Rosh Hashanah 5783 — Meditation with Rabbi Nachman

by Bob Schwartz

Rabbi Nachman’s Chair

Rosh Hashanah and the Ten Days of Awe are a fitting time to begin, resume or continue a practice of meditation. While meditation is associated with a range of personal and social missions, it is, beneath it all, a way to see things as they are, the reality called in some traditions thusness or suchness. A note of these holidays is looking unflinchingly within and without. At what has been and what is.

Aryeh Kaplan was the contemporary expert on Jewish meditation (Jewish Meditation) . The last chapter of his book Meditation and Kabbalah is devoted to Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav (1772–1810). Rabbi Nachman, great-grandson of the Baal Shem Tov, is the most gifted of Hasidic masters, both as a mystic and as a creator of stories so mysterious and complex (A Palace of Pearls: The Stories of Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav) that they served as inspiration for Kafka.

Kaplan describes many different meditation practices, such as mantra, contemplation and visualization. About Rabbi Nachman he writes:

“The classical word for meditation is Hitbodedut, which literally means mental self-seclusion. Although this term has been used in this context for a thousand years, the name with which it is most often associated is Rabbi Nachman of Breslov. Where other masters speak of Hitbodedut only occasionally, Rabbi Nachman has provided us with an entire literature.”

A small selection from Rabbi Nachman’s directions on meditation:

You must therefore be alone, at night, on an isolated path, where people are not usually found. Go there and meditate, cleansing your heart and mind of all worldly affairs. You will then be worthy of a true aspect of self-nullification.

Meditating at night in an isolated place, you should make use of many prayers and thoughts, until you nullify one trait or desire. Then make use of much meditation to nullify another trait or desire. Continue in such a time and place, proceeding in this manner, until you have nullified all. If some ego remains, work to nullify that. Continue until nothing remains.

Rabbi Nachman, Likutey Moharan

Hitbodedut meditation is the best and the highest level of worship.

Set aside an hour or more each day to meditate, in the fields or in a room, pouring out your thoughts to God. Make use of arguments and persuasion, with words of grace, longing and petition, supplicating God and asking that He bring you to serve Him in truth.

Such meditation should be in the language that you normally speak. It is difficult to express your thoughts in Hebrew, and the heart is therefore not drawn after the words. We do not normally speak Hebrew, and are not accustomed to expressing ourself in this language. It is therefore much easier to express yourself in your native language….

In your everyday native language, express all your thoughts to God, speaking of everything that is in your heart. This can involve regret and repentance for the past, or requests and supplications asking that you should truly come close to God in the future. Every person can express his own thoughts, each according to his level….

Even if you cannot speak at all, you should simply repeat a single word, and this, too, is very good. If you can say nothing else, remain firm, and repeat this word over and over again, countless times. You can spend many days with this one word alone, and this will be very beneficial. Remain firm, repeating your word or phrase countless times. God will eventually have mercy on you and open your heart so that you will be able to express all your thoughts.

Speech has great power. It is even possible to prevent a gun from firing. Understand this.

Rabbi Nachman, Likutey Moharan Tinyana