Being Alone With God (Rabbi Maimin)

Rabbi Rachel Maimin

This month, we find ourselves once again at the beginning of the Torah, our sacred story. Again, this year, we re-encounter our origin stories: Creation, Adam and Eve, the Great Flood, the Tower of Babel. After the world has been created, and destroyed, and then repopulated, we arrive at the narrative of the creation of the Jewish people, when God tells Avram to go forth from the land of his birth to the land that God will show to him. So Avram sets forth with his wife, Sarai, and with their nephew, Lot, wandering and migrating on this journey toward a promise – a promise of both land and of a future filled with many descendants and with great blessing. Our patriarch knows that he must travel with his family, and with the others who are a part of their extended family – not only for the sake of safety, not only for the sake of keeping his family and community together, but for the sake of engaging in a sacred pursuit together.

And yet, God speaks directly throughout the Torah portion Lech L’cha only to Avram. It is Avram who receives this message of a lifetime; it is Avram who will be a blessing, whose name God will make great. Avram somehow intuits that, though he needs the support of his community, he also needs to seek time alone, not only for his own sake, but in order to connect with God.

Reb Nachman of Bratslav called this kind of solitude for the sake of connection hitbodedut. He believed this to be the highest level of worship. True, he understood the power of connecting to others in one’s own community. And yet he also understood deeply the human need to be alone with God. He explained hitbodedut as follows:
“Such prayer should be in the language that you normally speak…In your native, everyday language, you can express all your thoughts, conversing with God and talking out everything that is on your heart…Even if you are completely removed from God, you should still express your thoughts to God, and ask [that God bring you back.]

Even if your words are blocked, and you cannot open your mouth to God, you can still prepare yourself to do so. Even getting ready to speak to God is in itself very good. Even though you cannot speak to God, you long and yearn to do so – and this itself is very good.

You can even make a prayer out of this itself. You can cry out to God that you are so far from God that you cannot even speak. You can ask God to have mercy on you and to open your mouth so that you should be able to express your thoughts to God.

…[This practice] is something that can be done equally by every individual, great and small alike. Everyone can observe this practice and reach the highest levels. Happy is the one who does so.”

May we all, like our ancestor Avram, seek out the opportunities to be alone with God, to express our thoughts and longings, to talk out everything that is on our hearts – or simply to be in silence, preparing ourselves to connect with God even when the words will not come. May this practice lead us to reach our highest levels. Happy may we be when we do so.