You Are Unique
These classes [which will discuss hisbodedus, Jewish meditation] are describing the power of “uniqueness” (“yechidiyus”) that is in a Jew’s soul. Our Sages tell us that there are five names of our soul: “Nefesh” (basic life-force/lower level of the soul), “Ruach” (“spirit”/intermediate level of the soul) “Neshamah” (G-d’s “breath of life” placed in us/higher level of the soul) “Chayah” (source of vitality), and our “Yechidah” (“uniqueness”/essence of our soul). Generally speaking, the deepest part of our self, our Yechidah, has two applications in our life’s mission. One manifestation of our Yechidah is in how each person is “unique”: What are my unique abilities that no one else in the world has? How am I unique in the world? That is one aspect of our Yechidah. Another role our Yechidah plays is: How do I unite with Hakadosh Baruch Hu in a unique way that no one else can? Both these aspects of our Yechidah need to become revealed within us, and they are interrelated. I cannot have a unique connection with Hashem unless I reveal my own individual strengths, and I cannot really reveal my individuality unless I develop a uniquely strong bond with Hashem. We have 613 mitzvos of the Torah, and these mitzvos are the general mission of the entire Jewish people. That is our “general” role, but in addition to the mitzvos, each Jew’s soul has a unique role as well. Besides for the fact that you have to keep all the mitzvos of the Torah, you also have your own personal mission – unique only to you, which no one else can fulfill.
Hisbodedus: Solitude – The Way To Reveal Your Unique Self
One of the ways how we can reveal our uniqueness is through our power of yechidus, through being “individual” – an ability which is also identified by our holy sefarim as the power of hisbodedus, “solitude.” Hisbodedus, simply put, is when a person is alone with himself, away from people. People need time alone to themselves, and there are many reasons for this. One reason is because when you’re not around people, it’s easier to focus on internal matters. Also, it’s easier to concentrate when you’re alone, since it’s quieter. There are also more reasons than these. But there is also an inner reason why there is a need for solitude. Many people realize the need for solitude, but they are often missing the inner reason why we need solitude, which we are about to address. The inner need that we have for solitude is because we must reveal our inherent uniqueness [present in each of our souls]. Being around people too much doesn’t let us reveal our uniqueness, and that is why we need to be alone sometimes with ourselves. Others devote time for solitude as a means for self-introspection, or to do teshuvah (repentance), or to daven to Hashem about everything they need in life, down to the last detail. This is all wonderful, but it is still not the inner reason why we need solitude. The inner reason why we need solitude is because we need to reveal how we are each unique, and this can only be done when one is alone.
Our Dual Nature
According to one opinion in our Sages, Adam was first created alone, and only afterwards was Chavah created. This shows us that a person by essence is alone. That is one view. However, according to a second opinion in our Sages, Adam and Chavah were created back-to-back, and their bodies were separated afterwards. This shows us that there are two sides of the coin to human beings. On one hand, we need to be together with people. On the other hand, we also have a need for individuality. Some people by their nature love to be around people. They are naturally friendly, or it can be that they simply love social companionship. It can also be because they love to get involved in exciting conversations. Others don’t enjoy the social scene and are instead reserved, preferring to spend their time immersed in their thinking, and they love the quiet. These are two different kinds of natures that people can have. If one is only social and he never has quiet, though, then he is living in one extreme, because he lacks quiet in his life, and he is neglecting a basic need of mankind – the need for some quiet. Yet, if someone goes in the other extreme and he only spends time alone, and he is never around other people, he is lacking social connections, which also isn’t good. No one should be extremely social, nor should anybody be extremely reserved. These are both extreme ways of living. We need to be balanced – we need to be both around people, as well as to have in ourselves an inner solitude, even as we are amongst others. This is referred to by our Sages as “dav-partzufin” – “double faced.”
Most people, though, are either this way or that way. People are either living for companionship and they dread being alone with themselves, or they are instead craving solitude, totally avoiding social situations. If a person spends too much time alone and he is never around people, he is not practicing true hisbodedus/solitude. True solitude is based on a person being able to live with people and to love other Jews, yet retaining a deep inner silence in his soul, even as he is amongst them. If a person doesn’t love other Jews, he will never be able to succeed in revealing his uniqueness through practicing solitude. All of our great leaders, although they had reached a deep inner silence in themselves, also had a tremendous love for all Jews at the same time. The two sides of the coin – love for others, and solitude – must be present at once. If someone tries to work on having his solitude but he doesn’t have a deep love for other Jews, then he will not see any gains from his solitude. On the other hand, when a person only loves to be around people, he is living a superficial kind of life. He feels empty inside, and he seeks to fill his emptiness by always hanging around other people. By always seeking companionship, he is really self-absorbed and only concerned to enlarge his private ego. The real way to live is that a person is able to connect to others from a deep love for Jews (Ahavas Yisrael) – and this actually can become uncovered through having solitude. Solitude is thus not about becoming more self-absorbed and to worry for oneself; it is actually a way for one to reveal his true self, and thus come to connect on a deeper level with others.
The Dangers Involved With Hisbodedus
There will be some concerns, though, with being involved with this subject. The first danger we should be aware of is that it has the potential to make us become disconnected from our family, since we will need to be alone sometimes. Another danger with solitude is that is can make a person become more self-absorbed, and instead of revealing one’s true self, it will just serve to enlarge the ego. Usually, as a person gets used to solitude, he will enjoy it and derive great pleasure from it, and this can often lead to an inflated sense of self-worth. This is a bad personality trait, and it called gaavah (arrogance). The non-Jewish world actually encourages that a person should use meditation and solitude for purposes that are self-focused, which has nothing to do with our goal here. Their approach focuses on uncovering one’s individuality as a goal unto itself, which in reality is only a part of our larger goal. Uncovering one’s own individuality is not our ultimate goal. The ultimate goal we have here is: to try to reach a calm place within ourselves that will enable us to better understand our life’s mission. When we enter deep within, we can reveal our uniqueness, but this is not the goal. The goal of being involved with solitude is so that we can reveal a whole new world to us through our solitude; a whole new kind of life than the kind of life we presently see now. The non-Jewish methods are not trying to reveal this; they are simply trying to give a person a satisfying feeling of just being alone and self-focused.
Solitude – A Whole New Kind of Life
Solitude can reveal to a person a whole new kind of life that exists, much different than the life we now recognize. There are certain people in this world who have succeeded in using solitude as a way to live a totally spiritual kind of existence, even though their physical bodies are found on this earth. The more a person enters this inner world, the more he will be able to understand this. This is the introduction to our discussion. These are not ideas; they are a description of an inner kind of life, a totally different way of living. If we succeed in revealing it, it will feel to us as if we are living in Heaven already on this world! When someone reaches true solitude, it’s not that he’s living amongst people and deeply immersed in his inner world; he is actually living in a totally different world than anyone in his surroundings. His whole life becomes a reality of inner solitude, and he is in a different world altogether, although his physical body is here on this earth. Again, as we mentioned earlier, hisbodedus is not about doing teshuvah. This doesn’t define hisbodedus. True hisbodedus means that a person has revealed his uniqueness in order to enter deep into himself and discover his true self.
An Investment for Life
Practically speaking, what we need to ask ourselves is: How much time are we willing to expend on practicing hisbodedus? We spend a lot of time taking care of all our various responsibilities. A person has to take care of his spouse, his children, and he has to learn Torah. We spend a lot of time as well on other things, such as eating, and what clothing to wear and buy, etc. How much time are we willing to spend on hisbodedus, which we have explained is the whole essence of being human? Shlomo HaMelech says, “A man is measured according to his praise.” If we understand the worth of something, we can connect to it. Hisbodedus is not a one-time event in our lifetime. It is something which has to become a part of our life. Are we prepared to give up a little of our life for it? Are we prepared to give up our time as well even some of our ruchniyus (spiritual matters) for it? If one is ready to take hisbodedus on as a part of his life – a total, definite decision – then he will succeed with hisbodedus. Therefore, sit down and think calmly: “How much time am I willing to give up from my life to be able to discover my inner world within myself?” We will give an example of what we mean. If someone would come to you and tell you, “If you want to discover your true self, you will have to give up half your apartment.” Would you be willing to do this? We all have to ask ourselves this question, because we all have families to take care of, and it’s not so easy to just find time. We have many responsibilities. So we need to really ask ourselves if we are willing to take out time to work on this. Each person must ask himself this question.