This is the place to find yourself… ‘Here’, it is written with letters of fire on the door of personal prayer, ‘here you will find yourself and everything that you lost!’ So, if personal prayer is so amazing, why can’t many of us succeed in doing it? Why do we receive upon ourselves to do personal prayer and then stop, or forget, or we just don’t feel like it, or we really want to but we don’t get to it?
Rav Yisrael Asulin
Translated by Moshe Neveloff
Monday, 4th of Adar II, 5776
One of the things which the Torah details in very fine detail is the sacrifices.
The different types of sacrifices receive preference in the Torah, and there are tens of positive and negative commandments connected to the sacrifices which appear in the Torah with detailed and exact descriptions, including those which seem to be technical and seemingly un-important.
Why does the Torah do this?
Because the sacrifice is not a cow or a lamb. A sacrifice, like its name (korban), is a way of coming closer, to bring the Jewish people closer to Hashem: “When a man among you brings an offering to Hashem.” (Leviticus, 1:2) How can the Jewish people come closer to Hashem since the Temple was destroyed and we were exiled? “And let our lips substitute for bulls.” (Hoshea, 14:3) Rebbe Natan teaches: “Because the main aspect of the offering in this time is prayer.” (Likutei Halachot, Laws of the mincha prayer, 7th teaching)
Beyond the daily prayer order which the Sages instituted for us, there is importance in praying to Hashem in your own words, as the Rambam teaches: “It is a positive commandment to pray every day… the obligation of this mitzvah is the following: a person should supplicate and say the praises of the Holy One, blessed be he, and afterwards ask his needs with request and supplication and afterwards say a praise, each person according to his ability.” (Mishneh Torah, Book of Ahava, Laws of Prayer, first chapter) What prayer is more fitting to the expression ‘each person according to his ability’ more than personal prayer…?
Personal prayer, a world in and of itself…
This is the place to find yourself… ‘Here’, it is written with letters of fire on the door of personal prayer, ‘here you will find yourself and everything that you lost!’
Every day you go through millions of things. At work, at home, with your spouse, with your children, with the neighbors (they are renovating now, what noise… terrible!), on the crowded road, in the synagogue, at the bank, at the market, in the city, in the village… every place, all the time.
You go through an endless amount of things. Something annoys you, or makes you angry. Someone causes you pain, or hurts you, or makes you happy, or makes you worry or causes you tension…
To some of them you don’t even pay attention because you’re rushing so much on the expressway of life, swallowing kilometers with a speed which doesn’t register on the speedometer, galloping forward, trampling underneath yourself tiny buds of feelings. How can you even try to feel what you’re going through when you’re rushing so much in order to get everything done; to run, to bring, to take, to return, to succeed, to understand?!
Until… you come to personal prayer, your personal space. You give a place to your feelings and everything you’re going through, inside yourself.
Here you are not rushing anywhere. Here you don’t need to get anything done. Here you sit, breathe your first breath of the day (because breathing from shortness of breath is not called to breath!), exhale in reaction, and ask yourself quietly ‘So how are you? How do you feel today?’
Here you can say everything, also what is not polite or accepted or what sounds strange. Here you can do everything, to jump or dance. To sing, even if you’re faking it. To shout or roar. To cry outload, or laugh freely… here you can get off the highway which is stealing your life, and to be for an hour yourself…
So, if personal prayer is so amazing, why can’t many of us succeed in doing it? Why do we receive upon ourselves to do personal prayer and then stop, or forget, or we just don’t feel like it, or we really want to but we don’t get to it?
Because we are afraid.
Afraid to meet ourselves.
Why are we afraid to meet ourselves?
Because we have a basic outlook regarding ourselves which says that we are bad, or crazy or both of them together. All our lives we are trying to hide this. From ourselves and from the whole world. Because if someone will reveal this, I’m lost! Please save me, so that no one in the world, including myself, will know that that’s who I am!
There are those who are busy all their life creating something artificial, because they are certain that they are deathly boring, and if they will enter a room without distractions, someone will surely be appalled by the boredom.
There are others who always carry with them a feeling of guilt. They don’t exactly know what exactly they are guilty of, but it is clear to them that they did something terrible, and immediately someone will come and reveal that they are guilty. Therefore they are busy pleasing others, and being okay, as much as possible, much more that the accepted norm. As long as no one is suspicious… for them to enter a room is to meet possibly, God forbid, this guilty and accused person. The one who it’s impossible to forgive, because his sin is too great a burden.
There is also the emptiness; I have nothing, everything is empty, and I don’t want to meet this. Fill my day and the empty space with sights and voices! Just don’t let me have quiet and be by myself!
In this basic outlook, to meet ourselves is to meet all the bad that I did and that was done to me, all the places where I made a mistake, and how much I’m not okay and not normal and not… so enough. We don’t have strength and we prefer to escape.
But there is waiting for us there inside the level which is higher and greater than anything!!! We do want to merit this level!!
How is it possible?
There are many pieces of advice. There is one advice which is greater than any other, and that is to prayer about the personal prayer.
If I understand that I want to have personal prayer and at the same time I’m suspicious and I push it off and escape to all kinds of other obligations, it’s come time to stop, to enter into a room and say: ‘Abba, a true good friend, I want to speak with you about the personal prayer. They told me this is the greatest level which is above any other. They told that this is the way to obtain all the good. Not just any person told me this, this is the instruction of the healer of souls! Abba, I want to do personal prayer! But look at me, a day goes by and another. I come one day and run away for a week. I want to do personal prayer and at the same time I’m afraid and prevent myself. Come let’s speak about my personal prayer, Abba.’
The best advice for you is the advice you’ll find yourself. When you speak with Hashem about your difficulty to do personal prayer, you’ll find the phrase which is the most exact, the realest and the most focused for you, how to do personal prayer.
Because after everything, it won’t be another article that you read or a class that you heard. This will be your direct and very close speech with Hashem.