Parshat Balak: Even Bila’am did hitbodedut



Secrets of the Torah with Rav Eliezer Berland, shlita (translated from the original Hebrew)

From Aram Balak King of Moav led me, from the mountains of Kedem

Bilaam used to do hitbodedut (personal prayer). Even Bilaam would walk around the mountains, as it’s written: ‘From Aram Balak led me, from the mountains of Kedem’. He’d go to the mountains of Kedem, and yell out to the mountains, he’d go to the hills, and cry out to Hashem with all his might. Yet despite all this, he remained Bilaam. Nothing helped him at all, he stayed ‘Bilaam’.

A person thinks that just because he’s doing hitbodedut, now he’s going to find a million dollars. When he’s doing hitbodedut, he wants to see the brachot (blessings) immediately. He wants to see his shidduch (marriage partner) already; to see the new apartment already, he wants to see the million bucks, he wants to have saving accounts for all his kids and his grandchildren.

He says: “I did an hour of hitbodedut, where’s Hashem?! Why isn’t Hashem answering me?!”


People don’t know what hitbodedut really is. He stands before God, and he says: “Ribonu shel olam, Master of the World – give it to me, already! Give me! Give me this! When are you going to give it to me?”

He takes a sack with him to his hitbodedut, and after his hitbodedut he says: “I want to see how this sack is going to get filled up!” It’s true that our eyes look to Hashem [for help], and that Hashem is happy about this – but this isn’t hitbodedut!

What is hitbodedut? The Rebbe told us, in Torah 52 [of Likutey Moharan] that a person needs to get to the stage of bitul (self-nullification), and it’s impossible to get to bitul except by doing hitbodedut. We only need to bitul ourselves [like this]:

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“I’m not Moshe Rabbenu, I’m not Eliyahu Hanavi, I’m not Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, I have no idea what Breslov is, even, I have no concept of what Breslev really is – the opposite! I love eating, I love to drink like a non-Jew, God should have mercy on us…”

And then every hour of hitbodedut will be something else entirely. We need to do hitbodedut in order to get to bitul. Hitbodedut is only to know that I’m nothing, that I’m dust and ashes, because all the time, a person thinks to themselves: “I’m THE MOST wise, THE MOST clever, THE MOST successful, THE MOST learned, THE MOST popular.”

Twenty four hours a day, a person thinks to themselves “I’m THE MOST… THE MOST… THE MOST…” Each of us has our own proof about why we’re THE MOST successful, or THE MOST wise, or THE MOST smart. If it was possible to open up someone’s brain, and to peer at all their internal thoughts, then you’d see that they had a million thoughts every second why they were THE MOST, THE MOST…

So, now a person needs to do an hour of hitbodedut, and hour to calm down from all these arrogant thoughts, and to nullify themselves, to do hitbodedut (personal prayer), to relax a bit and to start to think that I’m not ‘THE MOST…’ in the world. There are other wise people in the world. There are other successful individuals, there are other people with deep understanding – and this takes a whole hour!

Hitbodedut, talking to Hashem, is simply an hour where we stop running after all these arrogant thoughts. Have mercy on your poor neshama (soul)! Poor thing, it can’t return to its spiritual root, and it doesn’t want all these thoughts. The neshama is Divine, and it doesn’t want to be listening to all this nonsense, it can’t bear hearing all this stupidity.


Give your soul some repose, an hour a day! Give your neshama a chance to speak, and then it’ll tell you: “Stop with all this stupidity, with all these thoughts. You can’t see what’s really going on, release me, already! Give me some breathing space! I want to nullify myself to Hashem, I want humility.”

The soul is Divine, and it only wants one thing. It want to become ayn, nothing (i.e. completely nullified to Hashem.]

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