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Something About Nothing

Something About Nothing


I'm out of ideas. I don't have any snide witticisms, clever twists of a phrase or even a "funny thing that happened on the way to the synagogue this morning."

I'm a somewhat frequent contributor to this site's News Blog. So what am I supposed to do when the editor sends me an email asking why I haven't written anything for the blog lately?

Dutifully I scour the news sites (I actually spent 45 seconds perusing them, but I don't want people to think I'm not trying), looking for an interesting story. I'm trying to spin the latest political events or market news, but come up empty; no story seems compelling.

Everyone is so busy writing about something, they haven't tackled nothingAnd so I sit staring at my screen, racking my brain for something – anything! – worth writing about. Then a great idea hit me, a perfect segue from the abstract to the meaningful, that starting point every writer needs to get the creative juices flowing—I had it! Then the doorbell rang and my brother called and I forgot what it was that I was all keyed up about. I finally remembered it, yet in the calm light of reflection it seemed rather trite.

So I have decided to write about not having original thoughts or ideas. I was surprised how little can be found about "having nothing to write about." With all the nonsense the internet spawns, I assumed there would be pages of essays about "nothing," yet I found "nothing about nothing"; everyone is so busy writing about something, they haven't tackled nothing yet.

Then I remembered something (is that contributory to my point about nothing or contrary to it?). The fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Shalom DovBer, penned a booklet that explains how to create superior prayer experiences: Kuntres HaTefilah ("The Booklet on Prayer").

The Rebbe Rashab (as he is commonly known) writes of the virtue of contemplation, the soaring heights achieved through the mind's capacity to meditate on G‑d's infinite greatness. And then the Rebbe writes of an even greater experience, one that he terms: "Gazing at the glory of G‑d."

As a yeshivah student I witnessed elder chassidim spending hours and hours in prayer. They began early Shabbat morning and would only conclude while the rest of us were turning the pillow over to the cooler side to continue our Shabbat nap. I snuck a glance at some of these pious men and saw them sitting rather still, looking relaxed. I wondered what they could be thinking about for so many hours; how could someone sustain that degree of concentration till 3 or 4 in the afternoon? I was surprised, almost disappointed, by the absence of any theatrics as they sat wrapped in their tallit (prayer shawl), humming, sometimes swaying, yet mostly motionless and quiet.

I look back at that vision and I think they were "gazing"; they were simply being in the moment of their personal relationship with G‑d. They were experiencing that which the Rebbe Rashab described; they were connecting with G‑d in a manner far beyond study or analysis. They were doing nothing; they were simply being.

These were hours dedicated to "nothing"; the simple act of being with G‑dChassidic teaching lauds study as the entry point into one's relationship with G‑d. I am after all a Chabad chassid—"Chabad" being an acronym for chochmah, binah and da'at, the three stages of intellectual development. The Rebbe Rashab is in fact called the "Maimonides of Chassidic Teachings" due to the vast quantity and organization of his chassidic instruction. Yet ultimately brilliance can be a handicap, we can become straitjacketed by what we know. Those great chassidim I witnessed were gifted scholars, yet I sense that for those many hours they were way beyond scholarship. More than merely "praying," they receded into G‑d, transcended themselves and reached a space wherein they were "lost within their Creator." No wonder they didn't want to leave that space.

These were hours dedicated to "nothing"; the simple act of being with G‑d, without trying to figure it out.

Children need that from their parents as well. Beyond teaching them to practice the aleph bet and how to ride a bike, children need "nothing time"; simply to be gazed at, to be "in the moment." Spouses need it too, to be appreciated simply for who they are, beyond what they do.

Your son or daughter may be impressed by your wit, you may be proud that your spouse is so smart, yet children, spouses and G‑d crave your presence more than your genius.

I'm no longer frightened by having nothing to say—I've enwrapped myself in it. I don't want to quit.

Rabbi Baruch Epstein is a Chabad-Lubavitch emissary to Illinois, and serves as the rabbi of Congregation Bais Menachem. He and his wife, Chaya, are the proud parents of three daughters.
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Baruch Epstein chicago, il January 4, 2010

Dear dg You asked a question -- an important one -- "Do you have to be a believer to ask from G-d." Allow me to take a crack at it.

Let me begin with a Talmudic spin on your query -- why is anyone, including a believer, entitled to ask anything of G-d? After all, to quote King David, "What is man that G-d should consider him?" No matter how great one's belief or accomplishments, what are they in the eyes of an infinite G-d? Yet we are allowed and even commanded to ask of G-d, for we ask in order to serve. Like an employee asking for a computer, or a soldier for boots -- we need "things" (big and small) in order to serve G-d.

So the question might be answered with a classic Jewish scholarship retort: "it depends" -- it depends WHY you want what you are asking for. Is it for selfish indulgence -- in which case even the most devout believer should not ask -- or to enable you to fulfill your mission -- in which ALL should/may/must ask. Reply

Hope los angeles, ca January 4, 2010


your question of whether we can ask G-d for anything if we're not yet a believer is an extremely profound question. i really like the question and i thought about how to answer it, but i don't think that i would adequately be able to do the question justice. i have my thoughts but the Rabbi's at would be able to address it much better. so i submitted it to "ask the rabbi" and hopefully we'll get a response! so i guess keep checking the website for an answer!

in the meantime, would you entertain asking your question to G-d Himself? perhaps you could take a minute today and sit and pose your question to G-d just the way you would to a friend: "G-d, i'm not sure exactly how, or even whether, to believe in You, and I'm not sure how to ask a favor of You. Can You help?"

He certainly hears all prayers, especially the sincere ones.

With blessings Reply

dg January 1, 2010

to ask g-d for a favor..... to hope, from los angeles, doubt, you're right, hope.......just that i haven't got to the point yet to ask anyone for anything....without, of course, giving back something in return...something you'll just have to's not that i don't want to...just to obligate myself, i feel it's necessary to return that obligation.....

do you feel that you must be a believer to ask g-d for anything??...i'd love to talk to you more in depth about this one point......

nevertheless, thanks so much for your quick answer and honesty.... Reply

Anonymous madison, wi January 1, 2010

ein sof the end of an end (sounds like nothing, doesn't it). Is it not a beginning? Reply

Hope los angeles, CA December 31, 2009

Dear dg,
If I may. G-d is more than just a personal request dispenser. Really what He wants more than anything else is a relationship with you. Know that He can give you anything you want, even if you've done nothing to deserve it. But the point of G-d isn't to ask for something from Him simply when the need for something arises; it's to develop a close, personal relationship with Him the same way that we would do with a spouse or good friend. For really what He wants is to share His infinite love with you. And He desires our closeness no matter how little we've given. That's why He gives us needs in the first place: to come close to Him through the asking. And when we do seek closeness to Him through the asking of these "favors," we end up with much more than just what we asked for. So, ask away, but remember Him in the process.
With blessings Reply

dg December 31, 2009

prayer.... i have never given a heck of a i still have the right to ask g-d to do me a favor.....i do have great hope and believe in life, though.... Reply

Anonymous dc, dc December 31, 2009

nothing is nothing, Nothing is just that. Nothing. In the hands of the Master of the World, it became something. Since our job is imato dei, your article troubled me deeply. I am sure it resonates with some -- those content gazing on nothing. Even mathematicians who study infinity try to produce coherent transmissable Daat (wisdom) that they can transmit.
My mother once told me something she heard from a local Rabbi. It was "Your talents & abilities are Gd's gift to you, what you do with them is your gift to Him."
Does G-d need us to stare at him all day like a besotted lover? Hardly. Does it feel good - sure, Is it comforting, tranquilizing? cheaper than valium? Yes. Less addicting - I'm not so sure.
There is another saying about a King who had grown a perfect species of wheat. He had 2 sons, he gave half to 1 & half to another & told them to guard the bushels while he was away. 1 son put them in a box and stared at it -- longingly, lovingly, the only reminderof his father. The other son made cakes & bread & gave it to the poor. Reply

Chava columbia, SC December 30, 2009

craving the presence of those that we care about That hits the nail on the head! Thank you Rabbi Epstein for opening our eyes to this paradigm of truth. Here's to less 'painful arguments' and more moments of connecting just by 'being'! Reply

C.Hall December 29, 2009

I loved the article and would like to see more of its kind. Reply

Anonymous Tzfat, Israel December 29, 2009

very nice That is really beautiful insight. I enjoyed reading it. Your nothing gave me something to work on. Reply

Anonymous New York December 29, 2009

Thank you for your article which was very well written.

what can we do when we are nothing

we can unite with G-d Who is everything

and then we can accomplish everything Reply

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