This past week in Jerusalem was full exciting activities. I started off in Tel Aviv with a very close friend of mine, who used to be my camp counselor 10 years ago, in Tel Aviv. Then I returned to Jerusalem to continue learning, meeting with people, and enjoy the days. The following are some highlights of the week:
On Wednesday, I attended the Jerusalem wine festival with my brother. We got to taste several wines from around the country and meet up with his friends.
On Thursday, some friends and I went to the Western Wall for the Celebration of the new Torah. In 1981, the Rebbe launched a global campaign for Jewish children to buy their own letter in a Torah Scroll and we got to attend. It was packed with chassidim singing and dancing. Then, on Shabbat I prayed at the shul, the Tzemach Tzeddek Shul, where the new Torah was used. After Shabbat day prayers I met the gentleman who was called up for the first Aliyah. He shared with me the very meaningful experience and remarked the beauty how each letter represents a child.
On Friday, I met up with and got a workout by former podcast guest David ben Moshe. In addition to the great workout, I really appreciated spending time with David because he asked me about what I had learned Jerusalem and in yeshiva Then, he explained how he sets up workouts with the 5 basic human movements assuring I train the full body effectively. There’s nothing like training the soul, mind, and body!
On Friday night, I had Shabbat dinner at former podcast guest Ayelet Polonsky’s home! I really enjoyed getting connected with and speaking with Ayelet on my podcast about meditation, manifestation, and how it all connects to Torah, so meeting up in person - like meeting with other podcast guests - was very special. The combination of the beautiful Jewish home, table full of interesting guests, delicious kosher and organic meal, and inspiring conversations felt like a vision into my own future home and family.
In last week’s parsha (Torah portion), Eikev, I read a powerful sicha from the Rebbe. The 7 parshas from the 9th of Av to Rosh Hashana are known as the portions of comfort. In Eikev, Moses tells the Jewish people to be careful in observing the commandments, yet within the warnings, teaches the Rebbe, we can find comfort. When it comes to curing an illness or solving some type of problem, awareness is essential. Once there is awareness of what the illness is, or what a problem is, then half of the problem is solved. However, without awareness nothing can be accomplished. Even though Moses reminded the Jewish people of the ‘mistakes’ they made, we can find comfort by understanding what they were so those ‘mistakes’ are not made again. The Rebbe quoted the verse that says Moshe says about G-d, “Who led you through the great, awesome, desert, where there were snakes… and scorpions…” The lesson we can find is that each of these descriptions is a lower level of awareness. Really, the first ‘mistake’ was calling the desert ‘great.’ The desert is an allegory for exile and by calling it great it is giving it power over oneself. There are challenges in life, but to say it is ‘great’ unconsciously gives the environment strength over oneself without recognizing the personal strength each person has to overcome their limitations. Then, calling the desert ‘awesome’ applies greater power and fear towards that thing or environment. When we do not watch how we label the world, and the challenges we face, around us, we submit the awareness of our own power and connection with G-d. The explanation of snakes and scorpions describe even lower levels of awareness. A snake’s poison is hot which represents the fire-y passion one can have for materiality. The passion and energy is important, but it needs to be focused into proper, beneficial matters. On the contrary, a scorpion’s poison is cold which represents apathy and no passion. This happens to be the lowest because it is harder to lift someone up from a state of passivity How does all of this bring us comfort? By becoming conscious of these ‘mistakes’ we can prevent them from arising in our own lives. Often one of the first errors we make is by putting our own subjective judgment onto the situation or circumstance at hand - micro or macro. If we can simply observe without the duality of good or bad, then we can limit our subjective view. Perhaps the desert is full of intense challenges and is very unpleasant, but it’s neither great nor ‘bad’. It’s there for us to grow into who we’re becoming. A final lesson the Rebbe shared was from Mishneh Brachot which teaches if a snake is around your leg during the Amidah (heightened part of prayer), don’t stop, but if a scorpion is around our leg, you must stop. The meaning is that if you’re praying and you have thoughts of passion for material things, then continue as they are just distractions. But if you are praying in a state of indifference and apathy, you must stop (and return later with focus and care). This insightful teaching applies not merely to meditation and prayer, but in all areas of life.
In this week’s parsha Re'eh, the Rebbe has a teaching: What is more effective giving charity or a loan? One might think giving charity is kinder and more helpful as it is giving without expecting to get money back; however, really a loan can be of greater support. When one loans money to another person the connection remains since the receiver must return the loan. Despite the length of time it takes to pay back the loan, it is known that when the person pays the lender back he is better off then before. The receiver of the loan used the money to improve their life and earn more money otherwise he would not be able to pay back the loan. I think this can teach us to find ways that really help others begin helping themselves.
What I a Started learning
The upcoming hebrew month is Elul, which is the very special period before the high holy days of Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot. A friend at the yeshiva introduced me to the maamar Ani Dodi VeDodi Li - I am to my Beloved, and my Beloved is to me - delivered by the Rebbe. Fascinatingly, the beginning letters of Ani Dodi VeDodi Li in Hebrew is א, ﬥ,ו,ﬥ which spells אֱלוּל (Elul), so Ani… is an acronym for Elul. The maamar goes into depth about the meaning of the verses I am to my Beloved & my Beloved is to me. Three chapters in it is very moving and is preparing me for the month, as well as the holidays.
Fulfill His will as you would your own will, so that He may fulfill your will as though it were His will… - Pirket Avot (Ethics of our Fathers 2:4