I had a few comments from the post ‘Waiting for miracles’ which I wanted to respond to as an actual post.
One of my big dilemmas is how I share the real challenges I have without putting people off the idea that talking to God regularly, and doing six hours of hitbodedut, can really and truly help them in their lives.
There are things I didn’t clarify in the last post which I’m hopefully going to make clearer in this one, and thanks to everyone who prompted this discussion with their input and feedback, as I think these ideas are very important to lay out on the table. The other thing to state at this point is that hard as I’m trying to put this stuff across correctly, I’m often still struggling myself to really know what the heck is going on.
I don’t pretend to know the mind of God, or anything even close. All I’m doing is sharing my insights and experiences.
What’s the point of praying?
The first point is about the true purpose of prayer, and particularly of hitbodedut. If we believe that the point of prayer, and the point of doing hitbodedut, is to force God to give us what we want, then sooner or later, we’re going to get pretty disappointed.
Because not everything that we want is good for us, or part of God’s plan for our life and our spiritual rectification. Some people need to be poor; some people need to be single; some people need to be childless, or chronically ill.
If I’m trying to ‘force’ God to give me money when my life’s plan requires me to be poor, I’m probably not going to get very far. So then, why pray?
There’s two answers to this:
- We can’t know if our poverty (to stick with that example) is part of the permanent plan, or a temporary ‘blip’ on the radar designed to get us to work on our middot, our Torah observance and our connection to Hashem more. The only way we can find that out is to work on our middot, Torah observance and connection to God, and see if something shifts. More often than not it will and it does, because most difficulties are temporary, and come only to strengthen our religious observance and characters, in some way.
- If our poverty is a permanent feature of our lives, then the only way to really make peace with it, and to not have it destroy every other area of our lives and happiness, is by regularly talking to God, and working on our character and middot, especially our emuna.
To bring this back to my own experiences, I still don’t know if my financial issues are temporary, or permanent. But either way, doing hitbodedut regularly, including an occasional six hours, is the only way I’m going to happily cope with my reality in any case.
With hitbodedut, I have one bad day every so often when the whole world feels like its crashing down. Without hitbodedut, I think I’d be having a bad life. Full stop.
The main problem with the ‘pseudo-Breslever’ is that he never pointed out that God could say ‘no’ to your prayers, even if you sat there for a whole year solid doing six hours every day. The pseudo-Breslever taught that people can force God to do their will, simply by racking up the hours they spend in hitbodedut.
This is a powerfully seductive message, and one of the main reasons the pseudo-Breslever seems to be getting more and more popular, because we all like to think that there’s some way that we can wrest control of our lives away from God.
By contrast, Rav Arush teaches that prayers typically get answered in one of the four following ways:
- Partially over time (i.e. you see gradual improvements)
- Nothing for ages, and then everything suddenly falls into place
- Only in the world to come (i.e. you don’t see any obvious advantage to your prayers in your lifetime.)
Clearly, number 4 sucks!
But sometimes, in some areas, number 4 is perhaps what we’re dealing with. In other cases, it may be number 3, and we just haven’t ‘got there’ yet, and the only way we’ll ever know is to continue praying.
Which brings me to the other point I wanted to make in this post, that if we approach hitbodedut, and talking to God, as a valuable end in and of itself, then it’s always worthwhile and never pointless.
I’m still talking to God for an hour every single day, Baruch Hashem. Some days, it’s pretty pedestrian nothing to write home about, other days I get some simply mind-blowingly awesome insights (many of which have made it into my books and blog posts…)
And it’s not me who’s deciding if my hitbodedut is going to be amazing or pretty ho-hum – it’s God. But either way, my soul needs that regular fix, that regular time to be connected back to God. My hitbodedut literally keeps me sane, even when the world is going bonkers around me.
The odd bad day notwithstanding, my hitbodedut keeps me going, it helps me to decompress from stressful events, and it helps me to ‘catch’ my bad middot and unhealthy actions and reactions that otherwise I’d be completely clueless about.
So for those reasons, it’s still very, very good.
In our very superficial world, I understand that the pseudo-Breslevers we fell foul of were trying to package hitbodedut in a way they thought would really sell to the masses, i.e. as a spiritual way of getting God to do what we want.
But if these people were genuinely doing hitbodedut themselves, i.e. asking God what HE wants from them, instead of the other way around, then they would have realized that their approach was incorrect, and also potentially very damaging, long before they turned it into a whole career for themselves.
Now, here’s the good news: After I wrote ‘waiting for miracles’, I went and did some hitbodedut and I discovered something wonderful: I still believe in miracles after all. That in itself is a miracle. My husband is a miracle. My kids are miracles. Being able to type, and think and see is all miracles.
My hitbodedut is what helped me to see that while the other miracles I’m waiting for – like a house of my own, a bit more financial security, a community etc – haven’t appeared (yet!), my life is still full of massive miracles.
So, to sum up: If you want to try to force God to do what you want, hitbodedut may well still work for you, but there are no guarantees. But, if you want to be able to live your life happily even when God isn’t giving you what you want – then hitbodedut will work every single time.