Recognition of the Creator Takes Many Years
As we explained, after a person has been privileged to really feel that there is a G-d, and his emunah gives him a sense of vitality, the next step is to strive to clearly recognize, in a way that the heart will really perceive, that Hashem is right nearby.
This will literally take years of effort. In fact, in the Mesillas Yesharim, in the chapter on fear of sin (Ch. 19), it states that for one to sense that Hashem is nearby is "the most difficult thing to be really grasped by the heart, because the senses don't assist at all." The senses only grasp material entities, but they cannot perceive the Creator. The only faculty in the person that can sense this is the Divine element that is in the soul.
Nothing can be perceived without tools of the same kind. The physical world is grasped through the bodily senses, and G-dliness can only be sensed with the Divine element that is present in each person. "The soul You have placed in me is pure." It is a Divine portion from Above. That is the only entity that can sense the Creator Who has no body or corporeal qualities. Therefore, as long as one has not succeeded in awakening the Divine element within, the holy soul - as least to some extent - one cannot feel that Hashem is nearby!
Our main avodah in this area is to escape from the material world, and begin to live in the spiritual world, which means more than merely knowing about it. Even when a person learns Torah and fulfils mitzvos, although he is dealing with Divine principles, there is no guarantee that his soul will be engaged in the act. One can learn Torah with a worldly intellect and perform mitzvos with only his physical hands. There is no guarantee that the real person is involved in the mitzvos and that the soul is at the fore!
In order to feel and recognize the existence of Hashem, one must involve more than the various parts of the body. He must first reach his soul. Therefore, it is very difficult to get this feeling, because the path to the soul is very long. Even if the soul does become somewhat exposed, if one returns to deal with material things, the soul goes again into hiding. One might attain a certain level, but of such cases, Chazal have said (Chagigah 15a), "They are as hard to attain as vessels of gold, but as easy to lose as glass vessels."
You don't just acquire this condition and keep it with you. Rather, you will be in the state of "rushing and turning back." At first, one feels it for a moment. Then, the feeling disappears for a week and then returns, and so on. The soul's bond with the body is a wonder (as said in the blessing of Asher Yatzar; see Tur Orach Chaim 6). Essentially, these two should be in conflict. Just as water and fire cannot naturally join, so is the bond of body and soul precluded by nature. If not for the fact that Hashem is constantly holding them together, a person would die!
The general state of the connection between soul and body is that in fact, the soul is in the body, but it is hidden within, so one cannot feel Hashem. In order to feel Hashem, one must strive so that both the soul and body are manifest. This achievement is actually a greater wonder than that of the basic connection between the soul and body!
In fact, the moment one returns to engage in the body's matters, and especially, if his thoughts are engrossed in bodily needs, he will forget about the revelation of the soul, and will require much difficult work in order to reawaken his prior condition!
To what can this be compared? To the familiar gas stove (with no pilot light), with its various degrees of flame intensity. If one turns up the fire to the highest degree, but after half an hour changes it and lowers the flame, if he wants to restore the flame back to its prior level, he only needs to slightly turn the knob to accomplish this. Why is this? Because the fire was not extinguished. It is still burning, but there was a change in the intensity of the flame, so the adjustments are relatively easy. But if the flame is entirely extinguished, one will need to bring matches and create a new fire.
So, too, is it in our situation. If a person is distracted for even a moment, the fire will disappear, and the person will need to awaken the power of the soul anew.
After one has managed to maintain "the fire burning on the altar, never failing," on his inner altar, building an altar with a constant fire in the sanctuary of the heart, he will still have ups and downs regarding the soul's feelings. But it is will be much preferable to the prior state of "difficult to attain as gold vessels, and easy to lose as glass vessels."
Thus, one must know that this point of recognition of the Creator is one of the most basic points of life. One must later become closer to Him, but this prior stage is essential! If one does not recognize the Creator, he cannot become close to Him! One must work on this initial step for years, but in a true, patient, and calm manner.
Throughout the Generations, the Tzaddikim Lived with Hashem
We will try to provide a general approach to understanding this.
A person awakens in the morning. He rises and says, "I thank You Hashem (Modeh Ani)...." Whom is he addressing? Hashem. While one is working on this step, he must start with a more basic point before saying, "I thank You." If we say, "I thank You," there must be someone we are thanking. If there is someone to thank, where is He?
The initial thought that must accompany someone at this level upon awakening is (addressing Hashem), "I am not alone. You are with me. You awakened me." Only after that, should the person say, "I thank You, Hashem." The initial idea that should form the basis of one's awakening for the new day must be this: "Master of the world, I did not awaken into a world in which I am alone. I awakened into a world in which I have a "companion." My "companion" is You, Hashem!
Certainly, it takes time until one succeeds in reaching the state where this is his first thought upon awakening in the morning. At first, one will forget, and then remember it only two hours later. Gradually, he will learn to remember, until it becomes a habit. This avodah can take weeks or months, until one finally achieves the condition in which his initial thought of the day is that he is living with Hashem.
This does not mean that he will actually feel Hashem's presence, but rather, as we elaborated before, that he will have clear faith that Hashem is present nearby. He might or might not sense it, but he will possess complete faith that Hashem is present.
Here is an example: In recent years, the cell phone has come into common use. Imagine that someone arrives from a faraway country, where they don't know about the cell phone yet, and he asks a resident where there is a public phone, so he can contact an acquaintance here whom he needs to meet.
The resident responds, "Don't trouble yourself. The public phone is far from here." He pulls out from his pocket a small box, and says, "Please."
"What is this?" asks the guest. The resident responds, "A cell phone, a portable phone. It has no wires, and you can use it to speak with someone very far away."
The tourist looks at him quizzically, and wonders to himself: "Did they really invent a new thing, or did I just meet someone who is mentally unstable." He then says, "Pardon me, thank you!" and goes on his way.
He turns later to a second and then to a third person, and everyone has the same response: there is in fact a wondrous tool that can be used for speaking, just like a regular telephone!
He then thinks to himself, "If three people have said the same thing, apparently, I just haven't yet heard about this new wonder, but it really can be used for conversing." He then takes the tool in his hand, dials, and begins to speak.
In this case, when he starts speaking, he shouldn't think, "Maybe they hear me, but maybe they don't." If he would have taken it from the first person and tried to speak while still doubting if the tool works and can be used for conversation, then he would naturally have reservations. But if three people said the same thing, and he sees tens of people walking around and talking with this tool, he will understand clearly, "Until now, I didn't know, but now I know." Even when speaking to an acquaintance 1000 kilometers away, he would have a clear inner feeling that the person hears him.
Why is this? Because even though he never tried to speak by means of this amazing tool, since he sees that everyone else does, it must be the reality.
A boy grows up in his parents' home and sees his parents talking on the telephone. Gradually, he understands that one speaks here and can be heard elsewhere, and this information remains in his mind forever.
This was our example. We will now consider its message. Not only one and not two people lived with the feeling that Hashem is really with them. The holy prophets spoke with Hashem "as a man speaks with his friend," and so did the wise of each generation. We find thousands of people who acted in this way, and this was how they related to Hashem.
When one looks at the issue with this perspective, and does not think of himself as some strange exception who is beginning to talk to Hashem, but as a continuation of thousands of tzaddikim throughout the generations who sustained a live contact with Hashem, he will be able to speak to Hashem as if he is holding a phone in hand and conversing with someone hundreds and thousands of kilometers away.
Certainly, this requires tremendous effort. One must keep thinking about this and keep trying to feel it. But the main thing is to not give up! One must keep trying and be confident that Hashem is here and He is listening.
In the holy works, there is found a principle that "everything follows the beginning." If one takes the awareness that Hashem is nearby, and starts his day with it, it will become the key to living all day with such a feeling.
One rises, washes hands, and goes toward the bathroom. In the process, he should think, "Am I alone, or am I with someone?" Then, he turns to Hashem and says to Him, "I know that I am not alone. I know You are here with me." He goes to the synagogue, and if he is privileged to be among the first ten there (which is a very high level), he should say to Hashem, "Am I alone in the synagogue, or are You with me?" And so, he should repeat this point again and again, without fail, until he has the privilege to live at all times with the feeling that Hashem is present with him.
There are many events and examples, for each person according to the nature of his day and his situation, but the common theme is that half an hour must not pass (and with time, even less than that) without remembering and saying to Hashem, "I am not here alone; You are with me!"
The True Purpose of the Feeling of Loneliness
Where should all this lead the person? What is the measuring rod by which one knows if he has acquired this quality?
It is written in the pasuk (Bereishis 2:18), "It is not good for man to be alone; I will make for him a helpmate in front of him." This is how man is made. It is not good for him to be alone. Everyone has an inner need to connect to something. Each person has moments (and for some, these are long periods of time) in which he may be in the company of other people (and even with his own family members, depending on the case) and is surrounded by a crowd, yet inside, he feels lonely. Everyone is affected by this, but there are various levels. For some, this occurs rarely, and there are some poor souls whose whole life is this way. But this does apply to each person in one way or another.
Let us imagine that a person is alone late at night. No one is home. He feels lonely. What does one do? He immediately tries to call someone. It's hard to be alone. "It is not good for man to be alone."
But the truth is that the real company for a person should be Hashem! Whenever you feel lonely, you should recognize this truth. Sure, it's not always possible to act upon this awareness, but you must first attain the recognition of this truth, and when alone at home and feeling lonely, you should not rush to the phone to speak, but rather, stop and think: "Why did Hashem create in me this feeling of loneliness? Why did he cause me now to feel so lonely?"
After thinking, you will understand that loneliness is a tool for realizing that one cannot live here alone. The way to solve the problem of loneliness is not the one people superficially imagine. Hashem wants to bring one to the truth, so one will not feel lonely. How? By connecting to the Creator!
When one sits at home and feels lonely, he must first remember the first point, which is that this loneliness derives from the soul not feeling that Hashem is here.
He must collect his thoughts and say to himself, "I know that the truth is that Hashem brought me to this situation of loneliness so that I will connect with Him. I also know that I am not yet on that level, and I can't do that yet, but Hashem wants me to get to that level. He is not allowing me to forget the truth. That is why He is constantly arousing in me the feeling of loneliness, so that I will be inspired and remember that the only way to fill the inner emptiness is through Hashem.
On the pasuk, "And Yaakov remained alone" (Bereishis 32:25), there is a well-known comment of Chazal that this relates to the phrase, "And Hashem will be alone on that day" (Yeshayahu 2:11). That is to say, the "alone" of Yaakov Avinu must be joined to the "alone" of Hashem. The pasuk likewise states, "Behold a nation that dwells alone and is not counted among the nations" (Bemidbar 23:9). The "alone" of a Jew must connect to the "alone" of the Creator, and then there is real companionship.
If one allows his feelings of loneliness to go away, and tries to dispel them by getting together with other people, without considering at first the whole point of the loneliness, he has missed the point of being placed by Hashem in that state. Hashem directly gave a person a gift, and reminded him, "Know, Jew, that the reason you feel lonely is that you don't feel Me. When you will truthfully feel Me, you will never again feel lonely!
Every taint of loneliness must be used to instill in the soul a greater recognition that the purpose of it all is to feel the Creator, so that He will fill the emptiness. Even if one does decide to soften the loneliness in other ways, he must first stop and say to Hashem, "I know why You really gave me loneliness. I know the real way to fill the emptiness of loneliness. This loneliness came to me so that I would connect to You, but I am not yet worthy. Master of the World, help me so that my soul will not feel lonely, and if a moment of loneliness does come, I will find fulfillment through You."
One should elaborate in this fashion, according to his ability, and only after that, go to connect with others while sustaining the recognition that he is not yet on the proper level.
How will one know that he has reached the proper level?
When he reaches the state in which he never feels lonely, he will know that he has attained the proper awareness that there is a Creator. As long as one is seized by feelings of loneliness, even if rarely, he has certainly not fully acquired this level. It may not be possible to perfectly acquire such a level, but one must acquire it to the extent possible.
It takes years to attain this awareness. It is not that one works for years without feeling a thing. Of course, when one strives, there are degrees of advancement, but one must yearn for the state of "Behold a nation that dwells alone," the level of "And Yaakov remained alone."
May Hashem help each of us to identify the source of loneliness, to recognize this gift that Hashem gives to the soul of each person, until we all have the privilege to cleave to Hashem and arrive soon at "Hashem will be alone on that day."