I’ve always viewed tefillin, the phylacteries worn by Jewish men, as antennae: They contain powerful spiritual energy in the form of special words, which, when worn on very specific pressure points on the arms, head and the luz bone at the back of the head, help a man “tune in” to certain spiritual frequencies.
Perhaps tefillin even get rid of the static that can block a man’s soul-connection to Hashem (G-d), which is why they are worn during certain prayers.* After all, it’s common knowledge—many men find it hard to articulate and communicate what’s in their hearts.
Women, however, are by nature more sensitive to spiritual frequencies (which is perhaps why many of us tend to be more emotional—we pick up on unseen energy), so we don’t need to wear tefillin. For a variety of halachic (Jewish, Biblical law) reasons, women aren’t required to participate in some of the formal, group prayer services that men are (though some women, in fact, choose to do so).
One of the reasons we don’t have to don tefillin and pray with others at specific times each day, is because we simply don’t need to—we have the innate ability to pray and connect fully with Hashem in our own words, while we’re alone. But how many of us realize this?
There are women who do talk to Hashem, somewhat informally, throughout the day. While driving, painting, packing a school lunch, hugging a child, chopping vegetables, singing, working out, kneading bread, waiting in the doctor’s office, etc. Generally, during times we’re not fully mentally engaged with other tasks like school, jobs, or interacting with others. At these times many women find they’re able to get in the flow and commune with Hashem at a moment’s notice; many also have the gift of being able to step back into the material world at a moment’s notice. We’re practical and spiritual multi-taskers, at least by design.
But for many women, their innate spirituality is latent. They may not even realize they have this potential. Some don’t even think about talking to G-d or telling Him what’s in their hearts because they don’t even know this is possible.
Or, they may realize they can do this, but are frustrated because they aren’t sure how.
During quiet times, it’s easier to realize that we want and need a richer spiritual connection. We hunger for a way to connect more deeply with Hashem, and with our deepest selves, too. It’s like we’re on no-carb, low-fat. diets and are bodies are crying out for sourdough bread slathered in real creamery butter.
For those of us who say formal prayers, including Tehillim (Psalms) daily, we might find that occasionally or even more often, it’s hard to focus. We’re taught that when we take the well-traveled spiritual paths of written prayers, it’s kind of like driving a route home that you always take; sure, it’s desirable, even necessary to stay on that road, but sometimes, it’s like you wake up and find yourself in your driveway and your mind’s been on vacation the whole way home ( in part because you know the road too well). I think most of us have moments where we pray on autopilot, too.
That’s why women, like men benefit from the prayerful meditation called hisbodedus, as prescribed by Rebbe Nachman of Breslov. In hisbodedus we use our own words, which come from the heart. But how to begin and what is the best way to make use of this powerful spiritual practice?
There are books on the topic, from those which instruct, to those which examine how one can achieve personal growth through hisbodedus. Erez Moshe Doron’s In Your Own Words and Make Every Word Count happen to be two of my favorites.
Until now, though, I don’t think anything has been written specifically for women. Recently, the Breslov Research Institute published Between Me and You, a collection of prayers for women, excerpted from Likutei Tefillos. Likutei Tefillos was compiled by Reb Noson, Rebbe Nachman’s leading follower, who was charged with turning the Rebbe’s teachings into prayers. Many Breslovers and others use the prayers in Likutei Tefillos to “jump-start” their own hisbodedus sessions. (You can use the index and find tefillas relating to a multitude of topics).
But many women don’t have the time to familiarize themselves with all the gems in Likutei Tefillos—it contains hundreds of prayers on probably over a thousand topics. Also, women do have spiritual needs which can be different from those of men. Between Me and You offers a practical collection which has been sensitively translated (not verbatim, but with a real feel for the poetry and meaning of the original). The inspirational selections include: My Path in Life; Friends; Remembering; Children; Simplicity; Letting Go of Ego; Longing; Trust; Doubts; Focus; Obstacles; and many more, including Prayer, itself.
Read a prayer from Between You and Me out loud, meditate on it, read it again, or find another, and allow this to flow into your prayerful, spoken meditation.
The free-flowing translations are really in keeping with the spirit of Rebbe Nachman’s insights and directives: Prayer, especially hisbodedus, is the key to coming close to Hashem. By talking to Hashem, by combining the prayers that spring directly from Rebbe Nachman’s teachings with our own, heartfelt, spoken words, we become more and more aware of how close we actually are to Hashem, how dear we are to Him, and how our relationship with Him is the deepest source of our path to spiritual actualization.
The book itself is beautifully bound, and will probably last a lifetime. Although it’s not about food (though there is a prayer called “Eating”) it certainly is relevant to the HJC.com blog; without prayer, I wouldn’t be able to blog at all since much of my inspiration for this and other projects directly springs from prayerful meditation. This book is a key.
Full-disclosure: Although I write (occasionally, schedule permitting) the Breslov Repair Kit column for Breslov Research Institute’s web site, I love writing about BRI’s books and do it, unasked, because I believe fully in their mission, and in Rebbe Nachman’s teachings. In the past forty or so years BRI has translated important Breslov texts into English and other languages as well as published numerous original works.
*This is a metaphor and a personal one at that, so please, for information on tefillin, ask a rav, not me.