Sunday, February 19, 2012

Nourishing Yourself with Faith during Difficult Times: Part I

Ever notice that life challenges either bring us closer to God or further away?

A key determining factor is the depth of our faith; with deeply rooted beliefs, we can weather any storm. No one is born with faith; if we want rock solid faith, we have to develop it ourselves. Then, our beliefs will sustain us throughout life’s struggles, as the prophet Habakkuk says (Habakkuk 2:4), “…The righteous person will live through his faith.”

A fundamental belief of Judaism is that whatever happens to us is from God, out of His love for us and for our benefit (Tractate Berachot 60b). This is not advocating passivity. We need to do what we reasonably can to improve our lives, including asking our Father in Heaven for help. At the same time, we can learn to let go of insisting on specific outcomes.

Each moment of your life, your Creator gives you whatever you need to fulfill your purpose for that moment. If after reasonable efforts you do not get what you are after, then God is saying to you, “My dear child, right now you can fulfill your life’s purpose with what I have given you.”

A common misconception is that difficulties are bad for us. In truth, adversity is a growth catalyst like none other. Suffering can lead to clarity, crystallizing what is really important – coming close to God, through Torah, prayer and acts of kindness. Adversity opens us up to a deeper connection with all three:

Torah – hardship reduces our drive for many of life’s superficial pleasures. Then, we can be drawn to the deepest pleasures – the sweetness of Torah study and the joy of living in oneness with God and His Torah.

Prayer – when we realize no one else can help us, we call out to our Father. Pain can propel us into His arms; the comfort and support we will feel there will enable us to get through the most trying times.

Kindness – hardship can make us more empathic, tearing down the walls that hold us back from being there for each other.

Even when our lives feel like they are falling apart and difficulties surround us on all sides, the real opportunities of life – Torah, prayer and acts of kindness – are still accessible; reach out and allow them to lift you up and elevate even the most trying circumstances. As Reb Noson of Breslov wrote, “Our days are like a passing shadow and time rushes by. Nothing but the Torah, prayer and good deeds that you manage to seize each day will remain with you. Everything else is fleeting (Healing Leaves by Yitzchok Leib Bell).”

A flame – symbolic of the soul – is nourished by its fuel below; the flame transcends the fuel and reaches upwards. Similarly, each difficulty you transcend is fuel for your soul to reach upwards, to higher levels of closeness to God. Take advantage of suffering to ignite in you a burning desire for God: A thirst for His Torah, a longing for His company (prayer), and a yearning to do kindness to His children.

The greater the challenge (the fuel) – during which you hold on to your faith – the brighter the flame of your soul will be, illuminating the world with God's glory. This will lead to the ultimate revelation of His glory – the building of the Third Temple – may it be today.

Questioning why

When discussing suffering, the question arises, “How can x calamity possibly be an expression of God’s love and for our benefit?” The fact that we are asking the question only about x calamity is one answer. Since we are not asking about every day of our lives – "Where is God's love?" – implies that the times we did not feel His love were the exceptions and not the rule. God is infinitely wise and we cannot understand His ways, certainly not all the time.

Be prepared for times when you cannot easily reconcile God’s behavior with His love for you and utilize those opportunities to strengthen your faith in Him, one of the purposes of life. Not only does faith sustain us as mentioned above, faith and observances – physical declarations of faith – enable us to truly be alive and benefit from the opportunities of this world. The choice you make during adversity, whether to come closer to God – believing in His love for you – or to move further away, is a defining moment of your life.

The reality is that even during difficult times, our Father has not abandoned us. We are always surrounded by His love; it is in the oxygen in our lungs, the warm clothes on our backs and the heat in our homes. Amidst adversity, His love is hidden. Nevertheless, search for fortifying glimmers, signs God is with you – comforting and supporting you – in fulfillment of the verse (Psalms 32:10) “…But he who trusts in God – with lovingkindness, He will surround him.”

No matter what happens in life, no matter what is taken away or never given, we can always have faith. We always have our Father’s undivided attention and love. Nothing can take those away.

“Who am I?”

We are not our bodies, which temporarily cloak who we really are – eternal souls. When the body dies, only the soul remains. Even if our bodies are racked with physical or emotional pain, our souls remain untouched, our essence unaffected. The less we identify with the passing experiences of our bodies, and the more we focus on preparing our souls for the Next World, the less painful and more fulfilling we will find this world.

The body is the vehicle our Creator lends our souls to accomplish their task in this world – to come closer to Him through the choices we make, thereby earning the bliss of the Next World. Psalms gives voice to the soul’s mission and yearning (73:28), “But as for me, the nearness of God is my good.” Coming close to God is the only good. Everything else is good to the extent it helps us reach this goal, or bad, to the extent it detracts.

The body/vehicle prefers a smooth path in life, but our souls are willing to endure a rocky road, as long as we get to where we have to go. Many times, it is the places that are difficult to reach where we gain the most, whether on a level we can see in hindsight, or on a soul level – beyond the limited perception of the body.

Becoming a living Kaddish

The seeming senselessness of our suffering compounds our pain. Finding meaning soothes and comforts us. Often, the event which appears to be the most meaningless is death. When a close family member dies, Kaddish is recited in the synagogue to elevate the loved one’s soul. Surprisingly, this prayer contains neither mention of death, nor of uplifting souls. The prayer focuses on praising and enhancing God’s glory in the world. This teaches us that when a person who has experienced severe pain is still able to praise God, tremendous elevation of His glory occurs. In addition, when a person who has passed serves as a catalyst for the recitation of Kaddish and its accompanying elevation of God’s glory, that person’s soul becomes supremely elevated.

Amidst pain and suffering, declare with every fiber of your being, “…God is just; my rock, there is no wrong in Him (Psalms 92:16).” When you do this, the greater your difficulties, the more you elevate your soul and enhance God’s esteem in the world. When people see someone who is a living Kaddish – a person who experiences suffering, yet holds tenaciously to his or her faith – they will respond about God, as they do to the Kaddish recited in the synagogue, “May His great name be blessed forever and for all eternity.”

Following God

Our ancestors, upon leaving Egypt, showed tremendous devotion to God; they followed Him in the wilderness in an unsown land (Jeremiah 2:2). God considers their loyalty an act of kindness to Him. He remembers their devotion for their sake, as a source of eternal merit for them and their descendants.

Emulate your ancestors. Follow God and stay devoted to Him, even when He leads you through barren and trying passages. When you do, God will recall those times and say about you (ibid), “I remember for your sake the kindness…how you followed Me in the wilderness in an unsown land.”

Your loyalty to God will be an eternal source of merit for you and your family

For part two of this article, click here

Please share this article with family and friends by using the icons below

Please subscribe to this blog by typing your email address in the box on the upper right and clicking on the "Subscribe" tab.

Nourishing Yourself with Faith during Difficult Times: Part II

The fairness of life

If everyone experienced the same difficulties, we would not be as bothered by our challenges. It is our belief that others have it better off that adds salt to our wounds. We look enviously at their seemingly perfect lives and think, “That’s not fair! Why can’t my life be like theirs?”

Our lives have to be different than theirs, because our mission is different than theirs. Yes, we have struggles they do not have, but we also have blessings they lack. When comparing our lives to others, we have to look at the entire package, the sweet and the bitter. In terms of fairness, if we want what others have, we would have to take on every aspect of their lives, all their difficulties and weaknesses (many of which we are not aware of) and give up all the good in our lives.

Do we still want to trade places? Often, we will come to the realization, “Let them have what they have, I’m keeping what I have.” After all, God gives each one of us what is most suited for us.

At times, it appears that our lives are filled with more suffering than most, that we are not receiving our fair share of blessings. There is a precedent for this, of an entire tribe which did not receive their “fair share” of the land of Israel.

The Jewish people are divided into twelve tribes. When the Jews were in the desert, before entering the land of Israel, Moses spoke to them about the future conquest. He told them that while the land would be divided among the tribes, one tribe would not receive an equal portion – the tribe of Levi.

Perhaps some Levites questioned, “Why can’t our share be like theirs?” Moses addressed this point when he said (Deuteronomy 10:8), “…God set apart the tribe of Levi to carry the Ark of the Covenant of God, to stand before God to minister to Him, and to bless in His name…” Yes, they will have less land than the other tribes, but they gain so much more in return: They were elevated by God for an exalted mission.

So too us, when we suffer, we become like the Levites – elevated for an exalted mission. We are chosen by God to carry His ark – our faith in Him. We are to carry this faith regardless of the obstacles we face. We are to minister to God and bless in His name. We do this by inspiring others with our faith, praying to God for help, and by looking for the blessings even within our difficulties.

We need to embrace with pride the august mission for which God has selected us. Then, perhaps in the future, we too will be given an equal share among our brothers and sisters, of whatever blessing we currently lack.

Material vs. spiritual success

The Talmud (Bava Batra 10a) states that the Next World is the opposite of this world; those whom society considers second class in this world, generally speaking, are first class in the Next World and vs. versa. How are we to understand this?

The most sought after goal in this world is material success. The irony is that material success is not the reason God created this world and has no bearing on whether we earn eternal bliss in the next. Our level of bliss in the Next World will reflect our level of spiritual success in this world, i.e., the extent to which we succeeded in serving God and being of service to others.

Frequently, people spend their lives seeking the “good life,” one of ease and comfort. If they have financial, family or health issues, they may think their lives are heading in the wrong direction. In truth, challenges assist us in living a spiritually productive life. When our physical lives are not going as we intended, we are reminded that material success is not why we are here. By focusing us on spiritual development, challenges serve as stepping stones to earning the bliss of the Next World.

We learn from the Talmud that a life well lived is the opposite of the lifestyle society idolizes. When we internalize the principle that material success is not the goal of life, our distress over our material difficulties lessen. Those seeking material success as an end and not as a means to come closer to God, are the ones heading in the wrong direction. In contrast, those who struggle to grow spiritually amidst any challenge are on track and living life to the fullest.

No matter the magnitude of our difficulties, we still can experience a life well lived. In fact, the more challenges we have, the more our Creator has made such a life accessible to us.

The next time you feel overwhelmed by challenges or compare yourself to others, remind yourself to keep your eye on the goal – serving your Creator and earning eternal bliss in the Next World. Tell yourself that your challenges are there to best help you fulfill your unique purpose and merit your portion in the afterlife. Having your difficulties prematurely removed, would undermine a key reason God sent you to this world.

Any temporary trappings you may lack in this world, will pale in comparison and be totally irrelevant when you receive your hard-earned reward in the Next. When your thoughts drift to how difficult life is, focus on the present and ask, “Right now, what’s the most productive use of my time? What will bring me closer to fulfilling my potential to serve God and be of service to others?”

Guided hitbodedut

Deepening your personal relationship with God will help you draw strength and encouragement. Talk to Him about your problems and ask for His help, preferably out loud and in your native language. This form of prayer – frequently called Hitbodedut – was popularized by the 19th century Chassidic master, Rebbe Nachman of Breslov. The following is a possible script to get started. After you ask God the questions below, notice if any answers come to mind – immediately or at a later date; they are not necessarily Divinely inspired, but they are worthy of consideration:

Please God, help me with___(say the issue). Lately, I’ve been feeling___(describe your emotions). I’m having difficulty because___(describe how you are affected). Please___(ask for what you want), so that I can___(give reasons why).

What is a reasonable effort I can make to improve my situation? Who might be able to advise or assist me?

What can I learn from this suffering? How can I use this challenge to strengthen my connection to You and unconditionally accept Your will? Which behaviors distance me from You? How can I use this suffering to more easily shed them?

No one in history has had this unique combination of difficulties and life circumstances. No one has had the chance to elevate this situation as an offering to You. Until now. This opportunity is Your gift to me. Into this moonless night – only I can carry my faith in You. Into this period of darkness – only I will shine Your glory. Doing that will be my gift to You.

A compelling reason we can give God to get rid of our problems is that doing so will enable us to fulfill our potential to come closer to Him. In reality, the way things are right now, is the optimal gateway – at least for the time being – to come closer to God. Our Father wants us to ask for His help and make reasonable efforts to improve our lives. At the same time, He wants us to willingly walk the path He has cleared just for us; a path that leads right to His throne.

Please share with article with family and friends by using the icons below

Please subscribe to this blog by typing your email address in the box on the upper right and clicking on the "Subscribe" tab.

How to Build Unshakable Faith

Some people think that having faith means believing that God will protect them from pain and suffering. When tragedy or difficulty does occur, they question, “Where was God?” Shallow faith that is dependent on God meeting our expectations is easily uprooted by the inevitable whirlwinds of life. Our Creator never promised a pain-free life, that is not the purpose of this world. In contrast, with unshakable faith, we can skillfully move through any challenge, emerging stronger and with a deeper connection to our Father in Heaven. We can embody the verse (Psalms 112:7), “Of evil news – he is not afraid. His heart is steadfast, trusting in God.”

We build unshakable faith by maintaining balance in three key areas. (1) Believing that all our challenges are from God, for our ultimate good; without veering off into blaming Him, others or ourselves. (2) Knowing that we have the God given ability to handle whatever He gives us, by making reasonable efforts and perhaps asking others for help or advice; without veering off into acts of desperation or making no attempts at all. (3) Asking God to guide us and trusting that He will; without veering off into thinking that we are alone or do not need Him.

Each one of these three keys, which lay the foundation for rock solid faith, can be illustrated by the metaphor of life as a symphony conducted by God, the Master Composer. (1) He lovingly wrote the melody to heal the souls who play its notes. (2) He gave you a part which brings out your abilities and (3) He is guiding you throughout. Occasionally the music is scary, at times sad, other times joyous, but always sublime – in a manner beyond our ability to comprehend.

Our instinctual response is to look at the immediate cause of difficulties in our lives, e.g., ourselves, family members or others, and lay blame at their doorstep. The reality is that the Creator is the ultimate cause of everything: Our successes, failures and challenges, all come from Him. Nothing and no one can harm or help us without our Creator’s permission.

God not only created us, He continually creates our experiences. King David urges us (Psalms 118:24), “This is the day God has made; let us rejoice and be happy on it.” When we believe that God makes every day of our lives – that each one is custom made for us to reach our highest potential – then we will be able to rejoice and be happy throughout our lives. Yes, there will be times of sadness and sorrow, but those times will be amidst a backdrop of feeling cared for and loved by our Father in Heaven.

Whatever occurs, whether seemingly due to circumstance, our own efforts, or those of others, is in truth the will of God, for our eternal good. As Jeremiah said, (Lamentations 3:37), “Whose decree was ever fulfilled, if the Lord did not will it?”

The more we believe this, the less we will be bitter over the past, dissatisfied with the present or worry about the future. We will be able to accept a situation without being angry with others or berating ourselves over normal human error. We realize that God is guiding our lives for our highest good; the actions of others and our own mistakes are just the implements He uses to bring about His desired result. (At the same time, we are held accountable for the consequences of either sinful or neglectful behavior.) People of faith live with peace of mind. They forgive the past, accept the present and look forward to and plan for a better future.

When we believe that our successes come only from God, we will not engage in dishonest acts to try to get ahead. Such behavior is not only forbidden, it is foolish and self-destructive; whatever gains people ascribe to underhanded actions, they will either eventually lose or they would have received any way through permitted means. In addition, because they utilized forbidden methods, unless they make amends, they stand to lose even that which they were destined to receive (Chafetz Chayim, Kuntres Sfat Tamim). Ironically, the very ill-gotten gains which people ran after, later become the instrument of their suffering and misfortune.

It is far better to have only “kosher” assets – even if they are few – than to temporarily have more assets which are “treif.” A person will see no lasting joy from ill-gotten gains; they only leave harm and destruction in their wake.

When we trust in God, we will not act out of desperation and try to force an issue to improve. (This frequently only worsens the situation, or we end up spinning our wheels and get burned out and bitter.) We understand that making more than reasonable efforts will not help us, e.g., we will not find a job or marriage partner faster, earn more money or recover from an illness quicker. God has a timetable for when we will receive our blessings – provided we do our part and ask for His assistance. A poor job market, few potential dates, a sluggish economy or lack of access to top medical care, will not hold Him back from giving us what is in our best interest.

Our efforts do not bring success; God brings success. He requires that we make reasonable efforts as a condition for receiving His blessings. Since our efforts have no direct bearing on the results God gives us, we engage in those efforts calmly. We do not frantically try to control the course of events, as the outcome of our efforts is completely in God's hands.

The potent tools of repentance, prayer and charity

If making more material effort than what is expected of us will not help, is there anything we can do to improve our situation?

The Sages say yes, by engaging in repentance, prayer and charity. How do these work if we believe that our current circumstance is for the best?

One answer given is that yes, all is for the best – for our current state. But we can upgrade our ability to receive Divine blessing. Perhaps these three practices enable us to receive greater abundance because they teach us three crucial lessons:

(1) We learn from repentance – correcting our missteps – that our blessings must be used with the guidelines outlined by the One who gave them to us. (As opposed to using them in ways our Creator has forbidden.)

(2) We learn from prayer that all blessings come only from God. (As opposed to thinking that our superiority is the source of our success.)

(3) We learn from the requirement to give charity that abundance must be shared with others. (As opposed to thinking that to preserve abundance, we have to hoard it for ourselves.)

Every act of repentance, prayer and charity is never wasted and will stand by us in this world and/or the World to Come. There are times when even after strengthening our ability to handle Divine gifts and making material efforts, the blessing we seek is not forthcoming. This is either because the right time has not yet arrived, or our Creator has decided that it is not for our highest good.

With this in mind, we make reasonable efforts to bring blessing into our lives, while at the same time realizing that if we do not have a specific blessing, by definition it is not currently needed to fulfill our life’s purpose. Even if we do not receive a particular blessing in this world, we will receive what is truly good for us in the World to Come.

Common pitfalls
There are a number of pitfalls to be wary of when working on strengthening our faith. One is getting caught up in wanting a specific end result. For example, we may think, “I have faith in God that this job, doctor or date will be the one for me.” That is not having faith in God; that is having faith in our limited intelligence. How do we know this is the right one? When we put our hopes in a specific result, we are setting ourselves up for disappointment. Faith is acknowledging that only God knows what is best for us. We do what we can and accept as His will the outcome of our efforts. When we let go of attachment to a specific result, realizing that whatever happens will be for the best, we achieve equanimity.

Being dissatisfied with our current life circumstance can be a sign that we need to strengthen our faith. Be wary of thoughts that begin with, “If only…” Or, “I wish…” It is important to plan and set goals for a better future. At the same time, people with strong faith unconditionally accept and embrace their current situation, making the most of it and trusting that right now this is the optimal circumstance for them.

We often think of building faith as a purely intellectual exercise, that if we learn enough about faith, we will eventually have it. But when it comes to faith, the question is not how much do we know, it is how much have we internalized?

Faith is mainly in the heart. An example of faith and trust is what is felt by children toward their parents. They may not even be aware of this trust on an intellectual level, but they feel it in their hearts.

Moses highlighted the importance of the heart when he said (Deuteronomy 4:39), “Today, you should know and bring it into your heart, that Hashem is God in heavens above, and on the earth below. There is no other.”

Each day, pick at least one challenge and using the exercise below, speak to yourself words of faith. Then, through the grace of God, one day it will dawn on you that God really is guiding your life; that in the end, everything really will work out. When you have this shift in perspective, you will feel a sense of release, a letting go, a lightening of a burden you have been carrying for a long time. You will realize that you can, “Cast your burden on God, and He will carry you…(Psalms 55:23)”

Addendum: Faith building exercise

Pick a difficulty in your life – start with a mild one. When you think about this challenge, contemplate, or speak out loud to yourself, the following points:

1. This is from God for my eternal benefit. Part of fulfilling my life’s purpose is doing what I can to overcome and grow from this challenge.

2. This will work out in the end; either in this world or in the next.

3. God is with me, giving me the strength and courage I need to triumph.

Please share this article with family and friends by using the icons below, or by forwarding it to them.

Please subscribe to this blog by typing your email address in the box on the upper right and clicking on the "Subscribe" tab.

How to Unlock the Hidden Power of Prayer

Many of us spend hours each week praying to God. How can we make our prayers more sincere, uplifting and effective?

Prayer is a gift from our Creator, the opportunity to speak directly with the King of kings. We benefit most from our private audience with Him, when we realize that we are in fact having one. Before praying, pause for a moment and think about how you will soon be speaking with God. Then, ask God to open your heart to be able to pray to Him with intense fervor.

You might find it helpful to talk to yourself before praying, to put yourself in the proper frame of mind. You can use the points below or come up with your own.

I am about to speak to my Father and Creator. He is the all-powerful and infinitely wise King of the world. He created and sustains the entire universe. I can’t do anything without His help. Nothing and no one can harm or help me without His permission. Everything comes only from Him. Anything I want, He can give me. My Father loves me and wants to hear from me. He listens and cherishes every word I say. Every word brings blessing to me, my family, my people and the world – often in ways I don’t understand. I let go of all extraneous thoughts, stress and tension. (If you feel stressed, take a deep breath in and while exhaling slowly through the mouth, see if you can let go of stress and tension. Do this for at least two breaths.)

Three keys will help unlock the hidden power of prayer. We will not always be in the frame of mind to utilize all of them; sometimes, we can only grasp one of them for a short period of time. Nevertheless, any effort we make to engage these keys, will elevate our prayers.

The first key: Intention. The first key is to understand what you are saying. If you do not understand some or all of the words from the prayer book, find a translation that works best for you. If you are able to read Hebrew, two formats that allow you to say the Hebrew while looking at the translation are the Linear by Metsudah and the Interlinear by Artscroll.

Praying without comprehension is like getting dressed in pitch darkness; you will get dressed but not in a way that presents yourself well. Focus on mastering one small section at a time. For the section you are working on, make it a rule not to say the next phrase until you focused on the meaning of the previous one. Then, each phrase – a mini prayer – will be cherished and savored. (Often, it is easier to focus on the meaning of phrases, versus the meaning of each word.)

The prayer book was composed by the Sages through Divine inspiration. When we say the very words that have sustained our people for thousands of years, we connect with an incredible source of spiritual power.

When you get distracted during prayer and start to think about something else, gently remind yourself that prayer will help you more with that issue than worrying about it. Then, bring your attention back to the meaning of the words. Do not be discouraged if you need to do this dozens of times; every word you say with intention is another success.

Use the issues which distract you to enhance your prayers. During pertinent sections, think about concerns weighing on you, your own and those of others, to infuse a sense of urgency and bring new meaning to the words.

The second key: Feeling. The second key is to pray with feeling. To begin with, slow down the speed at which you pray; we can talk faster than we feel. Give yourself time for the meaning and feeling behind the words to sink into your heart and stir your soul.

Another tool to help feel our prayers is to silently ask ourselves questions during prayer. For example, “How would I say these words if I really meant them? How would I say these words if I knew for certain God was listening?”

The third key: Connection. The third key is to imagine God is right before you. During prayer, you are having a one-on-one conversation with Him. The great sage Nachmanides, in Iggeret HaRamban, wrote, “In all your words, actions and thoughts, at all times, imagine in your heart that you are standing before the Holy One, Blessed is He, and that His Presence is upon you; for His glory fills the universe…(see A Letter for the Ages by Rabbi Avrohom Chaim Feuer)” By following Nachmanide’s advice during prayer, the words will come alive and directly connect you to your Creator. Prayer will become an intimate conversation with God, were you whisper to Him your prayers as He listens intently.

When you focus on the fact that you are standing before God, everything else recedes into the background. It is just you and God, secluded in prayer. As you progress, you will realize that it is really just God; you sense your oneness with Him.

If you are able to say a few phrases of prayer with feeling while concentrating on God’s presence before you – amazing! If you can only focus on the meaning of some of the words or only the general theme of a prayer, or just that you are speaking to God – great, you have laid a solid foundation upon which to build.

Use these three keys not only with the prayer book but also when reciting Psalms. They will help you claim the treasure King David left for each one of us. Soon, you will be able to say to God with conviction, “And now, for what do I hope O Lord? My longing is for You (Psalms 39:8).”

Sometimes, we are able to pray with fervor. Other times, our prayers lack feeling and we may blame ourselves. This is a mistake. We cannot force ourselves to pray with inspiration; that is a gift from God. What is within our control is to put in the effort and ask God to help us.

Every prayer is a new beginning, a new opportunity to come closer to your Creator. Fortify yourself and start fresh with each prayer. Even if you think a prayer did not go well, the mere effort you put into it is precious to your Father and will bring you closer to Him. With persistence, God will open your heart and you will begin to feel a deep sense of being nourished by your Creator and united with Him.

Addendum: Hitbodedut

Hitbodedut is informal prayer which emanates straight from your heart; in your own words, in your native language and preferably out loud. This form of prayer was popularized by Rebbe Nachman of Breslov.

Daily Hitbodedut gives us an unparalleled opportunity: The chance to talk privately with the Almighty, sharing with Him whatever is on our minds. The following are some suggestions for how to use these precious moments: Thank your Father for the blessings and help He gave you, both ongoing and recently. Share your problems and struggles, and ask for His assistance. Confess when you stumble and ask Him to strengthen you to do His will. Plead with Him that you merit studying and living His Torah, that you merit coming close to Him and witnessing the redemption. Also include prayers for others in need, the Jewish people and the world. With all of the above, be as specific and detailed as possible.

It can take time getting used to talking out loud to God. To help you open up to Him, imagine that the only blessings you will receive are those for which you ask. In addition, make a list of the issues weighing on you. During Hitbodedut, unburden yourself to your Father; express your concerns about each item on your list and ask for His help.

In the beginning, you may want to set a countdown timer for five to fifteen minutes; during that time, do the best you can to communicate to God your deepest fears, pains, hopes and joys. Gradually increase the minutes to the duration that works best for you.

Another option is to practice silent Hitbodedut. This is where you meditate on God’s all-encompassing presence. While in this meditative state, you can silently talk to God.

In addition to practicing Hitbodedut during a set time, talk to God throughout the day. Whenever you realize a lack in your life or in the life of someone else – pray to Him for help. Whenever you are about to do something challenging – ask for His assistance. Weave an ongoing conversation with your Creator into the fabric of your day. By frequently talking to God, you will transform your relationship with Him. You will shift from thinking of God as up there in the Heavens, to relating to Him as your ever-present, companion, confidante, and guide.
For a free e-book on Hitbodedut offered by the Breslov Research Institute, click here.

Please share this article with family and friends by using the icons below.

Please also subscribe to this blog by typing your email address in the box on the upper right and clicking on the "Subscribe" tab.

You: As God Intended

A little known fact – Rosh Hashanah does not commemorate the creation of the world, rather, the creation of the first human being. A world without a person who connects with God has no purpose and is not worth celebrating. We, are worth celebrating. The Talmud (Sanhedrin 37a) teaches that each individual is obligated to say, “For me, the world was created.” The spiritual power you possess is so awesome that it would be worthwhile for God to create the entire world just so you could live an elevated life in it.

Do you believe that?

If not, then you underestimate how precious your personal relationship with God is to Him. Imagine trying to explain to a toddler with whom you are close how much you enjoy when they smile at you. The child may look at you quizzically, trying to understand how you benefit when they show their budding teeth. What stirs your heart is not the physical smile; what uplifts you is the toddler’s joy and love for you, symbolized by their smile. So too, never discount any act of Divine service, or whispered prayer, especially those filled with love and longing for God; know, they are deeply cherished by Him.

Many of us do not fully realize the amazing spiritual potential we possess, waiting to ignite. We go through life only vaguely aware of the incredible closeness within our reach to our Father in Heaven. Our relationship with God is not a fringe benefit of life, it is life; it is why He created us.

Before we were born, our souls were in blissful and effortless union with God. The purpose of life on earth is to reunite with Him, through our own efforts, and thereby earn even greater bliss when we return to Heaven.

After we are born, the umbilical cord attaching us to our source of physical nourishment is cut and we must seek sustenance on our own. Similarly, upon entering this world, we must also seek spiritual sustenance on our own. God gave us the Torah to teach us how to find invigorating spiritual nourishment and how to stay away from that which weakens our connection to Him. Following the Torah enables us to achieve the deepest possible relationship with God.

Answering the shofar’s call

On Rosh Hashanah, when we hear the shofar blast we are reminded that God is our King and Creator. We ask, “Am I living my life as God intended when He created me?”

We can customize this question to give us clarity and direction in any area of our lives. For example, “Am I treating God's other children, including my spouse and kids, the way He wants them treated? Am I doing business and using my money, the way God intended when He blessed me with financial resources? Am I using my time and abilities to come closer to Him?”

When we can answer, “Yes! I am living as God intended,” we tap into the incredible power of living in sync with our Creator. The next time you are doing something in line with His will, e.g., on Shabbat, during a meal, while doing an act of kindness or learning Torah , try this: Speak to your Father in Heaven and say to Him with feeling, “I am living Your holy day, the Shabbat, as You, my Father, intended.” Or, “I am eating kosher, as You, my Father, intended.” Or, “I am using my time, as You, my Father, intended.” After doing this a few times, or perhaps right away, you will be filled with joy and a feeling of closeness to your Father. The spiritual acts you do mindfully become a conduit to feeling His loving embrace.

Every time we make His will our will we become one with God and enveloped in His embrace. With someone you deeply love, a hug once in a while does not suffice; when you hug, you never want to let go. This is why God, through His Torah, gives us guidance for every area of our lives; in His infinite love for us, God has filled life with an abundance of opportunities for closeness with Him. He wants our embrace, and for us to never let go.

It is challenging to follow the Torah as our GPS. Sometimes, we wonder if we will ever arrive at our destination or why we must take the route it sets out for us. But these challenges are there to give us the opportunity to surmount them and elevate ourselves, bringing us closer to God.

Nothing of great or lasting value is achieved without effort. What could be greater than having a relationship with God in this world? What could be more lasting than eternal bliss in the next? While the road ahead might be rocky, by following the Torah, we know where we are going and how to get there; we know that God is by our side, encouraging and strengthening us.

Rosh Hashanah is when we plead with God and ask, “Father, am I doing it right? Am I living as You intended?”

For this New Year, pick one step which will bring you closer to fulfilling God’s intention in creating you. Some possibilities: Delving into the Creator’s wisdom contained in His Torah, upgrading your observances, enhancing your prayers, or engaging in more acts of kindness. The key is to set a goal and at least once a week, do something toward achieving your goal. Although it may take time to see tangible results, the benefits accrue immediately; the closer you come to living as your Creator intended, the closer you will be to fulfilling your amazing potential.

Over time, like a musical instrument, we drift off from our intended key. Every Rosh Hashanah, by asking, “Who created me and why?” we tune back to the key of our Creator. Then in the coming year, by living the answer, we will play the wondrous melody our Composer has in mind just for us.

Please share this article with family and friends by using the icons below. 

Please also subscribe to this blog by typing your email address in the box on the upper right and clicking on the "Subscribe" tab.