I am committed to a life provoking the invasion of The Coming Kingdom through: human service, ecstatic prayer, halakhic observation, community building, nurturing hope, and drawing down abiding faith...
In the volume, Sefer haMiddot, Rebbe Nachman of Breslov taught that one should give charity (tzedakah) before praying as well as bind oneself to the righteous (tzaddikim) of the generation. In other words, there is a connection between giving charity and cleaving to the righteous, and an interconnection between the performance and reception of righteousness.
Humility perfects the will, and it thus serves as the best vessel for the reception of every blessing… When humility effects depression it is defective; when it is genuine it inspires joy, courage and inner dignity.
– Abraham Isaac Kook
In the 29th lesson of Likutei MoHaRaN, Rebbe Nachman speaks of the importance of clean “garments.” On the one hand, he is referring specifically to one’s clothing, while on the other hand he is referring to one’s speech.
“This is the concept of white garments. In other words, speech…corresponds to white garments. For it is necessary to take care of one’s clothing; not to abuse the clothing, but to care for them properly so that no spot or stain gets on them.” --Likutey Moharan, p. 209
It is no small thing that the middah associated with the beginning of Pesach this year is seder (order). Drawing from insights I have heard and read from great scholars of our tradition, the general irony of seder in the midst of Pesach has not escaped me.
Rav Kook understands savlanut in terms more closely related to what we would call “tolerance.” More often than not, religious people are faulted for their lack of tolerance. While I would assert that non-religious people can be just as intolerant as religious folks, I appreciate the insistence on holding religious people to a higher standard! After all, shouldn’t we be exemplifying God’s highest values? If this is the case, then savlanut takes on a whole new layer of meaning when we think of it as tolerance.
“You are wherever your thoughts are…make sure your thoughts are where you want to be.”
-- Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, Likutei MoHaRaN, Volume 1, 21
Munuchat ha-nefesh (equanimity) is a middah that strengthens one’s ability to live out of a general sense of peace and well-being, regardless of external circumstances. Rabbi Nachman’s observation and encouragement point to this middah. We decide the kind of world we are living in based on the mindset we have. At the same time, challenges do come our way. This is where equanimity becomes crucial.
The contents of the siddur powerfully address the reality of uniqueness in the world. God is unique. The Jewish people are unique. Shabbat is unique. Holy days are unique. Different types of fruit are unique…the list goes on.
The Hebrew word for “true”, emet, occurs six times in the concluding portion of the Shema section of shacharit. In fact, it is the first word spoken after the third paragraph of the Shema (Numbers 15). The central placement of the word in the concluding portion of the Shema gives us a glimpse into our sages’ deepest values about our relationship with God. While there is no doubt that truth is embedded in all of the davening, the Shema itself is a very specific kind of statement about God and our relationship with him. The Truth expressed in the words of the Shema must be reiterated so as to embed its message into the mind and heart of the one davening.
In Cheshbon HaNefesh, calmness is not spoken of in terms of an internal state. In fact, it is equanimity that serves as the middah to deal with internal equilibrium. Calmness is spoken in terms of communication. Calmness requires that we step outside our emotional reactions to a situation and connect with true compassion for all who are involved, in a levelheaded and gentle manner. One might think that the primary way to achieve this is to rise above the circumstances of everyday life so that they do not move or affect us. Such an idea frightens me. How could we really be who God would have us be without deep compassion and caring? I cannot be a partner with God in repairing the world if I am mentally and emotionally detached. We need to be as invested in creation as God is if we’re to fulfill our purpose.
Silence is not one of the first things that comes to mind when thinking about the davening experience. Any given service is saturated with words, words that one must say to fulfill one’s obligation to pray before God. Still, I cannot help but be struck that the Talmud states that the sages took one hour to meditate before praying (B. B’rakhot 30b). We also know the amidah is closed with a moment of silence (see B.Megillah, Ch. 2). This means silence is an essential feature of preparation for, and conclusion of, prayer.