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5 Lessons from Week 3 of yeshiva

Updated: Oct 28, 2021

I have been in Jerusalem studying at a Yeshiva (Jewish learning institute) since June 27. If you missed the previous weeks, click to read about week 1 and week 2.

Below are 5 new lessons and experiences from week 3 that I really enjoy:

  1. Today (July 18) in the Hebrew Calendar is Tisha B'Av (the 9th of Av), which is the saddest day in Jewish history. It was on this day that both temples were destroyed, as well as several other dark moments in Jewish history. However, this day is soon to be transformed to a day of celebration! How could such a day of historical devastation be transformed into a day light? We can understand by looking at an individual’s personal growth. In the process of personal transformation, a person has to change his familiar ways of being in order to become a better person. Whether breaking an addiction or simply wanting to be healthier, it is necessary to change one’s choices when triggered to react in usual ways i.e a person feeling anxious grabs a cigarette to numb the internal pain. As someone commits to becoming greater than programs of limitation, they’re up to a great challenge. After x amount of years of reacting one way and now the person wants to change, the body, which is where the behavior is programmed, will do whatever it can to stay in its familiar state (even if that means suffering). This can show up as unpleasant thoughts, feelings, or situations that attempt to keep the person from changing. This process is not easy. Nevertheless, as the courageous person continues on this journey of transformation, they should know an important lesson, which is taught by the Rebbe regarding the three weeks leading up to today, Tisha B'av: the increase in darkness is actually an indication of how close revelation is. What a powerful, liberating awareness! In fact, this is exactly I had learned and practiced in meditations. When a person makes a firm decision to transform a habit that doesn’t serve them (smoking, complaining, anger, biting fingernails, __ fill in the blank), know that the increase in resistance felt - and it feels like no progress is being made! - is confirmation of great progress. Keep strengthening the work you’ve been doing so far. The increase in challenge is actually a sign that you’re doing it correctly! As the old saying goes, “the last battle is the hardest.”

  2. The above lesson corresponds and complements the lessons I have shared thus far about Basi Legani, the Chassidic discourse from 1951. Building on last week’s lesson of “bringing an offering” which shares the root for “to draw near,” we discussed how to transform the animal soul, meaning the survival, animalistic drives. In order to do this, it’s important to ‘speak the language’ of the animal within you to get it on board with you, just like a teacher relating to his students so he can get them interested in the subject. This is alluded to in the first paragraph after the daily verse of Shema , “love the Lord your G-d with all your heart…” The word for heart is Lev but the verse doubles the middle Hebrew letter and is written Levavcha. According to the Talmud, this means to love… “with the whole heart” i.e with both desires - Godly and animal. To make the concept of animal soul/ animal desires understandable, it’s about taking the energy (and attention) invested into things like habits of no benefit and investing it into something truly beneficial in the long term. If someone is constantly thinking about the past or the future, they’re not fully present and, thus, run by the animal desires (what’s the next meal, why did this happen, etc.)

  3. On the eve of Tisha B'av, my fellow students and I walked to the Kotel (Western Wall) for evening prayers and the recital of aicha (lamentations). Upon conclusion, we sat down on the stone and began singing niggunim (melodies), like tzama lecha nafshi (my favorite!). As we began singing, a crowd began to form around us and soon there was a large crowd at the Kotel singing together. It was a wonderful experience during this day of sadness and destruction.

  4. Continuing on this theme of darkness to light, this past shabbat - the shabbat before Tisha B'av - is called Shabbat Chazon (the shabbat of vision) because we receive a vision of the Third Temple. As taught from the Rebbe, this shabbat always coincides with the Torah portion of Devarim (Deuteronomy). The Jewish Nation is getting ready to enter Israel and Moses is preparing us for entrance. Whereas the Jews in the desert saw (re-eh in Hebrew) miracles and G-d, the Jews entering Israel had a connection with G-d by way of hearing (shmiya from shema in Hebrew). When something is visualized, it is limitless and nothing can shake the knowledge of what was seen. The people saw miracles, no one could take that away from them. On the other hand, hearing has limitation. If I told you about the miracles I saw, it may be difficult to accept it because you didn’t see it yourself. Nevertheless, as the teaching goes, even though today we don’t necessarily see G-dliness to the same degree, we can understand G-d through hearing - through ancient texts and lessons passed through teachers. Even though we don’t see, we can hear. This is connected to Tisha B'Av because even though we can’t see the light in a revealed way (yet!), we can listen and receive a vision in our dream of the redemption and the building of the Third Temple.

  5. Similar to last week meeting Rabbi Locks, I got to meet with Rabbi Dov Ber Cohen. After six remarkable years living in Asia immersed in Eastern philosophy and tradition, Dov Ber Cohen rediscovered his Jewish roots and the profound wisdom and insight to be found in the teachings of the great Jewish Sages. It was very meaningful to meet with him after someone hearing about my interest and practice in meditation recommend I reach out to him.

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