The Jewish Spirit Journal
A Journal of Jewish Mysticism and Spirituality
Vol. 1, No. 1 Dec. 1998

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.

1. Daily Favors

It is a Jewish spiritual practice to do a favor for someone each day. The fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Sholom Dov-ber, said that a person should have a regular daily short session to plan what favor to do. He taught one of his hasidim that every Jew should have fifteen minutes each day to meditate and reflect on which other Jew he can help that day with a favor, something spiritual or material. The hasid, who was not an intellectual but followed spiritual instructions simply, just as told, thereafter fulfilled the Rebbe's teaching and each day wrote in a notebook the favor he did that day. On days when he could not find someone for whom to do a favor, he had another practice -- to "make up" -- he sat with another hasid, whom he made his teacher, to have a spiritual conversation.

I don't know why the Rebbe specified such a large amount of time as fifteen minutes; but a person can also spend three or five minutes each day considering to whom to do a favor (and he need not restrict it to fellow Jews). Then, of course, he should do the favor. Family members can also be included!

One can plan favors while lying in bed preparing for sleep. The rabbis say: He who lies in bed at night to go to sleep and thinks to himself, "Tomorrow I'll get up early and do a favor for so-and-so," will one day rejoice with the tzaddikim in the Garden of Eden. (Midrash Proverbs on 12:20)

2. Forgive Me

Whenever the great Musar teacher, Rabbi Yitzhak Blazer, left an encounter with someone, whomever it was, after having received him warmly and spoken with him gently, he always ended the conversation by saying, "Forgive me." How easy it is to unintentionally offend people in a conversation!

[The Musar movement is a non-hasidic pietistic movement that began in the 19th century and concentrates on perfection of character and ethics.]

3. Extended Family

A Musar book (Hayei HaMusar) counsels:

"Consider all people as your father, brother, or son. Honor your father, love your brother, and be kind to your son."

We can complete this by saying: Consider women as your mother, sister, or daughter. Honor your father and mother, love your brother and sister, be kind to your son and daughter. Of course, one must love, honor, and be kind to all people, but to those older, respect should predominate; to those of similar age, love and friendliness; to those younger, the kindness and concern an adult shows children. The goal is to treat all people as family.

When Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach met someone new, he mentally "adopted" that person into his family. It would be good to try fulfilling a teaching like this for one day.

4. Tzedaka With Feeling

Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn, the previous Rebbe of Lubavitch, said:

When you give tzedaka (charity) to someone [on the street, etc.], you must do so with feeling. You must feel the other person's pain and suffering as you give. This is true even when dropping money into a pushke, a charity box. As you put the money in, you should think about the homeless, the poor, the hungry, and feel their pain.

5. Daily Good Deeds

Too often we think only of setting a fixed daily period for Torah study or prayer, but we can and should set a fixed period for good deeds.

The Hafetz Hayim, who had a special time for kind deeds each day, said: "A person may spend the whole day studying Torah [as some pious scholars did], but if he does not set aside part of his day to do deeds of kindness, what a lack of intelligence!"

Rabbi Yosef Meir, the Rebbe of Spinka, every day, after morning prayers, studied Torah while wearing tallis and tefillin, then, after having a bite to eat, went out to do kind deeds: giving charity to the poor, visiting and comforting the sick, and so on. He used to say that the nights were mainly for Torah study, but the days were mainly for mitzvot and good deeds.

6. What are We Taking Home?

It was formerly a custom of Lubavitcher hasidim, at the end of a gathering, for someone to pound on the table, and announce:

"With what are we leaving here?

What practical teaching to actually apply [in our lives and divine service] is each one of us taking home?"

This is a good custom for Torah sessions and other religious gatherings. It is also a good custom for private Torah study to ask yourself, when you are about get up from studying a book: "What is there that I learned that I can fulfill?"

7. Dancing

Rabbi Noson, Rabbi Nahman of Bratzlav's great disciple, said to Reb Moshe Breslover: "I'll give you a pathway of repentance: to dance every day."

We must repent not just from fear (awe) but from love and joy.

"In spirituality, there is no past. Everything is present."

(Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn -- the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe)

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