Spiritual Teaching from the Jewish Tradition
"Do not exalt any path above God. There are many paths that lead to God.
So people are capable of finding and following the ways that suit them,
provided they do not stand still." Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi
“Prayer is union with the Shechinah.
In, and through, prayer, one is to attain the level of deveikut,
a deveikut that will then extend beyond the prayers into the daily activities...
The ideal prayer, though, the prayer that is altogether from within,
is inaudible and immobile.”
The most frequently mentioned concept in Tzava'at Hari- vash is prayer. It is the subject of over 40 sections. The predominance of this theme is readily understood in view of the Chassidic emphasis on prayer. For prayer is the most direct and most common occasion for deveikut. It is also universal, relating to the common folks no less than to the saint and scholar. Every individual, without distinction, can and must engage in this form of communion with God. Moreover, R. Isaac Luria, the supreme authority of Jewish mysticism, ruled: in the present era, the period of ikvot Meshichah ("on the heels of Mashiach," i.e., the period just prior to the Messianic redemption) the primary service of God, and the primary birur (refinement and correction of the world that leads to the Messianic redemption), is expressly through prayer, though Torah study is in principle superior to worship. Thus we are told that the Baal Shem Tov merited his unique attainment of spiritual perfection and his revelations of supernal matters by virtue of his prayers with great kavanah (devotion), and not by virtue of his extensive study of the Talmud and the codifiers. Tzava'at Harivash is then replete with emphasis on the significance of prayer and guidance for proper prayer and worship:
“Prayer is union with the Shechinah. In, and through, prayer, one is to attain the level of deveikut, a deveikut that will then extend beyond the prayers into the daily activities. Thus one must pray with all one's strength to the extent that the words themselves become alight? And it should be with joy and hithhavut (fervor; ecstasy). Proper kavanah is possible only with personal exertion. Initially this may necessitate to pray out loud, bodily movements (swaying),and reading from the prayer-book, to stimulate kavanah. The ideal prayer, though, the prayer that is altogether from within, is inaudible and immobile.
The focus in prayer is not to be on personal gains, but to serve God and fulfill His Will. This will also avoid being perturbed by alien thoughts in prayer. Unavoidable disturbances from without are Providential, to spur man to greater effort on concentration and devotion."
The attainment of the proper state requires gradual stages of ascent. Special effort must be made at the very beginning and that at least part of the prayer is in proper fashion. One is not to be discouraged when it seems difficult to concentrate properly: strengthen yourself and make every effort to overcome the barriers, entreat God for His assistance and you will succeed.” *
* - excerpts from Tzava’at Harivash: The Testament of Rabbi Israel Shem Tov