Being Alone...Spending Time with Ourselves and Removing the Distractions so that We Can Hear Our Own Inner Voice - or the Transcendent Voice of God
I’d like you to think of a time in your life when you were alone. Maybe you were away on a trip, or out for a walk, or simply at home by yourself. What was it like to be alone? What did you think about? Did you try to fill the space with distractions to make up for the solitude.
I have a feeling that most of us don’t like being alone. I’m not talking about being lonely – I am talking about spending time with ourselves and removing the distractions which fill our lives with noise so that we cannot hear our own inner voice – or the transcendent voice of God.
The truth is, Judaism is not a religion which emphasizes solitude. We traditionally begin and end our day in a minyan with others.
As Parshat Vayetze opens, Jacob flees from his father’s camp. For the first time in his life, he is alone.
Jacob grew up surrounded by people. As a homebody he rarely left his mother’s side. Living in a tribal encampment there were always people around. Even when he rose in the middle of the night, he was aware of the people sleeping in the tents around him. Privacy was unheard of in a tribal enclave.
Now, standing on alone somewhere between the only home he had ever known and his uncle Laban’s homestead in Haran, Jacob hoped that someone, even a stranger would pass by. He remembered the story of the angelic strangers who visited Abraham before his father was born. Where were they now? Jacob was not only alone but he was lonely and scared.
In his alone-ness, Jacob encounters God. Lying down to sleep, he dreams of a sulam, a ladder that reaches to heaven. And there he encounters God, who reassures him, “I am with you and will bring you back to this land…” In the morning Jacob awakes with a start, “Surely God is in this place and I did not know!”
It is in the wilderness that our forefather learns to listen to his own inner voice and to discern the presence of God in his life. These encounters teach him that solitude is a necessary part of our spiritual development.
Solitude is not unique to Jacob. Moses encounters God in the wilderness when he comes upon the burning bush. Jonah discovers God from the belly of a fish and prays. And Elijah hears the still small voice of God while hiding in a cave in the desert. Each one returns from solitude with a new sense of mission and purpose. Each gains a deeper understanding of his self.
We live in a world where we now depend on solitude. Yes, we can reach out and make calls and see each other over zoom but it is certainly not the same as seeing people panim el panim and being able to touch them. Television and internet are our meeting places. We can always find to do so that we are never spiritually alone. I pray that during the day of Thanksgiving which we celebrate this week; that as we notice all that we are grateful for, we try to find space for ourselves. This has been an extraordinarily challenging year, may we see in the challenges that God, was always by our side.