- Rav Kalman Rav
Searching for G-d in the Chaos of 2020
We, humanity, are in pain. We are in sorrow. We’re in a state of confusion. The world is turned upside-down. COVID-19, economic depression, racism, civil and social unrest, killer hornets, and Saharan dust clouds, to name but a few of the causes. These things have turned 2020 into a meme. 2020 is no longer just a description of perfect vision. It has become a term to describe everything going wrong, as in, “Traffic was light and the car was driving perfectly, your honor, and then everything 2020’d.” Tragedy and confusion are everywhere, both on a personal and global level. When will it end?
Our Sages teach that in the month of Tamuz, which we are now in, we must elicit mindfulness in order to rectify forgetfulness. G-d Himself engraved the first set of the Ten Commandments –to be given in the month of Tamuz, and it was so exalted that it was to be engraved in our hearts and minds forever. And had we been able to wait just a little bit longer for Moshe to come down the mountain with the Tablets, we would have received a Torah that connected us to G-d in an unbreakable way. But instead, the Tablets were shattered and forgetfulness descended upon our nation.
True, we have Torah, but it doesn’t always speak to us; often we have a hard time finding the answers when we study it. And we often feel distant from others and from Hashem. Things happen and we lack any sense of clarity in understanding them like 2020. Our Sages would tell us that this is all part of forgetfulness. So, how can we mindfully overcome the forgetfulness and connect ourselves to G-d? What can we do to deal with all this tragedy and pain? Is there an effective strategy for overcoming the chaos that has become 2020? Well one method, is hinted at in our parashah.
In one of his prophecies, Balaam describes us as “a people that will dwell alone, and will not be reckoned among the nations” (Numbers 23:9). The word “alone” which can also be translated as “apart” or “secluded” in Hebrew is BaDaD, Beit-Dalet-Dalet, which also happens to be the root of the word, hitBoDeDut. Balaam was revealing an essential method for our survival and eventual triumph as individuals in our own lives and together as G-d’s people: we can seclude ourselves, alone, in conversation with our Creator. Hitbodedut is the Jewish practice of setting yourself apart from others and talking to G-d, BaDaD, alone, one on one, about anything and everything. It’s a method for drawing near, for aligning yourself with, for receiving direction and comfort from the Almighty.
Many great tzaddikim have spoken about the importance of Hitbodedut, including Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, who recommended speaking to G-d as if He were a true and close friend. When a child speaks to their father, there is a certain level of reservation--of awe of their authority. Not so when one speaks to a good friend: then one is free to pour out one’s whole heart and express all your emotions and deepest thoughts.
This is a way we can not only survive life, but live life; by fortifying ourselves in private conversation with G-d. Every bit of pain we feel, our loneliness, and anxiety can be transformed into prayer. This is prayer in your everyday language, as conversation, as expressive and as colorful as you need it to be. Every experience you have can then be used as an opportunity to come closer to G-d by pouring out your words. Let him hear your complaints, your excuses, your worries, and your fears. Seek his grace, his direction, his acceptance, and be reconciled with Him. Share your successes, your hopes, and your dreams. Argue, praise, whine, worship… He will hear it all and you will feel better for having shared it.
Moshe was a practitioner of Hitbodedut. (Sort of…) He often went off alone, usually up a mountain, to talk to G-d. But an even better example is from last week, when we read of Messiah Yeshua going off alone, separating from his Talmidim at Gethsemane in order to pray -- to talk to the Father. He spoke of the burdens he felt, of his fears, and ultimately of his submission to the will of G-d. This was a perfect example of Hitbodedut. In fact, Yeshua often went off alone, outdoors, to speak to G-d. Doing Hitbodedut outside amongst nature is actually very, very common. Personally, I just feel closer to G-d and His Creation when I’m outdoors, but really any private space will do.
Some people start with a ritual handwashing and thank Him for this opportunity to speak. Others, like Tevia, just start talking to Him. Tevia, by the way, is a great example of someone who talks to God as if God is his close friend. Just as talking honestly and vulnerably with a good friend creates intimacy over time, so too, Hitbodedut can make an abstract and invisible G-d feel close to your heart. This is an opportunity to grow closer to Hashem and to grow our relationship with Him. Share your hopes and desires, or your requests for help with big issues or the mundane tasks of daily life. Focus on your relationship with G-d, or on your family or your efforts at self-improvement or focus… on the state of the world.
YES, yes it will feel awkward to speak out loud when no one is physically there and no one verbally answers back. That’s okay. That’s why you do this somewhere private because speaking aloud is important to this process. There is just something about the talking process that clarifies and imprints on the soul.
You should also predetermine a timeframe for your Hitbodedut, whether it be an hour as Rebbe Nachman recommends or starting with just 5 minutes. And when the time is up, close your conversation. Thank G-d again for listening and if outside, take a moment to look around and appreciate the beauty. If particularly useful insights came out of the session, take a few minutes to write them down.
There will always be many things that we will not understand in this not yet fully redeemed world. But we can turn to G-d and share our burden with Him. Doing so, we can better understand ourselves, achieve clarity on some things, and find comfort that G-d, through Messiah Yeshua and the Ruach HaKodesh will take care of the rest.
If we try to find meaning and hope during difficult times, by drawing closer to G-d and growing our personal relationship with Him through mindful methods like Hitbodedut, then, Balaam continues, “Who can count the dust of Jacob?” (Numbers 23:10). Meaning, who can count and ascertain the preciousness of each and every one of us, for every step we take will be toward serving G-d? Every step will effect incredible tikkunim, restoration and repair of creation.
May we be mindful of the forgetfulness and sorrow of this month, and of this year,
May we be like Tevia, close friends of G-d, and like Yeshua, who was strengthened by his conversations with the Father, and through our Hitbodedut, may we build an everlasting, and ever-closer relationship with G-d, our Father.