middot separation daily living seclusion or interaction?

seclusion or interaction?

Written by  rabbi benjamin ehrenfeld

art-mountainpathRabbi Nachman of Breslov was a man devoted to inner spiritual growth, his and others. He is ubiquitously known for his method of hitbodedut: “making oneself alone.” At the same time, he liked to dress in the clothes of the average person and would spend time with the non-religious, sound familiar?

Rabbi Nachman saw his private spiritual endeavors as having the most meaning in terms of their impact on the world. The truth is that great people of piety are often known for striking an enviable balance between seclusion and interaction with the world: Rabbi Nachman, Mother Theresa, Moses, Abraham Joshua Heschel, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Rav Abraham Isaac Kook, Ghandi, King David, and Yeshua. To use an over-quoted statement: these people were deeply in this world and were very much not of it.


Balance in the middah of separation is something that can be difficult to cultivate. It is very easy for the urge towards seclusion to lead to self-serving “spirituality” that would enable a person to let the world burn without any protest. Without times for aloneness, however, the voice of God can become drowned out. This is why we are each called to separate from the machinations of a world in love with complacency, pleasure, and irresponsibility. This is not for the sake of letting the world fall apart. Rather, the purpose is so that we can stand as ambassadors of a better world. We need alone time with our Creator. We are also called to be creators and healers in this world. Both are important, and there are no ifs, ands, or buts about the matter.

I am no master of piety, but I try my best to learn from masters of piety. There is one thing they all have in common: They spend time alone with God and they spend time with those who are distant from their world-view. Separation never meant shying away from the “tough stuff” of the world but it always meant drawing a line in the sand concerning matters of principle. This is indeed a very narrow bridge to travel, but the main thing is that we must not be afraid! Let us not be afraid to withdraw and seclude so that we can learn to stand in holiness in the midst of a very tainted world and be witnesses of, and participants in, its ultimate redemption.

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