It is not uncommon among Hasidim to find people calling out loudly in the midst of their prayers. Yet, the custom of Reb Pinchas of Korets was just the opposite. When he prayed, his voice never rose above a whisper, and his body remained still and calm. Wishing to understand the way of their rebbe, several of Reb Pinchas’ senior students inquired after his manner of prayer.
“What is the essence of prayer?” he asked them.
“D’veikus,” they replied, “becoming one with the One.”
“Yes,” Reb Pinchas said, “and the essence of d’veikus is hispashtus hagashimius, dropping awareness of the separate self, body and mind. This happens naturally when one dies. Our sages said that for some, death is like hauling a thick ship’s cable from the dock to the ship through a narrow hole; it has to be yanked and pulled, and it flaps and flops around in the process. For others, death resembles a kiss and is as smooth and as soft as pulling a strand of hair from a glass of milk.
“The same is true in prayer. For some, the temporary death of the self in prayer is like hauling on board a thick cable. There is much grunting and groaning, and the body flails this way and that. For others, prayer is a kiss from God in which the body and mind simply slip away in silence and stillness. You, my friends, may be like cables. I am a simple hair.”
Which are you: a cable or a hair?
In the early years of spiritual practice, we are cables. We struggle with the discipline. We wrestle ourselves into submission. We seek to control our thoughts, words, and deeds and to conform to a fixed pattern set by our teachers and sages. In time we adapt, and things do get easier; but do not mistake this lessening of effort for being a hair.
One does not shift from cable to hair; one simply stops being a cable. We stop being cables when we realize that effort is not getting us anywhere. Slowly the truth dawns on us that there is no “where” to go to. God is always here and now. We are always in a state of union with God because God is everything. What is lacking is not union but awareness of union.
Awareness requires no work at all. When you have forgotten someone’s name, or are working hard on a problem, you screw up your face to intensify your thinking. Your brow furrows, but your thoughts are not thereby enhanced. On the contrary, they are more thick and heavy than before. It is only when you relax and stop thinking about the problem that the solution often bubbles to the surface. You did not do anything to make this happen, you simply stopped doing those things that keep it from happening.
The cables never stops trying. The hair never starts.
D’veikus (literally, “union with God”): Because the whole world is filled with divine glory (Isaiah 6:5), we are all and always one with God. What is achieved is not union per se, but da’at d’veikus, awareness of union. Union cannot be achieved; it is a given. What must be achieved is seeing through the illusion that union must be achieved.
Hispashtus hagashimius: Dropping the material form.