Learn Emunah:
Section One, Lesson Six:
Tehillim: Communing with HaShem

By Rabbi Shlomo Nachman © October 18, 2018 (Last updated 12.30.2019)

5. I believe with perfect emunah
     that the Creator, blessed be His Name,
     is the only one to whom it is proper to pray,
     and that it is improper to pray to anyone else.
Rebbe Nachman of Breslov tells us:
Prayer is the root of all attachment and devotion to G-d. Prayer is the gate through which we approach G-d, and through prayer we may come to know Him -- Likutey Moharan II, 84

Prayer is seated deeply within human nature. In times of danger humans cry out into the dark for assistance from an unseen Hand, for understandings, for power beyond their kin. There is not an ancient nor modern civilization where this is not the case. As the old saying has it, 'there are no Atheists in fox holes'. Regardless of our conceptions, by whatever name(s) or images we employ, humans instinctively believe in the Holy One and cry out to Him. Inaccurate knowledge, religious abuses, diverse cultural realities and other factors impact the specific beliefs, but humanity believes in and calls upon the eternal One. On the hit TV show the Big Bang Theory committed Atheist Sheldon Cooper, desperately hoping to win tickets to an event, bows, places his palms together and say 'G-d, This is Sheldon Cooper. I know that in the past I have denied your existence but -- the tickets come through -- and I still do!" See video clip below.

This is the sad state of belief in our world today. Agnosticism and Atheism are learned, Theism is our natural tendency. Its not that we need to learn to pray, rather we need to unlearn not praying!

As Jews we pray only to HaShem. To pray to anyone or anything else is called Avodah Zarah, forbidden 'foreign worship'.

"Mashiach's Main Weapon is Prayer!" -- Likutey Moharan I, 2

What is prayer?

Jews often use the Yiddish term daven ("daa-ven"). Daven comes from the Hebrew word dovaiv, meaning "to move the lips." From this word learn that Jewish prayer is (almost always) verbal, we 'move our lips'. This grants the three requirements of establishment, three witnesses. We witness ourselves within our consciousness, the non-physical beings like the angels witness our words, and most importantly HaShem hears our words. Verbal prayer is much more powerful than inward, silent prayer because through uttering our prayers audibly we form them and call them into existence (Psalm 19:14). When one properly understands that we are beings in the image of the Most High our prayers

Knowing the intentions of our hearts of course HaShem hears all prayers whether spoken or silent. There are times when we need to speak with HaShem but can not speak aloud for various reasons. Rest assured that HaShem hears those prayers as well! At such times we can learn from the Amidah, "the Standing Prayer." The Amidah is often referred to as the Silent Prayer. It is the central prayer of Jewish liturgy. The prayer is also known as the Shemoneh Esreh, meaning "Eighteen" after the original eighteen blessings of the prayer; today there are nineteen blessings but we continue to refer to it as the Shemoneh Esreh for the sake of Tradition. Just as the Shemoneh Esreh is not actually eighteen blessings, so too the "Silent Prayer" is not actually silent. It is spoken "with the lips" in hushed tones that are almost but not quite inaudible. It is as though in the Presence of the Divinity we dare not disturb Him with presence. In situations where we can not speak our prayers aloud, perhaps they can be uttered almost silently, like the Amidah. If this is not possible one may certainly pray "in ones mind" only. Ideally prayer is always arising from within our consciousness, whether they are written as in a siddur or they come from our innermost beings through hitbodedut (private prayers in your own words).

Hebrew and Aramaic share common backgrounds. In Aramaic we find the word d'avuhon, meaning, "from our fathers." While all peoples from every culture pray, as Jews we pray according to the methods passed down to us from our fathers (d'avuhon). Our ancestors, the Patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, established our fundamental methods and times of prayer. From them the Mishnah states that there are three required daily 'services', each connected to a particular time of day (Mishnah Berakhot 4:1). Rabbi Joshua ben Levi cites Rabbi Hanina as teaching that the three daily prayer services correspond to the three daily sacrifices in the Beit HaMikdash, the Holy Jerusalem Temple. These prayers are our daily sacrifices in lieu of the Temple's presence on the earth.

The heart of these services is the Amidah or Standing Prayer. This prayer is known by several names: Tefillah ("the Prayer"), Shemoneh Esreh (the Eighteen Benedictions), and the Silent Prayer. Since Jewish prayer originates with our fathers, d'avuhon, the act of praying is called "davening" and includes the passing forward of their minhagim (traditions) on approaching the Holy One.

The Three Daily Prayer

Our father Avraham (Abraham) focussed on the morning prayers. Each morning he blessed the Holy One for returning his soul for another day of life and service. He committed each new day to Tikkun Olam, repairing whatever brokenness he could. Avraham, and hence our Shacharit prayers, draws forth the quality of Love from those who perform their prayers in the mornings. We recite Shacharit or "morning prayers" with the same intentions, beginning with the Modeh Anee as we first open our eyes..

Our father Yitzchak (Isaac) focused his prayers on the afternoon blessings. He trusted HaShem to maintain him throughout the day in order to do His Will. Yitzchak and hence the afternoon prayer, draws forth our awe of the Holy One as we behold His Love throughout our daily endeavors. The Mincha prayers therefore are our awe-felt afternoon offerings to the Holy One. The word Mincha literally means "gift" and is the name of the afternoon offerings in the Jerusalem Temple. We observe our prayers as though we were making Temple offerings before the Throne of HaShem.

Our father Ya'akov (Jacob), who was renamed Y'israel (or Israel) after successfully wrestling with an angel of HaShem as recorded at Genesis 32:28 and 35:10, was the father of the Twelve Houses of Israel. He focussed on the evening prayers, blessing HaShem for his daily mercies and making teshuvah (repentance) for his shortcomings and those of his family. Ya'akov and the Maariv blessings inspire us to mercy as we embrace the Mercy HaShem shows to us every day. The Maariv (or arvith) prayers are performed in the evenings. The word maariv is taken from the Hebrew word erev. meaning "evening." Some Jews have the tradition of merging the Mincha and Maariv services, however traditionally they are done at their proper appointed times separately. There are various minhagim (local traditions) for the exact timing of Shacharit, Mincha, and Maariv but essentially it is morning, afternoon, and evening. We conclude our days with the bedtime Shema.
The Tehillim:

The three established daily prayers contained in our siddurim (Jewish prayer books) are not the only way we pray. Another ancient and equally important form of prayer is the soul-searching oral recitation of the Tehillim, the Book of Psalms. Of the Tehillim Rebbe Nachman of Breslov explains:

When reciting Psalms (Tehillim) and [personal] prayers, make sure you find yourself in everything you say. It is simple and easy to find yourself in all your prayers: you don't need to be clever.

The Psalms in particular were written for the entire community of Israel and for each and every individual [Jew]. All of a person's internal wars and struggles and everything else he endures are all expressed in the Psalms, which mainly relate to the war against the negative urge (or yetzer hara) and its forces. These are the main enemies seeking to keep a person from the path of life. The inclinations and forces seek to drag a person down to the deepest abyss if he is not on guard against them. The entire Book of Psalms is about this war.

The foundation of all the different pathways to G-d lies in reciting Psalms and other supplications and offering with our own personal prayers from the heart, entreating Him to draw us closer to His service. This is the only way to win the war. Happy is the person who persistently prays and entreats G-d at all times and in all situations, because he/she will certainly win the war.

Much good advice exists about different ways of coming closer to G-d, but in most cases it is very hard to carry out the actual advice. Therefore the main thing is prayer and supplication. Regardless of who you are or the circumstances in which you find yourself, always try to offer some prayer and request to G-d to take you from darkness to light and bring you to complete repentance. Give Him no quiet until He answers you. Even if you must cry to G-d for a very long time and He still seems very far away, if you are persistent in your prayers, He will certainly answer you eventually and draw you to His service -- Likutey Moharan II, 101

From the 150 Tehillim Rebbe Nachman highlights ten as being particularly effective at purifying the soul and resolving our troubles. We refer to these as the "Universal Remedy." Breslovers believe Highest Wisdom has granted these Tehillim extra effectiveness to assist in Tikun Olam, the repairing of whatever is broken within us and/or throughout the Creation. It is recommended that these ten be recited every day. We often begin our recitations with the following words:

Our G-d and G-d of our fathers:

Who chooses King David and his descendants; Who chooses songs and praises. Please turn to me in mercy and accept the psalms I am about to say as if King David himself were saying them, and let his merit protect us.

There is merit in every verse of the psalms and in every word, every letter, vowel and musical note, and in all the holy names spelled out by the first and last letters of each Hebrew word.

Let this merit stand in our favor to atone for our sins and transgressions, cut down our enemies and accusers on High, and destroy all the thorns and thistles surrounding the Supernal Rose. Send down blessing from Your exalted place to all the levels of our soul and spirit, to purify us from our sins, forgive our transgressions and atone for our rebellion, just as You forgave King David who recited these Psalms before You. "And G-d will cause your sin to pass away and you will not die" ( II Samuel 12:13).

Do not take us from this world before our time. Give us a full life throughout our span of seventy years so that we may make amends for all the wrong we have done.

May the merit of King David protect us . Be patient with us until we return to You in perfect repentance.

Grant us blessing from Your treasury of open-handed generosity, as it is written: "I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and I will show mercy to whom I will show mercy" (Exodus 33:19) . Just as we sing before You in this world, grant us the privilege of singing before You, G-d, in the world to come. Through our recital of the Psalms , let pleasant song break forth with rejoicing and exultation. Let glory be given to Israel , and splendor and beauty shall be in the House of G-d. Bring it speedily in our days. Amen.

In reciting these Ten Psalms I bind myself to all the true tzadikim [i.e. enlightened sages of our people] in this generation and all the true tzadikim who have departed, "the holy ones who are in the earth," and especially our holy Rebbe, Tzaddik, foundation of the world, the "flowing brook, source of wisdom," Rabbi Nachman the son of Feige, may his merit protect us, who revealed this remedy.

Come let us sing to G-d, let us shout for joy to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving; let us sing to Him joyously in song. For G-d is a great G-d and a great King over all gods (Psalms 95:1-3).

I prepare my mouth to give thanks and praise to my Creator, to unify the Holy One, blessed be He , and His Indwelling Presence in awe and love, through the Hidden and Concealed One, in the name of all Israel.
We then recite the Tehillim (Psalms) in the following order:

Tehillim 16
Tehillim 32     Tehillim 41
Tehillim 42     Tehillim 59     Tehillim 77
Tehillim 90    Tehillim 105   Tehillim 137    Tehillim 150

A third significant method of prayer is hitbodedut This is private secluded individual prayer. During hitbodedut we are alone with HaShem for a period of communion. This is not the time for Torah study or intellectual pursuits. This is the time for speaking to HaShem in ones native language from the heart. It is also a time for peaceful contemplation and meditation. It has been said that prayer is talking G-d, meditation is listening to G-d. Both are needful. Both are done in Hitbodedut.

Sometimes we bring our concerns to Him. We request needed deliverances, understandings, consolations. At times we speak in hushed tones while at other times we cry out loudly: HaShem!!!! Adon Olam!!!

At Likutey Moharan II, 25 Rebbe Nachman shares the following:

Set aside time each day to meditate and pray alone in a room or some meadow and express your innermost thoughts and feelings and personal prayers to God. Use every kind of appeal and argument. Use words that will endear you to God and win His favor. Plead with God to draw you closer and let you truly serve Him. This is Hitbodedut.

You should hold these conversations in whatever language you speak best. Our set prayers are said in Hebrew, but if this is not one's native language, it is difficult to use it to give expression to all one's innermost thoughts and feelings and the heart is less drawn after the words. It is easier to pour out your heart and say everything you need in your own language.

You should tell God everything you feel, be it contrition and longing to repent over the past or requests and supplications to come truly close to God from now on, each person according to his level.

Be very careful to get into the habit of spending time every day on your personal prayers and meditation. Fix a regular time for this and then be happy for the rest of the day!

Hitbodedut is of the greatest value. It is the way to come closer to God, because it includes everything else. No matter what you lack in your service of God, even if you feel totally remote from His service, tell God everything and ask Him for all that you need.

If at times you find yourself unable to speak to God or even open your mouth, the very fact that you are there before Him wanting and yearning to speak is itself very good. You can even turn your very inability to speak into a prayer. Tell God that you feel so far away that you cannot even speak to Him! Ask Him to have mercy on you and open your mouth to tell Him what you need.

Many great and famous Tzadikim have said that all their achievements came only through Hitbodedut. Anyone with understanding can recognize the supreme value of this practice, which ascends to the most sublime heights. This advice applies to everyone equally, from the very least to the very greatest. Everyone is capable of practicing it and can attain great levels. Happy are all who persist in it.

It is also good to turn Torah teachings into prayers. When you study or hear a teaching of a true Tzaddik, make a prayer out of it. Ask God when you too will be able to fulfill this teaching. Tell Him how far from it you are and beg Him to help you attain everything contained in the lesson.

A person of understanding who wants the truth will be led by God in the path of truth, and he will learn how to practice Hitbodedut and offer words of grace and sound arguments to persuade God to bring him to true service.

Hitbodedut rises to a very high place. This applies especially to turning Torah teachings into prayers, which creates the greatest delight above.

Hitbodedut is the highest level: it is greater than everything.

Points to Consider:

Go to Lesson Seven

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