Sunday, January 25, 2009

Which Type of Hisbodedus? Rebbe Nachman or Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh?

From the comment section of here at Dixie Yid, discussing this Q&A post at A Simple Jew:

Leah Shaindel:

You wrote that the bilvavi derech and the reb nachman derech are different just as a side point- so what is a person limaiseh supposed to do with all these different drachim? I know you wrote in your oro shel moshiach post that there is a higher unity underlying it all, but how does that help a person practically? I feel like that's realizing limashal that 2 different cake recipes actually have many of the same ingredients, and taste best when eaten side by side. but practically, you can't just mix 2 different recipes of two different cakes together- they both come out good on their own but you can't just mix them. I mean Rav Shwartz is someone who almost made his own new recipe based on other recipes but for little me to mix all these drachim...? how do we l'maiseh combine them? (my mashal is prob a little off, but you get the q)


Leah Shaindel,

This is a great question and also relates to the debate you were referring to in the comment section on the Oro Shel Moshiach post.

You're right that while we're living in this physical world, we may be zocheh to *know* about the unity behind different derachim. And we may be zocheh to see that unity in many instances. But as long as we're alive, we are only capable of practically holding like one side in most cases. For instance, in the machlokes between Beis Hillel and Beis Shamai in the orientation of a mezuzah, one can either have their mezuzah sideways or verticle. Although we put them diagonal, that really isn't fulfilling either opinion. We can only pasken like one or the other of two mutually exclusive shitos on a practical level.

As between the free-flowing dialouge with G-d of Breslov or the systematic self-building process of tefillah in the Bilvavi derech, I don't really see a practical way of doing both. (Unless you have a lot of time and can do an hour of free flow and an hour of "derech binyan" tefillah each day, in addition to small bursts of conversation throughout the day.) For most people you just have to follow one or the other.

I asked Rav Shwartz this specific quesiton, i.e. the compatibility of what he writes with Rebbe Nachman and I'll share his answer later because I have to leave for ma'ariv. Look forward to your thoughts.

Leah Shaindel

wow cool looking foward to hearing Rav Shwartz's response. I definitely agree- except then what are you supposed to think when letsay I follow Rav Shwartz's derech but hear something so beautiful about a different type of avodah of in this example, free flowing dialogue with Hashem. So I think, oh that's nice but that's not what I do?

And then, how do you define a derech of avodah? Because isn't even a certain mindset and approach towards letsay what hashgacha pratis means a part of a particular derech? So that when even learning a thought from another derech , I might have to say thats beautiful, but not apply it. Which for men, I guess is fine because its all just for learning Torah, like learning 20 dif opinions in the gemara and then only applying one. But for me as a girl, i really only want to learn what I can actually apply to my thoughts, feelings and actions. So it almost seems futile to learn anything but the derech I choose. So I am really interested in what Rav Shwartz has to say- because for me I've chosen to follow bilvavi as a derech, but I love Reb Nachman! thanks!


Leah Shaindel,

Okay. I basically layed out what I thought was the major difference beween the kind of hisbodedus that Rebbe Nachman talks about in Likutei Moharan and what he (Rav Shwartz) writes in the Bilvavi seforim. i.e. That Rebbe Nachman talks about a free-flowing, talking-from-the-heart, whatever-comes-to-mind type of hisbodedus while Bilvavi talks about a very structured inculcate-myself-with-a-concept-to-make-it-a-reality type of hisbodedus. To me they seem to have a similar goal, which is increasing our connectin to Hashem. But Rav Shwartz seems to say that an approach like Rebbe Nachman's (while not naming it specifically) won't accomplish the goal of increasing one's Deveikus with Hashem since it isn't done "derech binyan," in a structured, step-by-step way.

He answered me that he doesn't think that they contradict because the two seforim were written in two different ways. He said that Likutei Moharan is not organized in a step-by-step method, so it's not clear at which stage of personal spiritual development Rebbe Nachman's talking about. (Indeed, Bilvavi does talk about doing more of a Rebbe Nachman type approach in the higher stages of development.) He distinguished the Bilvavi seforim from that by saying that Bilvavi was written to be more systematic and step-by-step. Therefore, inferences about contradictions couldn't necessarily be made.

However, he did not say that it *didn't* contradict either. I also felt that he may have seen my question as more theoretical than practical, and that he therefore wasn't really trying to directly answer the question. So I don't personally have the sense that he was affirmatively saying that there wasn't any contradiction, but was merely trying to leave open the possibility that there isn't any.

As to which method you should follow to the extent that the two approaches to hisbodedus might be contradictory, I can't tell you. The only suggestion I would give is, on a practical level to pick the derech that you feel would be the most effective in developing Deveikus with Hashem and then sticking with that method. As a human being, it's not really possible to do both (unless, like I mentioned before you have enough time in the day to do over two hours of hisbodedus daily and can accomodate both approaches simultaneously!). You may know that there is an inner unity within the two approaches, but one can't live that way practicaly and each of us have to make a choice and stick with it.

For those of us who merit to be brought up in a community with a "derech," the first choice would be to follow that derech. For those who were brought up in one derech but whose shoresh neshoma calls them to switch to something else, that need should be taken seriously. And for those, like me, who were not brought up with one derech in avodas Hashem, we need to seach out the options out there, figure out which derech is the best for us, based on where our shoresh neshoma pulls us, and then try to stay consistent in that derech on a practial level, even if we're still learning other approaches "on the side."

Adendudm: As to your other question about what you should do, as a woman with no independent mitzvah of Talmud Torah when you have the opportunity to learn about things that don't fit within the derech avodah that you've chosen, I see two main approaches. One is to say, as you did, that that derech is not yours and so you won't learn it since you only want to learn practical things. However, there's another aspect to learning Torah from drachim other than one's primary derech. And that is the aspect of hisorerus, inspiration. All of us go through the waxing and waning "Ratzo v'shov" cycles throughout our lives. But in order to get through the "shov," low times, we need some hisorerus, inspiration in the high times to take us through the "low" times. Even women need this. We all need to recharge our batteries so we can keep going in a good way during the times of "smallmindedness," mochin d'katnus. So I think that even as a woman, seeing inspiration in whatever place you can find it is also a practical aspect of learning Torah that you can benefit from, even from derachim other than your primary derech avodah. Hope that thought helps!

-Dixie Yid

(Picture by Zvi Malinovitzer courtesy of

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Anonymous said...

It should be possible to learn by experience which form of meditation recommended by a past or present Gadol actually works best to enhance one's own Yiddishkeit.

Anonymous said...

Has Rav Shwartz been to Uman?

micha said...

DY and I once had a related discussion between ourselves. R' Avram Elya Kaplan (1890-1923, R' Avraham Eliyahu ben Avraham Eliyahu) wrote an essay titled "Shetei Derekhaim" which makes a similar point.

Chassidus provides experiences of deveiqus. But because there is no attention to becoming the kind of person who is actually capable of deveiqus, the experience could well be inauthentic. When at a tisch is one being moved by relating to the Aibishter, or the song itself?

The "Bilvavi Derekh", pulling heavily from the Ramchal, unsurprisingly comes down on the same side of this line as Mussar does. The key to achieving deveiqus is not the deveiqus itself, but in becoming a nidvaq.


Anonymous said...

p.s. Rebbe Nachman did not speak of only one type of hisbodedus. There is also sichas ha'eivarim, the repetition of a single phrase, etc., which you would have to have learned more than Likutei Moharan to know about. There is a whole "oral Torah" of Breslov, found in Siach Sarfei Kodesh, among other places. Reb Shmuel Aizik (our new son's namesake) was instructed in sichas ha'eivarim, and Reb Nosson's entire Likutei Tefillos is his own hisbodedus, "turning the Torah into Tefillah." So I think that the whole question seems a little strange, since the underlying idea that you have pinpointed "Rebbe Nachman's style of hisbodedus" sounds like it isn't yet fully formed.

DixieYid (يهودي جنوبي) said...

Rebb. Golshevsky,

You're definitely right that I do not have a fully formed understanding of Rebbe Nachman's hisbodedus, although I have heard about the "mantra" aspect as well and "turning Torah into Tefillah" as he speaks about in Likutei Moharan and as Rebbe Noson demonstrated in "Likutei Tefilos," with its one-to-one correspondence with Likutei Moharan.

However, the fact that Rebbe Nachman's hisbodedus is not monolithic does not lessen the question Leah Sheindel was asking because in either case, it is still appears very different from the hisbonenus/hisbodedus described in Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh.

Have you learned the Bilvavi seforim? As a person who I consider very knowledgable in Breslov Chassidus, do you have a perspective to share on Leah Shaindel's question?

Anonymous said...

I'm not very knowledgable about Breslov, but I did pass the question by my husband. We both sort of shrugged and said, "What's the shailah here, exactly?"

My only exposure to Bilvavi has been through the manuscripts I was given when we were discussing the possibility of my editing the volumes. I didn't go through them systematically by any means, but I see right here, in the section of vol. 2 called, "Awakening the Soul through the Power of Speech," as follows:
"As we mentioned before, avodah must always be accompanied by the power of speech." He then continues with an example of what should take place during the time of "contemplation"--hisbonenus--that sounds to me like straightforward, Breslov-style, hisbodedus.
[I always learned that hisbonenus is more silent contemplation, hisbodedus with speech, but it appears as though the Bilvavi conflates his terms.]
What I was trying to say in the earlier comment, and which I'm only trying to say again, is that the spectrum of paths in "Breslover" hisbodedus are many, and unless Leah Sheindel or yourself could describe some aspects of the Bilvavi's "recipe" that are so divergent from these already varied forms as to seem of an entirely different derech, it would appear as though the Bilvavi's way is just a more-explicated way of cheshbon nefesh/sichah beino l'vein Kono. To my mind, anything that fits that rubric is flying under Rebbe Nachman's flag.
A method that is needed at one age and stage might have to change at another. That's natural. Who says they contradict?
The reason why I mentioned sichas eivarim is because it is so different from what many would consider hisbodedus, yet we know that this is a form of hisbodedus in which the Rebbe instructed at least one disciple. Sichas eivarim literally means "conversations with the limbs"--talking "mussar" to the body parts, to refine them and bring the illumination of the sechel into their realm. It has been known to be remarkably transformative. Is anything the Bilvavi recommends more "different" than this? Generally speaking, Rebbe Nachman didn't leave very detailed instructions about what hisbodedus should be--he provided general guidelines, and the writings of his students and the anecdotal collections teach us more detail.
Micha adds:
Someone once came to Rav Levi Yitzchak Bender z"l, after learning Hishtapchus Hanefesh, very confused. He asked, "All of these paths in hisbodedus are so different! How am I supposed to know which one to follow?"
Rav Levi Yitzchak answered, "They are all hisbodedus, and each person's hisbodedus has to express their emes. I'm supposed to tell you what your emes is?!"
Would anyone think that after following the Bilvavi's "recipe" for an hour, Rebbe Nachman wouldn't consider this an hour's hisbodedus? And as far as the distinction between hisbodedus/tefillah and "mussar work" goes, this does not hold up. It was well known that Breslovers and Novharadokers both felt that each of their respective derachim in cheshbon nefesh/hisbodedus were extremely close.

Anonymous said...

Does Rabbi Schwartz have a position on Breslov?

Anonymous said...

truthfully, the extent of my knowledge of breslov ends at yosef karduner and the book "through fire and water." :) although I am learning more and more from Reb Nachman and Reb Noson, I definitely admit that my knowledge of Breslov avodah is limited x limited x limited. Also with bilvavi, I havent even finished the first sefer- I was more trying to bring up just a general question of mixing different drachim. In particular to the case of Reb Nachman and Bilvavi, which you are saying do not contradict-The thing is, that when following Rav Shwartz, it is very step by step. Like, unless you really have internalized one step, you cant begin the next. So even if Reb Nachman's and Rav Shwartz's drachim are of no contradiction, I still couldn't necessarily just apply whatever I learned from reb nachman, or any other derech for that matter. I guess the problem would be solved very simply- if I learned the bilvavi seforim very thoroughly, I would be able to pinpoint- this is the avodah of this madregah. Also, I love that anecdote with Rav Levi Yitschak Bender z"l. Thanks for the thought provoking comments!

DixieYid (يهودي جنوبي) said...


"Chassidus provides experiences of deveiqus. But because there is no attention to becoming the kind of person who is actually capable of deveiqus, the experience could well be inauthentic. When at a tisch is one being moved by relating to the Aibishter, or the song itself?"

I think this is a mischaracterization of Chassidus. Much of what I have seen in the Chassidishe seforim like Meor Einayim, Likutei Moharan, Tanya, etc. teach much about what and how to refine one's self, one's da'as, one's midos, one's Emunah, etc. to be more davek to Hashem. The image of Chassidus being more about the "high" of a Tish or a beautiful Shalosh Sheudos seems to be more of a charicature of Chassidus, than a true representation of actual Chassidus.

Rebb. Goshevsky,

Perhaps based on your charictarization of the Bilvavi approach to hisbodedus/hisbonenus, it would be fair to say that your understanding of it is at least as incomplete as my understanding of Breslov Hisbodedus. I'm not saying that the Bilvavi hisbonenus would be "written off" by Rebbe Nachman as outside the scope of hisbodedus. But what Rebbe Nachman says about hisbodedus in Likutei Moharan sounds quite different from what Rav Shwartz recommends in Bilvavi.

As Leah Shaindel said in her last comment, Bilvavi is much more "step-by-step," and is focused in a very specific way on a progressive process of inculcating one's self with increasing levels of consciousness of Hashem. If you see how he describes the avodah, especially in chelek aleph and chelek beis, I think you'll understand the kasha a bit better.

I don't mean that there isn't necessarily a teretz. But one must first understand a kasha before he can give a teretz.

Anon 8:04,

Rav Shwartz's position on Breslov? I think he sits on their board of trustees.

micha said...

Well of course I spoke in thumbnail sketches and absolutes. Still, chasidus is about deveiqus, and the misnagdim were pursuing sheleimus. Mussar took that idea and added the notion of having pe'ulos beyond halakhah and talmud torah aimed specifically at that pursuit.

Which is why a chassid would daven late if that means more kavanah, but a Litvak would aim for zerizus.

To give an example... I start my morning by hitting the alarm, and saying Modeh Ani. (I think; I'm not too awake when I'm doing that.) Atop the alarm clock was a card, which I would then read, "Havei meqabeil kol adam beseiver panim yafos", the excercise the va'ad I'm in is doing right now. Between birkhas haTorah and the rest of Shacharis, I learn a snippet from the CC's Ahavas Chessed, which discusses the middah that pe'ulah is aimed at helping build, finding lines to focus on behispa'alus. At the end of the day I take out a journal and write about the chessed related decisions of my day. And in between is the exercise itself.

(Now you might also understand what I meant when I asked the Bilvavi email list about a well-defined program for change. That to me is well defined; measurable activities I'm doing daily.)

There is a focus on self-work that simply isn't Chassidus. Nor should it be -- it's a different mehalekh. But there is no way that what Chassidus offers in its sheleimus-as-part-of-deveiqus compares to what Mussar does. Chassidus isn't a better mussar than Mussar, just as Mussar isn't a better chassidus than Chassidus.

If you have to pick derakhim, and people with 24 hour days will perforce have to, then you can't have it all.

Each person has for find whether they more readily climb the mountain by trying "his-haleikh lefanai" end letting "veheyei tamim" naturally follow, or the other way around. Chanokh lenaar al pi darko -- even the naar within.


Yehoishophot Oliver said...

R' Shwartz's derech, which you present as his own invention (unless I missed something), seems mighty similar to traditional Chabad hisbonenus. If it's pretty much the same, then I wonder if he attributes his source?

I also find it highly odd that you in your posts on the topic of hisbonenus don't make any mention at all of the vast literature concerning hisbonenus found in this school of thought, and the Chabad custom of practicing this discipline that long preceded R' Shwartz. I have discussed this topic a little in my blog here:

DixieYid (يهودي جنوبي) said...

R' Oliver,

I like avodapnimis. I hope you post more often!

No, it's not something new, and he makes that clear through the seforim (though he rarely quotes his sources; very Rambam-esque). I think he was concerned that people would use his seforim as an intellectual springboard or ma'areh mekomos sheet for a "study" of hisbonenus/hisbodedus. He didn't want it used that way, but rather as a practical guide, not something for intellectual study (though obviously it's huge in that area as well). I just refer to it as the Bilvavi derech for convenience-sake.

As to your second question, try not to take it personally. I'm in law school, I work full time, I'm married and have four children. I try to learn what I can but I don't have a wide range of seforim from all areas that I've learned, as some sort of broad study of methods of hisbodedus.

Yehoishophot Oliver said...

Okay, thanks for your explanation.

Anonymous said...

Hi Dixie,
to through another ball of hot fire into your Bilvavi/Breslev talk - what you refer as the "bilvavi" way is just one of his ways... in talks he gave about hitbodedut and more then that - in private talks or if you dig into the "deeper books" he mentions a whole different path. A path of annialation of all thoughts,feelings etc. It is hitbodedus of BITUL... very far from the world of MUSAR that someone here wanted to categorize him, OR from CHABAD. Not that he is against any of them. Nor he opposes Breslev hitbodedus...

micha said...

I didn't try to fold Bilvavi into Mussar. Rather, just that his heavy use of the Ramchal leads RIS to mussar-esque (lower case m) focus on a hisbonenus to change oneself vs one aimed at connecting outward.

The gemara describes the difference between Moshe's prophecy and that of the other nevi'im by saying the first was like a clear "aspaqlaria" and the other nevi'im saw through an aspaqlaria that wasn't clear (translucent but not quite fully clear).

There is a dispute among the rishonim as to whether "aspaqlaria" means mirror, or lens. I would say that Chassidus is based on the notion of lens, seeing outward to Hashem, whereas Mussar is about looking in the mirror and finding the bit of self already connected to Him.

Another metaphor: If you have a cup in a sink under the faucet, and it isn't filling, what do you assume the problem is? A Chassid would try to remove the qelipos between the cup and the Source. A Mussarnik would try to fix the cup.

(There is a similar machloqes rishonim, perhaps, in that some describe sin as dirtying the soul, and others as causing it illness.)

In these dichotomies, the little I've seen of Bilvavi places it on the same side of the line as Mussar.

I didn't mean to say it /is/ Mussar.


Anonymous said...

hi micha.
I think that if I need to "define his way" it is: fix the cup, remove the clipas and then - realize there is only water (in your metaphore..)

in other words - he is not closer to ramchal then to the baal shemtov.

his main thing is bitul. his main teachings talk about e'harat YEHIDA. no other teaching brought it in this clarity to my knowledge.

In chassidut which is the closest it is he'arat YECHIDA IN CHAYA (keter via chochma) he speaks about YEHIDA (no seperated cup).

he doesn't say the rest is not true. it is different layers.

Yehoishophot Oliver said...

Chabad Chassidus, especially the Rebbe's Chassidus, speaks regularly about the level of Yechida, explaining it at great length.

micha berger said...

Ran wrote a summary of what he heard from RIS and concluded: He doesn't say the rest is not true. it is different layers.

I'm not sure I'm capable of accepting that. I faster see the different approaches as models -- accurate representations of aspects of a reality that we can not grasp in full.

Which to choose still wouldn't be a matter of which is right. Instead it would be a quesion of which is most effective for me - al pi darki. The model that matches the side of har H' from which I approach. Which will change through time.

We're talking about issues the Gra and the early Chassidim quite vociferously agreed couldn't be fused into a single model or derekh.


DixieYid (يهودي جنوبي) said...


I would disagree with your "different stroaks for differnt folks" characterization of Bilvavi. I agree more with Ran's understanding that he speaks about different layers of reality at different times, and how different derachim speak to those different layers.

For examples, please see my posts:

micha berger said...

I wasn't clear.

DY wrote: would disagree with your "different stroaks for differnt folks" characterization of Bilvavi.

However, when I wrote "I'm not sure I'm capable of accepting that. I faster see the different approaches as models -- accurate representations of aspects of a reality that we can not grasp in full.", I didn't mean that I couldn't accept that's what RIS meant. I meant I knew what he meant; I just can't fit the idea in among other ideas I know.

Some of the things RIS is calling layers of one onion were things Chasidus and Litta battled over vehemently. Clearly they didn't think the two fit in the same picture.


Anonymous said...

As we're all different, the relative value of the Chassidic and Mussar approaches for improving each of us is likely to be different.

By the way, in photography and astronomy there is a category of lens called catadioptric (or "mirror" or "reflex"), which contains both lens and mirror elements.

yeshaya said...

I've read quite a bit about Breslov hitboedut, and now I've read the first sefer of Bilvavi and some of the second one.

I find that there are many, many similarities. I've even wondered at times if the effect of the Bilvavi's popularity will be to introduce some Breslov ideas and emphases to a wider audience. For one thing, there is a great emphasis on talking to Hashem in every day language, for example before each thing one does in one's life. And there is a great emphasis on faith (even more so in the second sefer). The Bilvavi emphasis on actually feeling Hashem's presence is a little different, but I think the feeling of connection to Hashem and Hashem's presence is something that flows directly from practicing Breslov hitbodedut.

I don't think that Breslov hitbodedut is necessarily free-flowing and unstructured. In R' Arush's new sefer, for example, there is a very structured sequence of things you should pray about (though it's not mandatory), including long sessions about trying to change a single thing -- like a single character trait or something else you're praying for.

As for me, I try to follow the Breslov path, devoting a certain amount of time to hitbodedut each day (I'm not yet up to an hour!), but I also really like the Bilvavi approach and will try to incorporate it into my avodah on a regular basis. For example, I will try to remind myself numerous times throughout the day that Hashem loves me, that he is everywhere and always with me, and that I should try to feel his presence and cleave to him at all times. I have also started to spend a minute or two meditating on cleaving to Hashem, feeling love and yearning for Him, and feeling loved by Him, before I begin hitbodedut. Given the devekut and yearning for Hashen are also ideas found in Breslov, I don't see a contradiction. Once I have the Bilvavi's ideas sorted out I will probably try to do it in his suggested order.

I think there is much potential of the Bilvavi method to supplement the Breslov derekh. Rebbe Nachman never said he said the last word on prayer! On the contrary he said that the tzaddikim have always employed hitbodedut -- as numerous citations in In Forest Fields demonstrates. So I think the Breslover path of prayer can and should be supplemented by other approaches when appropriate.

The one thing that makes me uncomfortable about the Bilvavi is its emphasis in one or two places on the difference between Jews and gentiles and their relative spiritual capabilities. In Breslov as far as I've encountered I have not come across any emphasis on the lower capacities of non-Jews -- on the contrary there is a hope that the whole world will follow his path of emunah and hitbodedut.