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In praise of self-isolation


AS A student in a Jerusalem institution for advanced Biblical studies, I have been reading this 200-year-old book in Hebrew, and the passage below seemed particularly appropriate, so I translated it into English.

Likutei Halachos is an eight-volume work written by a student of the rabbi that we follow, Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, which we spend a lot of time going through, and this piece seemed so appropriate.

Excerpt from the book Likutei Halachos, written by Rav Nasan of Breslov about the year 1810 (Laws of the Evening Prayer, 4:17)

‘This [Noah concealing himself in the Ark, which is the attribute of Yom Kippur] corresponds to the concealment that one has to seclude and hide himself away at the time when the attribute of Judgment is at its full force, Heaven forbid! Meaning, that when [God’s attribute of] Judgment overcomes [His attribute of kindness], the only response is for one to completely surrender and nullify himself. This nullification is best accomplished by closing his eyes away from seeing any sight of this world. Therefore, one must hide and conceal himself inside his house and to not leave it, in order that his eyes will not wander and see the sights of this world. He should only sit concealed and hidden in his house, because there is the most ideal place to nullify himself to God, which is the only way to mitigate the harsh judgments.

‘And this is the meaning of the verse, Isaiah 26:20, “Go my people, enter your rooms and close your doors behind you, hide yourselves for a little while, until the rage passes”. Similarly God commanded Noah [once it became apparent that Noah did not succeed in cancelling the judgement of destruction on mankind], to enter the Ark to seclude himself there and to shut his eyes away from the world, since the walls of the Ark blocked his vision, so that he should have not the slightest sight leading to a contemplation of anything outside. In order that he should be able to look and concentrate on the purpose of the creation and thereby [at the very least he and his family should] be included in the mercy and salvation of the Infinite One.

‘And this is the aspect of the greatness of hisbodedus (personal prayer in seclusion). That one must seclude himself in his house and connect himself to God with prayers and supplications, in order that he will be able to shut his eyes from the sights of this world and his imagination will not be dispersed outside. And for this exact reason, the walls of the house are the most suitable for concealing himself within them from confrontation with the destructive angels during the most severe time of the intensity of the harsh Judgment, may God save us, as is mentioned in the holy Zohar. Since the walls of the house act as walls in front of the eyes, in order for him to be able to concentrate on the purpose of the creation, which is the aspect of “Where everything is good”, where all of the harsh judgments and tribulations and suffering are cancelled.’

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Jonathan Montlake
Jonathan Montlake
Jonathan Montlake was born in 1956; he was not religious growing up in London, but after feeling a spiritual void in his life he is now a chassidic Jew living in Israel.

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