nachman recommended saying one word repeatedly with all your might to be released from your subconscious blockages.

One word mantras, like Om or Buddho, are powerful spiritual tools in Hinduism, Buddhism and other traditions.

Just for fun, I’ll close with a delightful cat tale. 

Rebbe Nachman told of a well-known Rebbe who would pray in his private room adjacent to his shul. Hearing sounds outside his door and thinking it was his congregants inspired his devotions, the rebbe prayed with increased enthusiasm. Later, he discovered the sounds were caused by a cat scratching at the door. “For nine years he prayed to a cat!” Rebbe Nachman commented.

😂😹 I’m sure the cat helped to amplify the Rebbe’s prayers with her direct line to Divinity, unobstructed by human dogma (pun intended).


©️2020 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED Shiur 11.09.19

My Modern Midrash:

GD, in my belief, is whatever you perceive Divinity to be — the biblical God, the Universal Life Force, the Divine Feminine, Mother Nature, Higher Consciousness, Enlightenment, The Great Spirit, The Infinite (a name for GD in Kabbalah) — it’s all up to personal perception.

I don’t see Divinity as an essence that can be boxed in. Maybe speaking to GD intimately, is speaking to your own self-compassion. Maybe the saboteurs along your familiar pathways of prayer are your own self-sabotaging narratives. Maybe praying spontaneously, from the heart, creates a paradigm shift.

26 thoughts on “Prayer From The Heart: Hitbodedut

  1. Anonymous

    When we met under the chuppah, the rabbi said to my bride, “Your obligation is to bake challah. Bobbie did not know how to cook. Nevertheless, from the first time we ate together in our new home until today, she has made the dinner meal. When I sit down at the table, I wait for her to join me; I do not start eating while she is preparing the salad dressing. We have repeated the mitzvah of coming together to eat for 54 years. On Shabbat, we recite the prayers. On other nights we just are together in the small space around the table.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Soul Circle

      Very moving! Thank you for sharing your beautiful story of the prayer from the heart you have created with your spouse!! It’s a good reminder that prayer from the heart can be a heartfelt tradition and our creation of sacred space. 🖖

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  2. Soul Circle

    A beautiful, poetic reflection from our class, submitted to me by Robin! 💖

    🦋🦋🦋🦋🦋🦋🦋

    Reb Nachman told a disciple, We have come into being to praise to labor and to love.

    And this mantra, which I am only able to pray in English,

    Speaks GD to me.

    The Rebbe also urged his followers to call out to GD in their own language.

    I pray in English again when I write poetry, whatever the topic may be.

    Nachman spoke of seeking the divine in nature. I seek it in the roots

    Not of trees and flowers but of darkest night

    When whatever comes to breath is both pure and romantic.

    I sit on my bed and though my words have specific meaning

    They are my ninguns. Perhaps poetry is really vocalization and the love of GD,

    Our actual words less important than the act of calling.

    Hours pass as I write a short free verse,

    Just as Reb Nachman allowed the fact of questing after GD in conversation

    Would often be arduous.

    It is a great gift that we can speak of anything at all to GD

    And be heard in mystic peace

    Because everything thus offered is a song of praise.

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  3. I’ve practised hitbodedut for many years, but lately it’s been hard. The words aren’t coming and I find it hard to trust God. I’ve had trust issues with God for some time now (not sure exactly, months or possibly years). I’m not sure what to do about this. I stopped for a few days, and tried to do it only when I wanted to, but then I ended up going back to doing it daily. I’ve tried decreasing the time. Nothing really helped.

    I’ve heard the cat story before; I see it as part of R’ Nachman’s arguments against people who he considered “false” rebbes acting from impure motives. Have you read Arthur Green’s biography of him?

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    1. The Wild Pomegranate

      I love the cat story! 😻 It brings me a sense of sweetness and joy. I would follow a rebbe that prayed with a cat, dog, bird, etc. LOL. I have yet to read Green’s biography.

      Hitbodedut can be very challenging and difficult at times — all forms of meditation are. People struggle with Buddhist meditation too. I’ve heard it said that meditation is not supposed to be easy, but it’s usually a lot more difficult for people with depression, anxiety, ptsd, etc. Those factors definitely make it more difficult for me. It’s okay to take a break from it and revisit it another time.

      I find it helpful to use it as a tool to achieve clarity and process things. I’m speaking to my neshama and my higher consciousness, rather than biblical GD. There’s some element of Spirit there, but it’s indefinable. I also find it peaceful to just commune with flowers and trees. 😊 I hope you find another approach that is helpful to you.

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      1. I’d like to be in nature more (as a general thing, not just re: hitbodedut), but it’s not really possible where I live. 😦 It would be nice to live on a farm and keep goats or something.

        I think I have a lot of anger with God that I need to work through… Also, paradoxically, part of me sees God as absolutely abstract and infinite (Ein-Sof) and I struggle to connect.

        If I feel that I’m not talking to God in hitbodedut (i.e. I’m just thinking things through to myself), that feels wrong somehow, like I’m ignoring Him. This is probably theologically incoherent.

        Hitbodedut on Shabbat (Friday night) is usually fine, though and I can sometimes talk for nearly an hour, whereas during the week I struggle to speak for ten minutes.

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        1. The Wild Pomegranate

          I’d love to live on a farm with pygmy goats and and a few donkeys! That’s my dream life. I am not happy with biblical GD, that’s why I’m glad we have so many other Hebrew names and definitions of GD in Judaism. I like Friday night and Kabbalat Shabbat the best — it’s very spiritual and soothing to me. Shacharit, not so much. Sending lots of peaceful thoughts your way! 🌷

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          1. I don’t think I really believe in the biblical God. Not the literal sola scriptura reading, which is not a Jewish way of reading. Midrash reads everything so differently, and I can’t get away from that. (I think there is an idea somewhere that the Written Torah is the aspect of judgment and the Oral Torah is the aspect of kindness.) OTOH, I don’t really have a huge problem with the text. It says what it says, and it’s there for a reason, although I struggle to understand why sometimes.

            My problem is more… I can’t connect with God. Perhaps I’m too abstract in my thinking. I believe in a personal God, but I struggle to see God as a person. I think I have a very abstract idea of God as Infinity and Love and Justice, but not as a parent or even a king. Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan says that God is in some ways like a person and in other ways like a mathematical formula; I think I get stuck in “formula” mode.

            At the same time, and paradoxically, I feel angry with God, not from the Torah text, but from the bad things that happened to me and other people. I can believe there’s a reason and a purpose to them, but I still get annoyed that God brought that purpose about through suffering rather than another way, even though I could write an essay justifying suffering in the abstract.

            I guess the bottom line is (as I just hinted on my own blog), that I’m so, so scared that I’m going to die alone and unloved because God wants me to die alone and unloved for some plan.

            Sorry, I shouldn’t dump all this on you, it’s just that people I know wouldn’t “get” this and I think you might.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. The Wild Pomegranate

              I get it. Loneliness is a scary thing. I do wonder why everyone can’t find their b’shert. It seems to happen for some (many), but not others. 😢

              Liked by 1 person

    1. The Wild Pomegranate

      👍😊As far as formulaic prayers at home, I say the blessings over food. On Friday night I say the blessing over the Shabbat candles and the Kiddush. Before bed, I say the special prayer for protection:

      Special Prayer for Protection at Night:

      In the name of Adonai the G*d of Israel…
      May the angel Michael be at my right,
      and the angel Gabriel be at my left,
      and in front of me the angel Uriel,
      and behind me the angel Raphael,
      and above my head the Shekhinah

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Phil Sutherland

    Wow! Quite a topic! As usual for your midrash, you stimulate a great deal of thought and introspection. I so agree with the part about using your own dialect and prayers to talk to G-d. I think formulaic prayers are good for encouraging people to pray and giving an example of what an how to pray. But, I have seen far too often that they are just said in rote, and not with any real emotional connection. In fact, it seems a practice to say them as fast as possible, just to say you have said them. The Rabbis and Cantors seem to condone this practice because they are the ones who most set the example. You are saying the Amidah at Synagogue and suddenly realize that you are the only one still standing. The Rabbi then says if you are not finished please feel free to continue, but, starts into the next section with you being left behind. I don’t think that this type of prayer by rote, and speed really encourages connection with G-d, plus, I have always believed that saying prayers in another language than the one that is used in common every day speech, feel pretentious and for show, not coming from the heart. Fewer and fewer people see the value of studying for long periods to learn the intricacies of another language and especially biblical Hebrew, which is even more difficult. To me, my real heart connection with G-d, comes when I set aside a moment and just talk to him in my language, as if talking to an old friend, telling Him everything I am feeling. When saying rote prayers, you are mouthing someone else’s words. They may contain words that you are really feeling. But, many times, they address general things and not the issues of the moment. If I want to make a real connection with G-d, then He needs to hear from my heart and soul what the real issues are, not what someone else wrote for me.

    The other idea, of finding a spot, such as out in the woods, etc. is a great one. Life is very distracting and I have enough trouble concentrating on things as is. When I deliberately find an isolated spot without distraction, I can think more clearly and can have a conversation with G-d uninterrupted by distraction and life around me. I love to ride a motorcycle. For me, the idea of getting away is perfect for me, when I climb on my motorcycle and ride off into the beauty of G-d’s creation, smell the fresh pine, see the majesty of G-d handiwork in front of me. It feels to me like I am a part of it, and at one with G-d. It is a special kind of Shalom.

    Lastly, I greatly understand the various struggles to identify G-d. I think we all go through those. David, in Psalms, and Proverbs, addressed his own feelings of isolation from G-d and trying to figure out his relationship, and where he stood. At times, he was a great warrior, and at others, discouraged and feeling very distant from G-d. I think that we all go through those periods in our lives. If David had been perfect or had a perfect connection at all times with G-d, then we would have trouble identifying with him. But, he had all of the struggles common to man, but, still, G-d called David a Man After G-d’s Own Heart. So, we can have hope that this imperfect, and sometimes troubled person, was loved by G-d and therefore, we can have hope as well. I have struggled at times to identify who or what G-d is. But, after much ruminating over this subject, I have come to the conclusion that G-d is really incomprehensible to us. We cannot fully grasp what he is. Nor is this really required for a relationship. When we settle that issue in our mind, knowing that we cannot grasp this concept, then we find peace in just simply trusting, as a baby trusts his parents, and simply just accept the relationship. In Isaiah, 55: 8-9, it pretty much defines this idea: For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as high as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts. Again in Psalm 145:3 Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised, and His greatness is unsearchable. We, as mankind, like to define things and be able to have a picture or clear definition of things. This is the great mystery of G-d, that only a handful of humans have ever interacted directly with G-d, like Moses, but, we are admonished many times to just trust. This aspect has given me peace, when I understand that I will never comprehend G-d and that in order to have a relationship, I simply just have to trust. I don’t have to understand, just be still and know that He is G-d. He has never, ever, let me down through the most trying circumstances of my life. Those who know me, know that I have had tremendously trying circumstances, yet, He has been with me and never failed me. There were times I wondered where He was or what exactly He was doing, but, as time passed, I was able to comprehend and see that His plans for me, and His path were far better than my own plans or my chosen path. Proverbs 3: 5: Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your path!”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The Wild Pomegranate

      “…You are mouthing someone else’s words. They may contain words that you are really feeling. But, many times, they address general things and not the issues of the moment.” Very true.

      I know that many people feel intimidated and ‘lesser than’ when they aren’t fluent in the language of formulaic prayer at a Mosque, Catholic church (when Latin was the primary language at Mass) or Synagogue.

      A bike ride in the country sounds divine. Love the way you describe it. It’s been many years since I’ve been on a bike, but I recall the feeling. Thank you bunches for being here! Your reflections are always greatly appreciated and very well-expressed!

      Liked by 1 person

    2. The Wild Pomegranate

      Really floats my boat to hear that my drashot stimulate a great deal of thought and introspection. Thanks for inspiring me to keep going! 🤩🥳🖖

      Liked by 1 person

    3. Phil Sutherland

      I used the word Transliteration instead of translation. It should read “Often the translation of Hebrew leaves much to be desired…….”

      Like

  5. Shainagirl

    I have always prayed on mountaintops as a perpetual hiker. That is the only thing that has ever made sense to me. On L’eil shabbat I enjoy the intricacies and the comfort of the traditions and prayers. Our 4000 year history is comforting as well as consistent. It is a balance to do my own prayers. I am from the school of thought that Martin Buber was correct when he presented the “I thou” relationship with G-d. Rabbi Nachman and Martin Buber have been inspirational in personal relationships with G-d. So, it is a matter of balance. It is a life long process. It is worth it to me.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The Wild Pomegranate

      Thank you for sharing and bringing in Martin Buber. What a fantastic experience you had, praying on a mountain top! Much gratitude for this sweet comment. 🥰

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  6. Shaina Girl

    I find it very meaningful to pray in my own language because G-d knows all languages. it is very intimate to pray with my own words. I am not a person who likes to pray in rote because it hinders my relationship with G-d. When I pray to G-d in my own language, it means that I am working something out with G-d. I am able to comfort myself by having a personal relationship with G-d. Sometimes when doing Shacharit and Musaf it makes me crazy, because after doing Shema and Amidah once, I am done and don’t feel the necessity of doing it again within the same service.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The Wild Pomegranate

      …”working something out with G-d”… I like the way you phrased that. I can’t sit through those really long services any more in the Conservative and Orthodox shuls. I like simplicity and the humbleness of just praying to GD in your own language/s. We don’t need expensive buildings to connect to GD. Thanks a bunch for being here!

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  9. walter h

    Nature is the most powerful teacher. In my childhood I learned so many thing that Torah teach us.
    God will listen to anyone on your own language.
    I believe the goal could for us Jews is to become a walking Torah.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The Wild Pomegranate

      Thank you for sharing and reflecting upon this post! All languages of the universe speak the language of Divinity. Nature is a powerful force. I would be interested in hearing more about what it means to you to be a “walking Torah.” 🖖😊

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