Praying with the World

It is the custom of certain HaBaD Hasidim to insert into their prayers moments of silent contemplation, when they focus their thoughts on Hasidic insights and teachings that illumine the deeper meanings of the prayer they are about to recite.

It once happened that the Alter Rebbe (Old Rabbi), Reh Schneur Zalman of Liadi, author of the Tanya and founder of HaBaD, asked his son, Reb Dov Ber of Lubavitch, to share with him the Hasidic texts he was currently using in his meditations.

“I have been contemplating the text that reads ‘And the peoples of all nations shall prostrate themselves before You.”‘(Psalm 22:28)

Dov Ber then asked his father, “And with what do you pray?”

“With the bench and the floor,” the Alter Rebbe said.


HaBaD: School of Hasidism founded by Shneur Zalman. HaBaD is an acronym for Hokhmah (Wisdom), Binah (Understanding), and Da’at (Knowledge), three aspects of the Divine Mind manifest in humans as intuition, reason, and awareness. HaBaD emphasized panentheism, seeing the world as a manifestation of God based on the teaching in Isaiah: “The whole earth is filled with God’s glory” (Isaiah 6:5). The goal of HaBaD is bittul ha-yesh, the annihilation of the seemingly separate self, and hence all existence, as perceived by that self, into the absolute unity of God.

Alter Rebbe: Yiddish for “Old Rabbi.” Reb Schneur Zalman of Liadi, (1745-1812), founder of HaBaD Hasidism.

Tanya: Written by Reb Schneur Zalman and published in 1814; the first systematic exposition of Hasidic teaching.

What is the difference between a Hasid and a rebbe, a disciple and a master? The Hasid becomes fixated on the sign; the master looks beyond it to that toward which it points. What is the work of the rebbe? If the Hasid is lost in ideas, the rebbe points to the concrete. If the Hasid is lost in the concrete, the rebbe points to ideas. The work of the rebbe is to free the Hasid from thinking that God is in one place or the other, and to help the Hasid discover that God is in all as all.

Reb Dov Ber is the Hasid lost in abstraction: What does it mean that the peoples of all nations shall bow down before God? Schneur Zalman is the rebbe waiting to counter the Hasid’s fantasy with the ice-water shock of concrete reality.

The goal is not to be imaginative or literal, but both; allowing the mind to open to all and get stuck on none.

Published in: on November 28, 2009 at 1:00 am  Leave a Comment  

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