Updated: Dec 14, 2022
From the book Dereh Ha Melech (דרך המלך), a collection of speeches the rebbe gave between 1925 and 1938
From our holy teacher, the great master; may his memory be a shield for us; may God avenge his blood.
In the year 5696 or 5697 (1932-1933), I was a study partner of a close and prized advanced student of Reb Kalonymus, Mr. Issachar Nachman Zeev (may God avenge his blood), and during the Ten Days of Repentance, I was privileged to be called to a private meeting with the holy master, because of my association with the aforementioned student.
It appears that the master was very pleased with our association so that when this young man was summoned, I too was called. He immediately began to instruct us about this matter of “quieting [hashkatah].” Unfortunately, I do not remember the whole of it, but what I do recall is written herein:
Our holy master (may his memory be a shield to us) began with a teaching from the sages: “A dream is one-sixtieth of prophecy” (Talmud Berakhot 57b). The master continued with his well-known thesis that the ego constitutes a barrier to higher (divine) inspiration.
Thus, if one's thoughts and intellect are active, it is difficult for the higher inspiration to penetrate. However, when one sleeps, his mind and thoughts are quiet, and at such times he has no self-directed thoughts, and it is possible for the higher inspiration to reach him.
This is the reason that a dream is a sixtieth of prophecy. It is also well known from the teachings of our master that we are more sensitive to divine inspiration during prayer than during Torah study, as when we learn Torah, we tend to use our ego (our “self”): “I learn . . . I think that . . .”
However, in prayer, it is just the opposite! The whole point is self-abnegation. But when one sleeps, it is impossible for him to want anything since he is unconscious.
Thus our goal is to come to a sleep-like consciousness- while we are awake and have access to voluntary desires. To quiet down the endless flow of thoughts and impulses of the mind.
As this is the nature of thoughts, they get entangled, making it difficult for one to retire from their thoughts.
(On another occasion, I heard our holy master explain that if one could observe their stream of thoughts for even one day, it would be evident that very little distinguishes them from a madman. It is just that the insane act upon their thoughts, but the thoughts themselves are quite similar.)
He then gave us concrete advice about this quieting of the thoughts.
He said first that one simply observes their thoughts for a little while, approximately a few moments, meaning, “what am I thinking of?”. He eventually will notice that the mind is emptying, and his thoughts are slowing a bit from their habitual flow.
He then repeats a single verse, such as “God is truly God,” in order to attach his mind, which is now empty of other thoughts, to one thought of holiness.
After that, he can ask for his needs, for help in any one of the areas of character development that he needs to work on, be it faith or love, or awe.
I was then privileged to hear his way of using Hashkata for work on strengthening faith. He spoke these holy words:
“I believe with complete faith that God is the only existence in the universe. There is no reality other than God. All the world and all that is is just an instance of His light.”
He repeated this several times. But not forcefully, as the whole point here is to quiet the thoughts, and speaking with great forcefulness, he can arouse the ego; one utters the phrase with great gentleness.
I also was able to hear his teaching on arousing love. These were his holy words: “I wish so much to be close to His blessed Essence. My deepest desire is to feel that I am forever growing nearer to the mighty Creator.”
He said that it is possible to use quieting to correct any negative trait, but that it is done positively, by emphasizing the opposite of the negative characteristic.
For example, if someone suffers from the quality of laziness, he will not speak about moving away from laziness, but rather he will say that he moves toward enthusiastic action.
He explained this by referring to a child who is crying; the more he is told not to cry, the more he continues to cry.
He taught that it is also possible to quiet by watching the small hand of a watch, which barely moves at all, for a set period of time. This, too, has the effect of curbing impulses and thoughts.
After this Hashkata, which has the effect of bringing in a higher inspiration, he instructed us to say the verse, “Show me, God, Your path,” using his special tune. It was so wonderful and so amazing to see him and hear him, as I did, due to the merit of my friend.
Our teacher was very emphatic about this matter; he assured us that it would be very helpful. He said that, for example, with the quality of faith, if we would use this technique for a matter of a few weeks, when we recite, “This is my God, I will praise him... " (Exodus 15:2) it will be as if we are pointing to Him, as is stated in the Midrash (Exodus Rabbah 23:19).
At first, we were unable to comprehend the full intent of our master's thinking, but after some time, God blessed us and we heard these very teachings from our master's holy mouth, as well as additional comments and explanations. He intensely encouraged us to practice this Hashkata.