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5 Lessons from week 4 of Yeshiva

The summer program at the Yeshiva ended Wednesday and Tamir Goodman’s basketball camp ended Thursday. Nevertheless, week 4 (week 1, week 2, week 3) has been enlightening!

Below are 5 new lessons and experiences from week 4 that I really enjoy:

  1. There is an interesting Mishnah - compilation of the oral law, authored by Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi (approx. 200 C.E.) - from the section Mikvot end of chapter 7 that has a very simple, yet profound teaching. The literal translation to english is something like, “a needle she is put on top step of the cave [mikvah], he was pushing and bringing in the water since passed over a wave, she is pure.” The case within this Mishnah is about how to toivel (make kosher) a needle (for use in the Holy Temple), for which the answer is to place it on the top step of a mikvah and to push back and forth a wave over it. It appears very simple and perhaps a funny teaching. However, there is another teaching (from a letter the Rebbe wrote) with much greater depth to it that applies to each of us and hints at our purpose in the world. In Judaism, there are 5 levels to our soul, each with a different name according to its actions. The reason the soul came down to this world is to connect the highest world with the lowest world. Man, for example, was not created. Rather, he/she was made from dirt and G-d blew a soul in him. The soul is sometimes called a needle because it’s purpose is to ‘tie’ and elevate this world with the light of the higher worlds. The way to elevate this world is accomplished only when the needle goes into water - temptations/challenges of the world. It is put on the top step so it has not fallen too low, but is a step higher with the awareness of its mission. The soul has to go back and forth, pushing and bringing, connecting with G-d and returning to elevate the world. Then, since the wave has passed (the exile, challenges), it is now pure. This Mishnah is read whenever there is a mourner as it provides comfort reflecting on the purpose of their loved one who passed away.

  2. Prayer is intimacy, like a date with the Divine. In the morning service, there are stages of this intimate date. It starts with morning blessings where one thanks G-d for one’s health and needs, as well as reading blessings over the Torah. Then, there are morning prayers where, for example, one takes upon the mitzvah to “love your fellow as yourself,” because that other person is a reflection of a part of oneself. Since, we are all One, then only by loving all parts of me can I show up whole to the Divine. The service continues on through various levels, blessing and conversing about the beauty of creation and the Oneness of G-d, only to then come to the heightened part of prayer where we read 18 prayers. Similar to the idea of love languages mentioned in week 1, it’s intimate to get beyond oneself and truly be there for the date, in the case of prayer, G-d.

  3. In last week’s Torah Portion, Va'eschanan (lit. I beseeched), the Rebbe shared a sicha (a short talk) about the cities of refuge. In case of a person who unintentionally kills someone, there must be a road made for him to flee to a city of refuge (for reasons like the family of the victim attempting to kill him). At every fork on this road it was said that there had to be signs that said “miklat!” (refuge!). As much as this is a physical law, it also reflects a spiritual teaching. Internally, we also may have unintentional transgressions that need refuge. What are the signs for us to know we’re on the right path? We know that the physical reality is a reflection of the spiritual reality. By “observing the physical reality that surrounds us, we gain insight into spiritual reality as well.” For example, it is possible to read a person’s inner thoughts and intentions by observing their body language. The Rebbe shares a story of his father-in-law, the previous Rebbe, where someone shared a scientific discovery - for which the previous Rebbe already knew from Chassidic teachings - about a vein in the back of the head that when a person is leaning his head back, he is remembering something, and when the head is leaned forward, he is focused on comprehending something. In a way like the signs that said “Miklat!” we can be a sign for another person, showing them the way rather than waiting for them to come for help. To elaborate on this, the Rebbe shared how this mission is fulfilled simply by being in a place to help others. There are examples of students going to wrap tefillin on other Jews but there would be no one to help in their designated area. In response to their confusion, the Rebbe would assure them that there was a woman in that town who was struggling with her faith and by seeing orthodox young men walking around, she received enough inspiration to continue on. We don’t always see the affect our presence or our actions have on other people, but we can learn that simply going out to help others can be a sign of refuge for them. What is given is received, so by being of help to others, we too will receive the help we need.

  4. When a computer is finished being made, is the completion a reward or is there now a function for which the computer can finally be used for? Now that the computer is made, it can serve its function. Similarly, the Time of the Messiah is when the world can function as it is intended to. What will our roles be during this readily hastened time? One thought I learned is the type of struggle there’ll be. Currently, there are individuals who struggle to survive, in ways like having to have multiple jobs or the like. This type of struggle helps the person and her family surviving, but it doesn’t necessarily support a life of growth. As we continuously arrive into the era of the Messiah, instead of struggle being because things are broken, the struggle will come for actualization and the ultimate service of G-d.

  5. Simcha (Joy). How do you know if you’re living in a state of Joy? If (a) you feel an urge to express, share, or act, (b) you feel empowered and capable, and © joy is correlated with humility and helping others. It’s less about oneself. Similar to children who are naturally joyous, when we are in a state of joy, we are playful, engaged, present, and optimistic. There is no reason for acting joyfully, rather it is the life of the soul coming through the person!

What (else) I am Reading (it's becoming a lot)

In yeshiva we learned about recommended daily and weekly learning. What I have come to appreciate about how Torah study is taught is that many of the subjects are broken down into daily bits to learn for a year. It is similar to training each day, as oppose to just having the book and reading it inconsistently - a day here, a day there. Also, by learning a ‘smaller’ amount each day, it supports actual comprehension, even with many subjects. While I have listened to or learned lessons from the weekly Torah Portions (like from previous podcast guest Rabbi YY Jacobson) I wanted to actually read the Torah Portion. One of the nights, a friend of mine serendipitously asked if I read Chayenu, a pamphlet/magazine with daily Torah studies, and he gave me a full month of content!

Favorite Quote

Someone who is unhealthy cannot understand or have any knowledge of the Creator - Maimonides Mishneh Torah, Dei'ot 4:1
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