Embracing loneliness

Rabbi Joshua Kullock
November 11, 2014
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The realm of reshut hayachid (private domain) seems to be on its way out. The kingdom of reshut harabim (public domain) is growing as never before, engulfing in it almost everything without any constraints. Is there any way to stop this trend?

There are many ways to explain this current phenomenon, but I want to focus just on one of them: As much as we despise the fact that everything is turning public and fewer and fewer things are safely kept in private, I think that we may have also lost the ability (and the will!) to be in solitude. It seems to me that we became afraid of being alone and in silence, listening to the depths of our own souls, spending time contemplating the emergence of our inner feelings and thoughts. And, as a consequence of that, we keep tweeting everything we do, sharing a variety of posts on Facebook or commenting about the places we go through Instagram or Foursquare. We watch TV, listen to the radio or hang around the computer checking emails over and over again. Whatever it takes to avoid loneliness, whatever it takes to avoid the ultimate privacy of being with ourselves.

Probably more than ever, we need to go back to Rabbi Nachman’s idea of hitbodedut (or, in proper Ashkenazi pronunciation: hisbodedus). This Hebrew word is the reflexive verb on the act of being alone. It is, in other words, the ongoing ability to regain some privacy with the idea of deepening our relationship with G-d. As Rabbi Nachman explained in his book Likutei Moharan (2:25), “Set aside time each day to meditate and pray alone in a room or in some meadow and express your innermost thoughts and feelings and personal prayers to G-d […] You should hold these conversations in whatever language you speak best.” Even from the heart of a civilization that requires ten Jewish adults to pray in public, our Sages understood that there can’t be any sense of community if we can’t find ourselves first. With no privacy to cherish and attend, the public domain can’t endure. But, then, we need to be able to embrace a little bit of loneliness without being afraid of that.

In the constant dialogue between our context and our actions, I’m of those who believe that our decisions can have an impact on the final outcome. If so, if we need to regain some of the disappearing reshut hayachid, our daily actions should be a reflection of that. If so, just pick some time during the day, shut off your phone, get away from the computer and the TV, and be alone with yourself. Maybe, just maybe, you’ll be able to discover a few amazing things about yourself, about the world, and even about the always empowering and luring presence that we usually call G-d.

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