“Where’s my weekly reading?” A consistent friend, reader, and supporter texted me Friday last week.
I informed him, and now you, that I was in Guatemala and didn’t have/make time to write. Thank you for your patience and support.
This past Tuesday night I returned from the beautiful, tropical country of Guatemala and am excited to share with you some experiences and lessons, as well as the the conclusion of my 25th year and start of my 26th year of life.
What follows are some highlights from my trip to Guatemala with Chabad Young Professionals International:
Shabbat (Friday night to Saturday night) was my Hebrew birthday. In newsletter issue #61 (and #27 I mentioned times of review) on April 8, I shared that “my birthday is coming up in less than a month, so I sat down to evaluate my life and see how I can improve.” Additionally, I envisioned how my life looks and feels by Iyar 13 (May 14). And I asked what would bring me joy? An emotion I always resonated with is triumph over limitations (like we learn during Passover). An image of triumph and celebration for me is on top of a mountain with the heart bursting outward and the arms outstretched in alignment with the arms (like the photo in this blog). This is to be understood differently than arms flexing up next to the head, which expresses ego. The former expression is one of, in chassidic terms, ufarazta, which means “to break through” or “to spread out.” A gesture moving energy from the heart validates genuine joy and accomplishment. This vision was borne in my head, but it was still unclear as to where I may go, what mountain may it be on, and other specific intentions that draw down the vision into physical reality. In other words, it’s a very vague desire want to climb a mountain because well, for one, there are several mountains in the world one could climb! However, I later saw (or remembered) a trip Chabad Young Professionals was having in Guatemala, which included hiking up a volcano. “Perhaps that’s the mountain I’ll climb,” I thought. Sure enough, early Friday morning I woke at 2:30 am to meditate, in which I heard loud blasts of volcano Fuego, and at 4 am hiked up the summit of Acatenango volcano to see the sunrise. To our surprise, this hike was no simple trek. By the peak, only 5 of us remained to see the sun rise as we stood above the clouds in alignment with the peaks of the volcanoes Agua and Fuego, while witnessing smokey eruptions from Fuego. It was breathtaking and the manifestation of my vision over a month earlier. These moment from seed to cup, as I like to say, are moments of triumph and celebration. It’s beautiful to have an idea and see it through to its completion. The climb, however, was very steep. It felt like each step up a climber would slide back two steps. The weather felt cold, my stomach was aching from eating barbecue and s'mores late, we were tired, and yet we did it. With the end in mind, these other variables lose their effect because they are transient. Later that day after we ate the delightful and delicious meal of Shabbat, the group leaders asked me to share a word for my birthday. I shared in great appreciation the cumulation of what is written above, and for them for preparing this trip making it possible and much simpler to fulfill my vision.
Making it to the top reminded me of a story I heard of the great Rabbi Meir of Premishlan. One icy day, Rabbi Meir set out as usual to take the direct route to the mikveh. Two men in shock after failing to walk on the ice, asked Rabbi Meir why was it that no man could cope with that treacherous path, yet the Rebbe never stumbled? He answered them, “if a man is bound up on High, he doesn’t fall down below.” Meaning not that physical obstacles lose their effect, but the person connected Above understands how to proceed forward with trust. He has the end in mind and knows he’s arriving at his goal, whether it be the mikveh or the top of the mountain.
On July 26, 2021, I wrote 5 Lessons from Week 4 of Yeshiva in Jerusalem. In that newsletter/article, lesson 3 was about Cities of Refuge discussed in the Torah portion, Va'eschanan (lit. I beseeched). At the time, I learned a sicha (a short talk) about the cities of refuge from the Lubavitcher Rebbe. 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!). In the talk, the Rebbe shared how the lesson applies to us personally. One of the main takeaways is 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.” In my time at the Chabad of Antigua, Guatemala, I felt this chabad home was a modern day city of refuge. This is not to say the people their are sinners in need of escape, G-d forbid, but that the Chabad of Antigua provides a place for travelers, seekers, young professionals, and others to reconnect with their true self through being in an environment of Torah, kosher food, community members, the Rabbi and Rebbetzin, and the rich activities of Antigua.
On Friday night, the onset of my birthday, after a full day - maybe 2 hours of sleep before a sunrise hike to the summit of Acatenango volcano, our group and numerous young Israeli soldiers traveling after their army service, welcomed the Shabbat singing lecha dodi (welcoming the bride) with great joy and dancing on the street of 5 avenida sur. What was so special about this? Besides it being shabbat joined with fellow young Jews around North America and Israeli soldiers, was the place with which we danced. The Rabbi would tell us that a few hundred years ago in this very place Jews were burned at the stake for being Jewish. As a friend from the trip shared, “it’s no random coincidence. It’s divine providence.” This event embodied our purpose of refining the sparks in this world, to return to places and rewrite the focus of what occurred there, so that another hundred years from now, this location will be remembered not for persecution, but for transformation!
On the morning of Shabbat, I joined Rabbi Chaim in his garden-like outdoor setting, which views Volcano Agua, as a few of us sat to learn a discourse by the Lubavitcher Rebbe about the significance of Passover and Counting the Omer, as we arrive into Shavuot where we as a nation receive the Torah on Mount Sinai. It happened to be a discourse I learned last year with Rabbi YY Jacobson on his Youtube video Maamer U'sfartem Lachem 5711 #1. The discourse comments on a verse from King Solomon in Shir HaShirim 1:4: “Pull me to You; after You we shall run. The King led me into His chambers; we are gladdened and rejoice with You.” The first verse refers to how G-d pulled us out of Egypt. Rabbi Chaim shared that in Halacha (Jewish Law) when pulling is mentioned it refers to ownership over something. The use of the wordage is very specific because the message is here to teach us that we left still slaves. However, instead of being slave to materialism and limitation, we became slaves to infinity. That’s true freedom. The second verse refers to the period of counting the omer where we now teach our bodies, our character traits, to understand emotionally that which we learned intellectually. Finally, the last verse teaches us that on Shavuot, we revisit materialism and ego with a greater awareness. Whereas on Passover any chametz (leaven or food mixed with leaven, prohibited during Passover) is forbidden, on Shavuot it is a mitzvah (commandment). This is because through refining our character traits, we can teach our ego to use physicality in expression of G-dliness; as taught in Daily Lessons on Tevet 27, “The Alter Rebbe declared: The material [concerns] of a Jew are [in truth] spiritual. G‑d gives us material things in order that we transform them into spirituality.”
Wishing you a weekend of boundless joy, love, and freedom from any unsupportive influences!