2.04 DEVELOPING A RELATIONSHIP WITH G-D: PATHWWAYS TO G-D Part 2
In yesterday’s Sheet, we discussed some pathways to G-d. Most of the pathways discussed in yesterday’s sheet dealt with ways to get close to G-d through the avenue of learning. Today’s suggestions focus mainly on pathways to G-d through tools in our daily life.
It is not beneficial to try all of the pathways at once. The purpose of all these options is to offer you a choice so that you can choose the pathway most suitable to your personality. So choose the one that motivates you the most and start experimenting to see if it works.
PATHWAY NUMBER 1-USE THE POWER OF BLESSINGS TO GET CLOSE TO G-D
People seldom realize the power of the brachos (blessings) they say all day long. An Aish HaTorah student once went to HaRav Shach, zatsal, for some personal advice. At the end of their meeting the student asked HaRav Shach for a piece of advice on how to get close to G-d. The advice he received was simple and yet very true:
A very powerful way to grow closer to G-d is to utilize the tool of brachos. In the course of the day, we say many blessings thanking G-d for all the great pleasures in the world; think how much more powerful they would be if we focused and concentrated on them. Rav Shach emphasized that if one wants to develop a relationship with Hashem this is one of the most powerful tools in all of the Torah. In addition, it has the benefit of not being time consuming either.
Practical Suggestions – Before you say each blessing take a few seconds to focus on the reason why you are saying the blessing. Therefore, before you bite into that slice of bread take a moment to work on truly feeling gratitude for the gift that Hashem has placed before you. Then the blessings that you say will really be a blessing thanking G-d and not a rote, mechanical expression.
PATHWAY NUMBER 2-MAKE PRAYER A MAJOR PRIORITY
“The earlier Chassidim waited an hour before their prayer’ (Brachos 32b). Before praying, It is advantageous to consider the objectives of T’filah (Prayer)… One of the main purposes of prayer is the yearning of the soul to speak to Hashem; to make contact with the Soul of the Universe from which the individual soul originated; and to feel His reality as much as is possible for one to feel in his life. (Praise My Soul, Rabbi Avigdor Miller, p. 7)
Praying to G-d in the proper way can be one of the most powerful ways to get close to G-d. In yesterday’s sheet we spoke about the need to learn the siddur and know it well. Today’s pathway refers to actual prayer itself. This pathway suggests making prayer a major priority in one’s life. Make a commitment once and for all to do it right. No more hasty davening or mumbling words. Make a commitment to prepare for prayer. Learn techniques on how to pray in a successful way.
Practical Suggestions –1. Aryeh Kaplan has an excellent article in the Aryeh Kaplan Reader on how to have cavanah (mindful understanding) in prayer. It is very worthwhile to read and gives many excellent suggestions.
2. Start with one blessing a week in the Shmoneh Esrei or one section of the prayer service and really work on your cavannah. Take a new blessing or section every week and work on your cavanah with that section.
3. Come to davening 5 minutes early and clear out your mind before you begin to pray.
With proper effort one can, through prayer, rise to a very strong connection to the Al-mighty.
PATHWAY NUMBER 3-TALK TO G-D
The Chofetz Chaim was known to separate himself from people for a few hours each day to be alone, in order to contemplate life and turn his gaze inward to take stock of himself. He was also known to talk to G-d during this period each day.
“At times, individuals managed to follow him surreptitiously, and from some place of hiding they were able to listen to his tearful words that could shake any soul to Its depths and evoke tears and thoughts of repentance.” He would speak In an audible voice, sharp and clear. . . He began as a rule by giving thanks and praise to the blessed Lord for the kindness He had bestowed on him; and he regarded everything as a great privilege and kindness that he did not deserve. So he expressed his gratitude for all the Divine goodness… (The Chofetz Chaim, Volume 2, Chapter 68, In the Attic, Artscroll Publications)
Of course, it goes without saying that we shouldn’t be taking a few hour a day out of our learning in order to talk to G-d. We are not the Chofetz Chaim who barely slept at all at night. Rather this pathway suggests taking out a few minutes everyday to talk to G-d from the depths of your heart.
Practical Suggestions –1. You can do this every day during the prayer service at the proper place in the service, you can go down to the Kotel once a week between seder hour to do this, or you take some of your free time also between seder hours to do this.
Talking to G-d for a few minutes a day can be a very powerful tool in helping develop a strong relationship with Him.
PATHWAY NUMBER 4-WRITE YOUR OWN PRAYERS
It was always a custom of great Rabbis to compose their own prayers to help open up their hearts. This pathway suggests that a person sit down and write out a prayer that will move his heart to be inspired in an area that he wants to grow in. For example, many yeshiva students have a custom of saying a prayer at the beginning and ending of their day’s studies. Let’s say you are working on an area you want to correct in your learning, like not talking so much during seder hours or learning stronger, why not write out a 2 or 3 line addition to that prayer asking G-d for the strength to learn harder and stronger without interruptions. Or maybe you are working on not speaking Loshon Hora, why not write out a prayer that will inspire you not to speak it and say it after every davening.
Practical Suggestions –1. Choose an area that you really want to improve in and are motivated to pray for.
2. Then sit down a write a prayer that will stir your emotions to conquer the thing you are trying to beat.
3. Figure out a proper time to say it when you know you will have cavanah (mindful intention).
PATHWAY NUMBER 5-REFLECT ON NATURE
How does one achieve love of the Creator and reverence for Him? When a person contemplates His great acts and wondrous creations, seeing In them an Infinite and timeless wisdom, he immediately loves, praises and glorifies the Creator, yearning eagerly to know His grandeur. (Rambam, Yesodei HaTorah 2.2)
The heavens relate the glory of G-d, and the firmament declares His handiwork (Tehillim 19.1).
Lift up your eyes on high and see Who created these Who brings you their host by number, Who calls them all by names.” (Isaiah 40.26)
The phenomena of the physical world are to be compared to lighted signs on the highway at night which constantly flash the message “Keep awake! Keep awake! This message is of such urgency that it must continuously be reiterated, or else the results would be disastrous. We too are urged not to fall asleep at the wheel on the highway of life; because the recognition of the Creator’s greatness is not merely an achievement in our lives, but is life itself and is the sole justification of life. Therefore the Creator fashioned the world in such a manner that the message Is being flashed to us from all sides. (Awake My Glory, Avigdor Miller, P. 283)
This pathway suggests spending a certain amount of time each week when you are not learning to contemplate the wondrous creations of G-d. If one learns how to see the amazing wonders of creation, this can be a tremendous inspiration to growing in your relationship to G-d.
Practical Suggestions –1. Read the works of Rabbi Avigdor Miller, which, in general, are filled with many examples of the wonders of creation. See “Awake My Glory”, Chapter 17 or ‘Sing You Righteous” Chapter 7 for just a few great examples.
2. Pay attention to startling natural phenomena, such as electrical storms, earthquakes, floods, hurricanes and tornadoes. These powerful phenomena can lead one to powerful awe of the Al-mighty.
3. When you are taking a walk on Shabbat take the time to contemplate the wonderful natural world that surrounds you.
PATHWAY #6-DO ONE MITZVAH RIGHT
We are commanded to love G-d, as it is stated, “And you shall love the L-rd your G-d.” The substance of the precept Is that we should consider and reflect on His commandments . . . until we attain a concept of Him according to our ability, and we can then feel joy In perceiving Him with the utmost delight. (Sefer HaChinuch, mitzvah 418)
Did you ever sometimes get the feeling that you are overwhelmed by doing so many mitzvos and not really doing any of them with excellence. This pathway suggests taking one mitzvah that you do frequently and become an expert in it. By learning about one mitzvah on a very deep level, and then really trying to perfect yourself in its service, you will come to appreciate the power of a mitzvah and the One that gave it.
Practical Suggestions – 1. Choose a mitzvah that you always wanted to perform and know well. Options might be shma, shmoneh esreh, t’fillin, birchat cohanim (if you are a cohen), mezuzah.
2. Learn the halachos of that mitzvah well. Really take the time to get clear on all its confusing aspects.
3. After you have learned the halachos start researching what the commentaries have to say about the meaning behind the mitzvah. Look up the verse associated with that mitzvah in the Chumash and start hunting down what the commentaries have to say about it. See if there is a book that comments on this subject in depth. Take good notes on the subject.
4. Make goals for improving your performance of the mitzvah. For example, if you are working on the mitzvah of saying the shma, then write down that you want to have deep cavannah initially on the first paragraph and then try to improve your performance.
5. After you have achieved your goal in the knowledge and performance of this mitzvah, take a moment to reflect how good you feel now that you have perfected aspects of the mitzvah. Reflect on the power of having a mitzvah known and performed well.
6. Finally, reflect on the goodness of G-d that gave you the mitzvah in the first place to grow and achieve your potential.
The amazing power of doing a mitzvah and perfecting your service in it, can show you the power of mitzvahs in general. When a person contemplates the wondrous aspects of a mitzvah that help him reach perfection, it will lead him to a powerful love of G-d.
PATHWAY NUMBER 7-HAVE A TIME TO RELATE TO G-D DIRECTLY BEFORE YOU GO TO SLEEP
Master of the World, Behold I forgive anyone that angered me or provoked me or that sinned against me whether to my body or my money or my honor or in anyway having to do anything with me… May It be your will L-rd my G-d and G-d of my fathers that I won’t sin again and that I won’t return to my sins. (The confession before Krias Shma Al HaMita)
It has always been a custom of the Jewish People to speak to G-d directly before we go to sleep telling
Him that we that forgive others and doing teshuva for anything that one has done wrong on that day. This is a perfect time to reflect and introspect on your relationship to G-d in general and to see if you have fulfilled your purpose on this earth. This is the time to evaluate if you have fulfilled your goals in relating to
Everyone has their own way to get close to G-d. And everyone has a different pathway. The purpose of this set of suggestions is for someone to choose a direction or two in his Avodas Hashem (Service of G-d), and start to actively work on doing something that will bring him closeto G-d in a very practical and substantial way. So now is the time. Take a pathway and choose the direction in which you want to go.
TAKING STOCK OF WHERE WE ARE IN THE MONTH OF ELUL
We have almost completed the second week of the month of Elul. And now we have to ask ourselves:Where are we holding with respect to the overall purpose of Elul?
Are we waking up to the power of the High Holy Days?
Are we preparing for the upcoming days of judgement?
Do we feel that we are waking up to what life is supposed to be all about?
If you find that the answer is no to all or most of the above questions, the time has come to get to work.
Any intelligent person who is scheduled for trial before a mortal king of flesh and blood will surely spend sleepless nights and days preparing his case. He will seek the advice of every knowledgeable person he knows that can help him prepare his case. He will go to great lengths to attain a favorable verdict, even if all that is at stake is but a small part of his fortune and he faces no personal risk. Should he not do so as well when he is brought to judgement before the Supreme King of Kings, the Holy Blessed One, when he himself, his children, and his fortune all hang in the balance?…Therefore, it is important to begin preparing for Rosh HaShana at least thirty days earlier, from Rosh Chodesh of the month of Elul. This is the minimum time required to rouse oneself fully from one’s yearlong stupor. (Menoras HaMeor-The Ten Days of Teshuva, Rabbeinu Yitchak Abohav)
If you haven’t yet begun to get started on the work of Elul, then now is the time to get to work. There is not too much time left.
Next week, with the help of G-d, we will be exploring the world of teshuva and Slichos.