…You must strive for awareness of the Creator so much so that your heart is filled with incredible awe-fear of the Greatness of God and that you are aroused to serve Him with true devotion because you have some knowledge and appreciation of how Exalted He is.
The way to achieve this true devotion and appreciation is through prayerful meditation and reflection: taking stock of yourself, evaluating yourself, and weighing each of your actions. This is the path to reach the “light that is a treasure for the righteous.” — Likutey Eitzos (Advice); (free translation)
Why does Rebbe Nachman of Breslov teach us that we need to evaluate ourselves in order to appreciate Hashem’s (God’s) greatness and come closer to His Treasury of Light for the Righteous?
One of the attributes of Breslov Chassidus that strikes even the casual student is the Rebbe’s insistence on truth. There is no “fudging” in Breslov. Honesty is a necessary ingredient of knowing yourself, and knowing yourself is a necessary ingredient of connecting to Hashem. Hashem made you—and having a relationship with Him requires that you are aware of this.
Being able to seek Hashem when He is openly visible in your life as well as when He seems to be hidden is vital to developing this relationship. One of the “places” Hashem hides is in our flaws and failures. It’s easier to spot Hashem in your successes than in your flaws—we naturally feel closer to Hashem when we score a spiritual touchdown.
But evaluating yourself honestly, not just looking at the good stuff, can feel harsh, even unbearable, because the second you turn to look at yourself, your flaws sting and scratch.
Manipulation. Untruths. Not getting into Shabbos. Heart of Stone. Lack of Diligence. Unkindnesses. Jealousy. Scheming. Greed. Snobbishness. Laziness. Disdain. Disdain for people who yearn for G-d and don’t care if they appear uncool. Material Cravings. Judging others unkindly and making negative assumptions. Pretending to be holier than you are. More untruths. (Okay, let’s call these what they are. Lies. Remember, 99 percent truth is still 100 percent lie).
And so on. Ugh.
But allowing your faults to prevent you from coming close to Hashem is the ultimate surrender to the yetzer hara (the evil inclination.) That is exactly what that rotten stinker wants you to do—give up. In fact, depression over one’s sins (not remorse or sadness, these are healthy, but abiding, bitter depression called atzvus) is a victory for the yetzer hara. Not only did you mess up when you transgressed, but you gave up—game, first set yetzer.
What’s the antidote?
The Rebbe’s directives are clear: You must be joyful. And, a key to joy is being able to spot your good points. If you want to be joyful, then you must be able to see what’s good about yourself.
In fact, until you are able to really see your (and others’) good points, you might have to temporarily put rigorous self-examination on the back-burner.
Try this. Make a list of good things about you: I give charity! I light Shabbos candles! I learn Torah at least a few minutes every day! I wake up and think of how I can make this day holy! I play music that brings joy to others! I smile at my neighbor! I do my job with diligence! I cook dinner for my hungry family! I allow someone else in front of me in line! I try not to hold a grudge!
It might take a day, or a week, or a month or more, but finally, once you begin to know your good points and appreciate them, you then will have the ego-strength you need to begin an honest cheshbon hanefesh, an accounting of the soul, in which you are able to “take stock of yourself, evaluate yourself, and weigh each of your actions”.
Most Breslovers do their cheshbon hanefesh in the course of their daily hisbodedus.
Prayerful Meditation and Achieving Knowledge
It is very good to pour out your heart to God like a child pleading with his father. —Sichos Haran
There are many styles and approaches to hisbodedus, prayerful meditation, where we talk to Hashem in our own words. There are step-by-step formulas that work for some. There are free-flowing, no-holds-barred that work for others. There are loose guidelines from experts and strict guidelines from other experts. But the main thing is to do it.
If you find it hard to speak, you might begin your hisbodedus by asking Hashem to help you find the words.
If you are feeling down on yourself or sorry for yourself, begin by thinking about and listing the good things in your life and thanking Hashem for them. It’s often a good idea to begin this way, but the main thing at first is getting used to talking to Hashem, not worrying about proper etiquette. Hashem understands. Everything.
Once you feel ready (it might take a while, even several hisbodedus sessions—take as long as you need) you can begin to devote a part of your hisbodedus practice to self-evaluation. Some people find jotting down a few notes before they begin to be helpful, and even like to start by reading them during hisbodedus. Others prefer to just begin talking intimately with Hashem right away, telling Him what’s on their mind and in their heart.
Here’s a suggested how-to for hisbodedus, but please, remember: Hisbodedus is personal and unique to each person. Do what works best for you.
1. Thank Hashem for giving you this opportunity and ability to talk with Him
2. Ask Him to help you bring the words in your heart to your lips
3. Confess and tell him how sorry you are that you have failed in certain areas, and discuss them with Him honestly and openly
4. Express remorse and allow yourself to feel shame, even pain, for your actions
5. Resolve to do better and ask Hashem to help you do so (remind yourself that Hashem must help you, you cannot do it alone)
6. If you are still feeling less than positive, think about a good point you have and how that good point might even help you as you strive to improve
7. Thank Hashem for listening and make an agreement to talk to Him tomorrow
As you practice talking to Hashem daily in your own words and telling Him everything on your mind and in your heart, you will find that a feeling of closeness to Hashem becomes almost axiomatic. When you ponder the fact that God, Who Created the Universe out of mind-boggling nothingness, is available to you personally and that He hears your innermost thoughts, doubts, and fears; and that He’s ready to help you improve yourself purefy in order that you can come closer to Him, all because He loves you, well…it can leave you speechless.
Save your pondering and start talking to Hashem today.
May you reach the light that is the treasure for the righteous.
*Steps 3, 4, and 5 are based on Rambam’s Mishneh Torah, Laws of Repentance
This post was sponsored by Jessie, Haya, and Talia.