The Jewish Spirit Journal
A Journal of Jewish Mysticism and Spirituality
Vol. 1, No. 2 Feb. 1999

HANHAGOT


(SPIRITUAL PRACTICES)

My book, Jewish Spiritual Practices, contains an overview of the Jewish and hasidic spiritual path; but it is mostly about hanhagot, spiritual practices for achieving d'vekut, devotional and mystical God-awareness at every moment, during every daily activity. Although the book contains thousands of such practices, there are many more that were not included in the book and many that I came across after the book was published. This section of The Jewish Spirit Journal contains hanhagot (most of them not found in Jewish Spiritual Practices). As with all hanhagot, not all are for everybody. Different ones may apply to people on different spiritual paths or on different spiritual levels.

Kavvanah for the Bathroom

The Rabbis say that after the Temple and its altar were destroyed, each of us should make our table an "altar" at which we eat in the presence of God. When our table is an altar and we eat with God-consciousness, the food we consume is like a sacrifice.

Rabbi Pinhas of Koretz said that our excrement and waste are also, so-to-speak, a contemptuous "offering" -- to the Other Side, and that in the bathroom "we give the Other Side its portion." By having this in mind when using the toilet, we can associate evil with excrement and what is foul. I sometimes have the kavvanah when relieving myself: "I intend to rid myself of my unclean traits: anger, impatience, and pride!"

Kavvanah for Cleaning

Cleaning one's house or washing the dishes and so on can and should be a meditative activity.

The late Rabbi Avraham Aharonowitz, an Israeli Boyaner hasid and a tzaddik in his own right, performed every action with intention, and his every daily deed was a divine service. For example, he himself used to take out and empty the garbage can, although he was a great tzaddik and many people would have been happy to do it for him! But he insisted on doing it himself. And, when he took out the garbage, he did it with kavvanah and attention. He explained that removing garbage and dirt from the house is like expelling the Other Side [negativity and evil] from a person's dwelling, because the negative forces [hitzonim] "draw their sustenance" from waste and leftovers.

The holy books explain that because dirt and uncleanness are the dwelling place of the Other Side, removing garbage is like expeling negative forces.

One needn't use the kabbalistic vocabulary of the "Other Side" and "negative forces" to apply this insight and teaching. If you allow your dwelling to be untidy and unclean, it is because the negative forces of laziness, and depression are asserting themselves in your life. The dirt and disorder are usually an external manifestation of your inner condition. When you realize this, you can be inspired to repair your spiritual condition and to clean. As you clean, or make your bed, etc., you can occasionally think or utter such words as: "God, I'm cleaning and making order in my dwelling so that I can be spiritually clean and put my life in order to be close to You!"

A REMINDER

A Hidden Note

Rabbi Eliezer Papo, the author of the famous book Pele Yo'aitz writes:

It is a very good practice to accustom yourself to say, from time to time, the verse: "I have placed the Lord before me always" (Psalms 16:8) and to picture the Four-Letter Name before your eyes (YHVH) ... I have seen pious people who write on a piece of parchment or paper the three words: YHVH. LOVE. FEAR. And, tying this on the inside of their finger so that it cannot be seen by others, they have it as a constant memorial, to look at when they are sitting in their house or walking outside.

These three words are a constant reminder to be aware of the presence of God with love and reverence.

Writing in the Air

The gaon, Rabbi Yehudah Leib Diskin of Brisk, and the gaon, Rabbi Shmuel Aharon Miller, the head of the religious court of Lobova, both used to constantly wave their hand to "write" the four-letter name of God in the air, to fulfill the verse: "I have placed the Lord before me always." I sometimes use this practice during synagogue services.

It is a traditional motif in hasidic and kabbalistic stories that someone may "see" the Four-Letter Name on the forehead of a holy person. During services, I sometimes "write" the Name on my own forehead.

Play Ball!

It is told of a modern-day saint of the last generation, Reb Chaim Gelb of Brooklyn, that when he saw yeshiva boys playing ball in the street, he would urge them on with the following words: "Kinderlach, l'shem Shemayim!"-- "Children, play for the sake of God!" When you play ball, keep HaShem in mind. Play to keep healthy so you can serve God!

One kavvanah for our activity is to be a servant of God. But a difficulty with that is that everything a servant does is only utilitarian. That sometimes seems a too narrow motive for all of life. The Baal Shem Tov taught that it was a high spiritual level to eat to be strong and healthy to serve God later; but it was an even higher level to serve God while eating-- by being aware that the life-energy in the food was coming directly from God, so too the pleasure from it.

How might we immediately have God- consciousness while playing ball or other sports? Perhaps by being aware that God provides, every moment, our ability to move our body, and by being aware that the joy, vigor, and freedom that one feels as one plays and exercises is coming directly from God. Also, it is a rule of "spiritual biology" that God only made activities joyful and pleasurable that have some positive function. It is a religious task to determine the proper place and task of each activity. For example, sex is pleasurable because God wants people to have sexual relations to produce children but also to solidify their bond together. Becoming addicted to sexual pleasure is obviously a spiritual impediment. But aversion to sexual pleasure may also be an impediment. God made play and sports pleasurable (it seems) to encourage us to engage in those activities, certainly for one reason, so as to be healthy.

WHITE CLOTHES FOR SHABBAT

The Ari said that a person should wear white for Shabbat and not colored or black garments. White certainly induces a purer, happier frame of mind.

Someone might say: I'm not on the spiritual level to wear white. The following story relates to that.

Would that All of God's People Were Prophets!

Rabbi Menahem Mendel of Kossov and Rabbi Tzvi Hirsh of Ziditchov were both rebbes and both good friends. Once, two important Kossover hasidim visited Ziditchov to spend Shabbat with the Ziditchover Rebbe. After going to greet the Rebbe first, they returned to their inn. The Rebbe then sent his aide with white garments for the two hasidim to wear on Shabbat-- as the Ari instructed, and as was the custom in Ziditchov-- but they didn't accept them.

When they went to pray Kabbalat Shabbat with the Rebbe, he asked them why they didn't wear the white clothes he had sent them. They answered humbly that if they were worthy to wear white, their own Rebbe would have given them such clothes to wear every Shabbat; clearly, then, they weren't on that level.

"Kossov is on the level of kingship," replied the Rebbe, "and about kingship it is written: 'Beside you, no man shall raise his hand' (Gen.41:44) and it says: 'do not glorify yourself in the king's presence and do not stand in the place of the great' (Prov.25:6). But I'm on the level of a prophecy, and it says: 'Oh, would that all the people of God were prophets!' (Num.11:29)."

White and Redemption

To see what is involved in wearing white:

Rabbi Yitzhak of Drohobitch (the father of the Maggid of Zlotchov and a disciple of the Baal Shem Tov) wanted all Jews to wear white on the holy Sabbath, for he knew that if all the Jews wore white, the redemption would come. So he traveled around from town to town to encourage people to wear white. But the Satan appeared to him and warned him, "If you don't drop this, I'll make everybody into 'hasidim'!" "If that's the case, I'll give it up. But I'm making this trip," he said, "only to raise charity for myself and my family." Hearing that, the Satan left, satisfied. But then, Rabbi Yitzhak wanted to continue his journey to arouse the Jews to wear white on Shabbat, to accomplish what he wanted to accomplish. But in the end, he didn't succeed.

Wearing white was so important that the Satan felt he had to get involved to thwart Rabbi Yitzhak. He threatened that he'd make everybody into "hasidim," meaning they'd be his "hasidim"-- phonies who would wear white but would be black inside. Yet, Rabbi Rabbi Yitzhak was not intimidated by this threat!

Why is white important? Because it represents purity and happiness. As long as we are depressed and dark, as long as we wear black and drab colors, the Messiah won't come on his white donkey. If wearing white is so important, why don't we at least try?

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Copyright 2004-2005, Yitzhak Buxbaum. All rights reserved.