Sensitizing Ourselves to Hashem
Rabbi Y. OliverWe come to shul in the morning, and we want to leave somewhat different from the way we came—more refined, inspired, and spiritually attuned. And yet sometimes, although we concentrate on the meaning of the words, and even study Chassidus (see here) and reflecting on concepts in Chassidus beforehand (a.k.a. hisbonenus), we feel as if nothing has changed.
There are a number of responses to this complaint. One is that hisbonenus and davvenen with kavvanah (concentration) have a cumulative effect that is not necessarily immediately discernible. Just as one does not become full from eating one mouthful of food, so can true inner change come only after sustained effort.
However, if one has engaged in hisbonenus consistently for an extended period, say many months, and he still senses no change whatsoever, then that answer is no longer tenable. Rather, one must conclude that the hisbonenus was indeed ineffective, and the reason for this is that the person failed to prepare for it appropriately.
True inner change requires preparation.
Why is preparation so necessary? Because one may be in an intellectually lucid state, and fully capable of concentrating on a secular subject. However, if he is honest with himself, he may recognize that when he tries to davven or study Torah in general, and when he tries to study Chassidus and reflect upon ideas in Chassidus in particular, he feels a certain inner resistance, and even apathy. If one is constantly in this state, then when one looks back at his attempts to meditate upon Hashem’s greatness, he may well feel like all his efforts were in vain, “like water off a duck’s back.”
The reason for this may be that he is in a state of yeshus, of heightened self-consciousness and even arrogance. Preoccupied as he is with himself, he is not receptive to Hashem and to the revelation of G–dliness with which one connects through Torah study and prayer. The reason that he is not receptive is that Hashem reveals Himself only in a place of humility and self-nullification (Tanya ch. 6). Thus, although the person recognizes intellectually the need to engage in spiritual pursuits, as long as he remains in this state, he will emotionally regard any effort at deep spiritual growth as an odious chore to be cast off at the first opportunity. It is no wonder that these efforts do not bear fruit—it is akin to trying to plant a seed in unploughed earth.
So how indeed do we release ourselves from this coarse, egotistical state, and in so doing prepare ourselves for Tefillah and hisbonenus?
The answer is that before one can relate to Hashem through intellectual study, one must arouse within oneself a basic ratzon (desire) to submit and devote oneself to Hashem. This is accomplished through the practice of hoda’ah, acknowledging and accepting Hashem.
In a sense, hoda’ah affects one emotionally in a much more compelling way than intellectual study of Hashem’s greatness and contemplation of it.
To explain, there are two ways of accepting something—accepting something that one doesn’t understand, and accepting something that one does understand. When one doesn’t understand, and yet accepts, he is much more humbled and awed by the concept. For instance, consider that someone explains that a certain complex mathematical equation enables scientists to calculate the number of grains of sand in the entire world, or the amount of water in all the seas. Now, when one believes and accepts this fact without understanding the equation, he feels awed and humbled. However, if the equation is explained and the listener grasps it fully, although he may be somewhat impressed at its cleverness, since he has mastered it himself, he will not feel humbled by it.
Likewise, when one starts one’s divine service by submitting to Hashem without understanding Him, he feels awed and humbled before Hashem, and this moves him with the desire to devote himself to Hashem.
This is the reason that Torah requires that a Jew start out his day with the declaration of Modeh Ani, “I offer thanks to You, ever-living and enduring King ... ” If recited with the proper intention, this declaration arouses the person’s basic desire to submit to Hashem, and so afterward, his efforts to unite with Hashem intellectually and emotionally are far more likely to succeed—of course, with Hashem’s help.
Adapted from Sefer HaMa’amarim Admur HaRashab 5670, pp. 145.