A Deep Prayer, reprinted with kind permission of:
A Deep Prayer
by the Chafetz Chaim zt”l
Likutei Amarim ch.11
The Chafetz Chaim zt’l implores his generation on the need for solitary prayer:
“In summation, all the many calamities that come on us and that we are not saved from them is because we are not screaming and outpouring in prayer over them. If we would pray and would pour out before HaKadosh Baruch Hu, certainly our prayers and supplications would not return empty. And it’s not enough for a person to pray the shemonei esrei three times a day, rather a few times per day, a person needs to pour out prayers and supplications in solitude, in his house, from the depths of his heart. Because the three prayers (shemonei esrei) are already fixed in his mouth and he doesn’t take them to heart so much. But if a person would contemplate in solitude and make a cheshbon hanefesh on his personal situation, his great poverty and his many toils, and for all this to live on crusty bread and water, then he will pour out his heart like water in front of Hashem, yisborach, and the prayer will go out with deep kavana and with a broken heart and a lowly spirit. A prayer like this will certainly not return empty. And then when his soul is bitter on him, on his situation and his weak standing, and he drops supplications before HaKadosh Baruch Hu, he should also remember the great pain of Hashem yisborach, because he also, so to speak, does not have rest. In all our suffering He suffers…”
Chafetz Chaim – Likutei Amarim ch.11
comment: Rabbi Avigdor Miller once said that “prayer today is in a rut. It has been reduced to a meaningless recital of words.”
Most of us don’t pray because we don’t think it will make any difference. We pray and nothing happens, so we think prayer has no power. This thinking is erroneous. The reason we see nothing is because our prayers lack true kavana (intent). Come and hear the powerful words of the Vilna Gaon:
“there is no crying except from the heart…tefila needs kavana and ikar (primary) kavana is with tears (Vilna Gaon on Esther 8:3)”
A serious prayer must be accompanied by tears, otherwise, you heart is not really there. So next time you feel down, maybe you are disappointed things didn’t go as you would have hoped. Or maybe you’re dissatisfied with life in general, if so it’s a golden opportunity to cry out to H-shem for help. Get the onions out and pour out your heart like water. Even if you don’t see results immediately, don’t give up because certainly, if you continue doing this, over the months and years, in the end it will certainly help very much.
The Chazon Ish zt’l said: “I put more kochos (exertion) in Avodas Hatefila (prayer) than Avodas of learning.”
(heard from Rabbi Nissan Kaplan in name of Rabbi Shmuel Auerbauch)
* My master, (the Arizal) would give two conditions for attaining of wisdom (in torah) – one is to minimize speech and to keep silent as much as possible, to not let out of your mouth any sicha betela (useless speech), as the Sages said “the fence to wisdom is silence” (Pirkei Avos). Two – for all things that you do not understand in the torah, cry over it, much crying. (Rabbi Chaim Vital – Pri Etz Chaim Shaar Hanhagas HaLimud)
* When saying ‘atah chonen’ which is the beginning of the tefila, one should put to heart..the entire creation of man is for wisdom and knowledge and this is man’s greatness. Therefore they said “atah chonen l’adam daas” – l’adam (to man) specifically. And this is a free gift, because what did the Creator of the world see to give to the man from the ground ‘daas’, to know of the heaven on high, and all the forms of the holy chariot, and the throne of glory (of G-d), and knowledge of the combination of Divine names with which G-d formed the world? This must be only because of great, endless compassion. And for this, a man should pour down tears like a river and to request understanding (deah) from G-d as a free gift. (Shemonei Esrei by Rabbi Yehonasan Eibshetz)
The Vast Desert of Solitude
The Vast Desert of Solitud, reprinted with kind permission of:
Oh that I had wings like a dove! then would I fly away, and be at rest. Lo, then would I wander far off, I would dwell in the wilderness forever. (Tehilim 55:7)
The Vast Desert of Solitud
send the crowds away
When Rabbi Yosef Kahaneman – later known as the Ponivezher Rav, who raised the banner of Torah in Israel, was returning home to his parents he passed by the the town of Radin (in Poland pre-WWII). He later recounted:
“As I was passing by Radin, I asked myself how could I pass by the “holy sanctuary” of the Chafetz Chaim without stopping there? I took a shortcut and arrived in Radin late in the afternoon. The Chafetz Chaim’s house was dark.
I entered and found no one there. I sat down on a bench and wondered what the Chafetz Chaim looked like and whether I would merit to see him. As I meditated, the Rebetzin entered and asked me what I wanted. I told her that I wished to see the Chafetz Chaim. She told me to wait awhile until he arrives. While waiting for the Chafetz Chaim, I heard a piercing cry from the upper floor, a cry that bespoke terrible pain. Seeing that I had become frightened, the Rebbetzin approached me and said: “Sir don’t be frightened. That’s my husband praying for a woman in labor who is giving birth right now.” I immediately said to myself: “Yoshe, how can you leave such a place in which dwells a man who is capable of such heartrending crying on behalf of others?!” So I decided to stay in Radin and study under him.”
Compared to the previous generations, the service of prayer has almost completely disappeared. Many of the gedolim (leaders) of previous generations would regularly spend time in solitude and pour out their hearts to G-d.
The technological revolution has disconnected us with nature, and as a result, with ourselves and with G-d. The constant chatter of crowds of people, the endless noise of machines and electronic gadgets has barraged and cluttered our minds. Technology has also brought with it long work weeks at meaningless jobs, doing meaningless work resulting in millions of people with unprecedented dissatisfaction and mental illnesses.
To develop a proper awareness of G-d’s presence (yira shamayim), a person needs to spend time alone. As long as he is with other people, or involved in activities, he can put the reality of G-d’s presence aside so to speak. But when he finds himself alone, especially in raw nature, untouched by the hands of man, “the awesome presence of the King falls on him and his heart breaks (Talmud Berachos 34b Rashi-‘dmatzli’) “. This is why the Talmud says (Berachos 5b) one should try to pray at the front of the synagogue with no separation between oneself and the wall. As long as there are other people in front of you who can see your face, you’re not mentally alone and cannot turn to G-d properly (covering one’s face with a tallis helps in this regard).
Of course, G-d is here with you always. He’s here in this room right now. And one should pause and think for a moment about this. My teacher, Rabbi Moshe Lazerus, shlita (a Rosh Yeshiva and close student of Avigdor Miller zt”l), taught us that it is crucial to spend 10 minutes a day in seclusion and privacy in order to talk to Hashem. He used to tell us (to the effect of) “I don’t know how you can daven (pray) or be religious for that matter, without having a personal relationship with Hashem. Who are you praying to? A concept? I empathize with you. Without a relationship with Him, prayer must be torture. Doing this makes Him real. G-d becomes real. The Torah becomes real, it comes alive. The Avos are suddenly real people that lived and not just stories. They’re your relatives, your great-grandparents.”
By the way, the procedure he recommended for this, is to lock yourself in a room every day for 5 or 10 minutes and talk to Him (no phones, etc., if possible put a “do not disturb” sign). As you talk to Him, imagine what you think He would say to you.
For example, thank Him for what you are grateful for, like health, food, good parents, etc. Then tell Him what you think He owes you …
Basically, to develop a personal relationship with Him in the tradition of the great baalei mussar.
If you’re the deeply spiritual type, I would also suggest, return to nature once a month for a few hours. Send the crowds away, go to the forests or to the mountains, and seek Him in receptive silence. Many of the great baalei mussar did this on a daily basis (the really great ones hid away for years). Observe the trees and flowers and animals and birds, the sea and clouds and sky and stars. It’s a tremendous way to reconnect with Him. Hopefully, the barriers will drop, and you will see, you will make contact. You will feel the King’s awesome presence and the infinite wisdom in His creation. That is the cure for loneliness. Generally, we seek to cure our loneliness through emotional dependence on people, through gregariousness and noise. That is no cure. Get back to things, get back to reality. Then you will know that your heart has brought you to the vast desert of solitude, there is noone there at your side, absolutely no one.
The truth is eventually you will lose every single person in your life, never to see them again. You will lose your parents, your wife, your siblings, your children, your friends – everybody. And you will be utterly alone.
Alone that is, except for the Almighty. Now’s the time to build the relationship with Him. (Just don’t get me wrong. I don’t advocate being a loner. A person should be “mixed” with others and try to help them, whether emotionally or physically. Rav Avigdor Miller zt”l said that you should make efforts to do things so that people will like you. The main point, though is not to lose the most important relationship.)
The Chafetz Chaim once saw a very happy student in his yeshiva come to bid him farewell before returning to his parents for the festivals. The Chafetz Chaim turned to his disciples around him and said “See how happy this talmid is to be going back to his father’s house. Is this not the way a Jew should feel when he is about to die and return to his Father in Heaven?”. – Sparks of Mussar pg.218
Rav Miller zt”l also gave a practical method for developing a relationship with Hashem: (tape shaar habitachon – chovos halevavos).
1. Constantly ask G-d for help.
Before you proceed on anything, ask Him for help.
Example: Salesman in waiting room. “Ribono Shel Olam, give me success with this customer.”
Or if you want to learn a sugya in shas, say “Hashem, give me success in learning this subject in the gemora.”
Or if you’re going for a walk, ask Hashem to give you success in crossing all the streets safely.
2. Thank Hashem no matter the outcome.
If it happens that you are successful, thank Hashem profusely, at length afterwards and always consider what he did for you.
Even if you were not successful, you should still thank Hashem because whatever happens is certainly for your benefit.
Rav Miller advised that in using this method, a person will learn to attribute everything that happens to him to Hashem and build the precious fundamental, trait of bitachon (trust in G-d). People generally have an incorrect and simplistic understanding of Bitachon. They believe, if you ask hard enough Hashem will do what you want. This is really the opposite of `bitachon’. The Chazon Ish explains bitachon as – trusting that whatever Hashem does is for the best and that He KNOWS what He is doing! (heard from Rabbi Lazerus)
I’ll end off with this incredible statement by Rabbi Simcha Zissel of Kelm (one of the great mussar giants of pre-WWII Europe) zt”l wrote:
“A great principle in joy of the heart and health of the body, and more for the service of G-d is to search for closeness (kirva) to G-d and not closeness to human beings. Besides being a big headache in many ways, there’s no greater burden on a person than seeking closeness from other human beings. And what is a man that you want to search for closeness to him? He seems like a friend when it is to his benefit, or when he wants to, but they don’t stand by a person in his difficult time (pirkei avos 2:3) But closeness to G-d, although He’s not visible, there is no time that He doesn’t want.
Know my precious son, that the main wealth of a person is that which is in a person’s hand and noone else can touch. All the more so, it should not depend on other people’s whims. And one who seeks closeness to human beings, he is in need of gifts from flesh and blood. There’s no difference between seeking physical gifts from others and seeking closeness (emotional gifts) from them. It’s all the same. And therefore, there is no greater poor man than one who seeks closeness and love from others, and there is no greater wealth than he who has removed from himself the desire to be loved by other human beings. – (Sefer Zikaron Beis Kelm pg.265)
In summation, the best way to get the best perspective is to begin by taking those 10 minutes a day to develop a relationship with or reconnect to Hashem.
Eyewitness account by the Chafetz Chaim
(From Meir Einei Yisrael m’Talmidei Chafetz Chaim” Vol.1 pg.224)
Rabbi Aryeh Leib Grossnass recalls a conversation he was present at during a meeting between Rabbi Baruch Ber Levovitz zt’l and Rabbi Shal-om Eisheshoker zt’l, who was considered the primary student (talmid muvhak) of the Chafetz Chaim.
The two of them sat together and just as I thought Rabbi Baruch Ber asked:
“Tell me something from the Chafetz Chaim.”
Rabbi Shal-om agreed to his request and told over:
“Every day we learned with the Chafetz Chaim until 2:30pm, and friday the custom of Rebbi was to sit with us from 11am to 12pm (1hour) to speak and to tell over stories of the Gedolei HaDoros (great torah sages). One friday the Chafetz Chaim told over to us a story which he witnessed by Rabbi Nachumka from Horodna, and this is what he said:
“I noticed by Rabbi Nachumka that every night at midnight he is nowhere to be seen. He goes out and returns after about an hour. I was then a bachur (young man) of 15 years old.
One day I decided to follow him to see what he does.
I followed him from far away and succeeded in finding out that he goes to the central shul (synagogue), he takes a key out from his pocket, unlocks, and enters…
Therefore, the next day, at night I prayed the evening prayer there, and after it was over, I quickly went to the women’s section (which was empty) and hid under one of the benches.
When all the congregation left the shul, the shamash (keeper) checked the shul and the women’s section. When he didn’t see anyone, he went out and locked the door and I was left alone, waiting until midnight (by the way, according to the numbers, this story occured around 130 years ago).
At midnight, my heart became aroused because I heard the key enter the hole of the lock. The quiet of the night allowed for one to hear the slightest noise. The holy master, Rabbi Nachum was standing at the entrance and he locked the door behind him…
Looking on, Rabbi Nachum stepped over to the wooden bima (platform for holding the torah during the reading) which was in the middle of the room. He ascended the steps to the Bima and stood still. This standing was after a very long day, since Rabbi Nachum was able to accomplish what many do in several days.
On the bima, there were two boxes with a “geniza”. He stuck his hand in one of them and pulled out a book.
The Chafetz Chaim told us “it appears this was a book on kabala”.
Rabbi Nachum opened the book and began to learn standing. The light in the shul was faint. There were small candles which were flickering in the room and allowed for the possibility of reading a book. Rabbi Nachum rocked slowly and pondered into the book of G-d’s torah and concentrated deeply in his learning.
Suddenly, I became shocked, terrified, confused… “Fire, Fire, Fire!!”, “a fire is flaming next to the Rebbi”, “he is learning and around him a fire is burning….” “Oh my G-d” (aha Elokim), I wanted to scream, “Fire! Save us! But immediately, I realized that this is not “our fire”… There is a different kind of fire, which is hissing around him, a different kind of fire, from the one we are accustomed to. And I stayed silent. I looked in awe! Rebi Nachumke “and torah as it was given” (a reference to the talmudic saying that the torah was given with fire. There are many instances in the talmud which speaks of great torah scholars learning and “fire” would flame around them. see for example Yerushalmi Chagiga 2;1)
In this way, standing, the Rav would learn for about an hour, and at the end he closed the book and kissed it, and the fire went out. “I”, said the Chafetz Chaim, “was unable to sleep until the morning from the tremendous emotional arousement”.
Rabbi Shal-om Eisheshoker wanted to continue the story but the author of the “Birkas Shmuel” (who was present) said a few words at the end of the story:
“This that there was fire around Rabbi Nachumke Hordoner, is not something unusual (a chidush), but that the Chafetz Chaim could see the fire at only 15 years old, that is a chidush (unusual).” (since one must purify himself to the extent that he has the capacity to see with his spiritual eyes. see Shaarei Kedusha by R.Chaim Vital)