Hitbodedut is self-secluded, spontaneous prayer from the heart in one’s own words and vernacular. Rebbe Nachman of Breslov (1772 – 1810) believed It to be the most powerful form of Jewish prayer.
The Ba’al Shem Tov and other renowned Jewish mystics were devout practitioners.
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
Rebbe Nachman not only believed Hitbodedut to be the highest level of Jewish prayer, he saw inherent dangers in formulaic prayers.
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
I’ve always been intrigued by the last paragraph. What did he mean? Why did he say it? There are many riddles in Judaism that are akin to Buddhist koans. It’s up to each of us to interpret the meaning and pursue the enlightenment within.
Hitbodedut opens our minds to seeing GD as a loved one and confidant. It’s simple and uncomplicated, as the most powerful things in life often are. When we have our heart-to-heart with GD nothing is too silly, small or trivial to pray for and express.
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
R’ Nachman recommended practicing Hitbodedut alone in mother nature with a minyan of helpful foliage, trees 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
Jewish mysticism tells us the Nitzutzei Kedusha ניצוצי קדושה (Holy Sparks) are in everything animate and inanimate: trees, rocks, the tools of one’s trade, plants, rain drops, blades of grass.
The “middle of the night,” when the world is quiet, was considered to be an ideal time to practice Hitobdedut.
What if you don’t feel safe going out in the woods or a secluded area at night? I get it. Who wants to be in the woods at midnight where a Jason or Freddy Kruger might be lurking about?
No worries! Any indoor or outdoor space where you can pray in solitude will do. You can cover head completely with a tallit (prayer shawl) or burrow under your bed covers. King David wrote the entire Book of Psalms in bed, beneath the covers, like a child! (Sichot Haran #68).
If you find yourself tongue-tied, Rebbe Nachman’s remedy is to say one word repeatedly and emphatically.
One word mantras are considered to be powerful connectors to Source. For instance, Om is a one word mantra in Hinduism that connects one to consciousness, Divinity and the cosmic world.
What is my take on Rebbe Nachman’s vision of maligning forces waiting along the formulaic pathways of prayer? Maybe speaking to GD intimately from your heart, is speaking to your own self-compassion. Maybe the saboteurs along your familiar pathways of prayer, are the result of religious trauma or the voices of toxic shamers echoing in your head.
Praying in solitude, spontaneously from your heart, creates a space that is inherently safe and self-caring. I think Hitbodedut is a vehicle for healing and reconnection with Source in self-created safe space. In doesn’t necessarily preclude traditional prayers in a House of Worship, but it’s a way to restart or jumpstart an intimate conversation with Source.
In closing, I’ll include a delightful cat tale.
A well-known Rebbe would pray in his private room adjacent to his shul. Hearing sounds outside his door, the rebbe prayed with increased enthusiasm, thinking it was his congregants inspired his devotions. Later he discovered the sounds he heard were coming from a cat right outside door. “For nine years he prayed to a cat!” Rebbe Nachman exclaimed.
😹 I’m sure the cat, unobstructed by human dogma (pun intended), helped to amplify his prayers.
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