הִשָּׁ֣מֶר לְךָ֔ פֶּֽן־תַּעֲלֶ֖ה עֹלֹתֶ֑יךָ בְּכל־מָק֖וֹם אֲשֶׁ֥ר תִּרְאֶֽה׃
Take care not to sacrifice your burnt offerings in any place you like
Two friends of mine have a long-standing debate. One is a proponent of a Hasidic practice called “hitbodedut.” This is where one, at any time and any place, opens up a conversation with God. Perhaps one is driving in the car, on a walk, at a baseball game, anywhere and anytime is fair game. The other prefers to limit the times she speaks with God. For instance, after the Amidah there is the opportunity to add one’s personal words. At that liturgical point, and only then, she’ll share her personal prayers and have her chats with God.
On the one hand, it’s good to have a personal relationship with God. As with a friend, don’t we want our creator to be an active part of our lives? The practice of hitbodedut may even develop an individual to be as one who walks with God, so to speak, because they talk to God whenever and wherever they choose. On the other hand, where is the reverence? Is God not the sovereign of the universe, king of kings per the anachronistic metaphor? If we would not enter the office to speak with a high-ranking human official any time we like, all the more so for the ultimate boss. The answer probably lies somewhere in the middle. Intimacy with God fosters a deep sense of constant personal and spiritual connection. Maintaining reverence acknowledges the awe-inspiring nature of the divine. It’s possible that individuals at different times may gravitate toward one approach or the other. What’s important is not that we pray the “right” way, but that we pray, recognizing that we are body and soul, with a yearning to connect with something greater.