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It's not Enough to Study

In What brings You blessings?, I discussed the Gemara we were learning (Gitin, Chapter 2). The Gemara talks about how the Rabbis of the time made an enactment that prohibited bathing after the mikveh, to prevent people from thinking that bathing, rather than immersion in the mikveh, was what made them "clean" spiritually. The Rabbis were concerned that if people believed that bathing was enough to purify them, they might stop immersing in the mikveh altogether.


In the article, I connected the theme to Yeshiva and meditation. Yeshiva being like the Mikveh and meditation like showering/bathing.


As I continued with life, I learned how to make time for all the important things such as sleep, meditation, and a full schedule of learning. Most importantly, I learned how to do them with ease, presence, and fluidity. I experimented with different approaches, such as meditating at a different time, in a different place, or even not meditating at all (where I tried to make davening, or formal prayers, like the classic understanding of meditation). However, as I wrote about in "What is Redemption?" these different approaches, especially attempting not to meditate, only made me feel out of tune with my neshama (soul).


As I made time to meditate in the evenings, I realized I didn’t want to miss out on learning time. So, I decided to wake up earlier, well-rested, and meditate in the morning. That first morning, I remembered the pleasure of starting the day with meditation and thought about the discussion in What brings You blessings?, which advised against bathing after the Mikveh to avoid confusion in spiritual growth. However, people typically shower before the Mikveh!

Similarly, in preparing for the day, meditation can be done beforehand to set intention and tone for the day (as I'm most familiar with doing).


The personal lessons shared above, regarding experimenting with life and tools to master it, lead us to the Chassidic concept of "Ohr v’Keli" - light and vessel.


Light & Vessel

In every aspect of life, there is information, which can be thought of as light, and a container for that information, known as the vessel. In scientific terms, this may be energy and matter. In physical matters, we have water and a cup to contain it, while in biology, there is intellect and the brain which houses it. In Chassidus, the "ohr" is Torah, and the "keli" is the person.


Both elements are equally important. If the information is valuable but the vessel is not receptive, the information will not stick. Similarly, if the vessel is valuable but the information is foolish, the vessel will retain a lot of junk. This concept is discussed in Pirkei Avos (The Ethics of Our Fathers), Chapter 4, Mishnah 20, where Rabbi Meir teaches us to focus on the content rather than the vessel. A “new vessel may contain aged wine, whereas an old vessel may not even contain new wine.”

This idea can also be related to the concept of "timtum hamoach" (limitation of the mind) and "timtum halev" (limitation of the heart), as discussed by the Friedeker Rebbe in a maamar (discourse) on Shvi shel Pesach (the seventh day of Passover) in the year 5700 (1940). "Timtum hamoach" refers to a person who has a great mind and intellect but uses it solely for material matters, failing to recognize the value of Torah. "Timtum halev," on the other hand, refers to a person who recognizes the value of Torah, may even love it and learn it, but fails to internalize it due to old habits, addictions, or beliefs that they are unwilling to let go of. In other words, there is a disconnect between the brain and the heart.


How can we solve both problems?


In one of the following maamarim in the same year, Maamar Parsha Behar, a few after the previous maamarim, the Friedeker Rebbe addresses the ultimate intention of G-d, which is to have a "dirah bitachtonim", a dwelling in the physical world. This means that G-dliness should be so apparent and revealed in the world. Personally, it means that G-d wants to dwell within one’s being. This means that a person must learn about G-d through studying His Torah and make a proper "keli" to have G-d dwell in them. However, the Rebbe writes that just learning Torah without first davening means that one does not even receive the Torah.


Making a keli involves avodah (spiritual work), which includes tefila (prayer) and hisbonenus (meditation). Through the practices of prayer and meditation, one is required to refine their intellectual and emotional attributes. The Freideker Rebbe discusses in Parsha Emor (same year previously mentioned) the idea of birur gamor, complete refinement, which requires birur prati, working on every detail of one's character.


A few ways to begin this process is to ask the following questions:

  • How do I think, feel, act, and speak on a daily basis?

  • How does G-d (and I truly) want me to think, feel, act, and speak on a daily basis?

The process of self-improvement involves becoming familiar with one's own thought and behavioral patterns, learning how one should think and act, rehearsing desired behaviors, and reviewing progress on a regular basis (daily, weekly, monthly, etc.). This process should be repeated until the desired new behavior becomes a part of the person. Once this has been achieved, one can then decide to work on another aspect of their personality.


Passover to Shavuos ⛰️

Since the second night of Passover, the Jewish people have been counting the Omer for 49 days. Counting 49 days, which is 7 weeks, alludes to working on our 7 middos, or emotional character traits. All of the counting over the past 49 days reflects refining our keli in order to be able to receive what is given on the 50th day, known as the holiday of Shavuos.


Shavuot, also known as Matan Torahseinu, is the season of the Giving of the Torah. The holiday's name reflects our focus on the fact that God gave us the Torah. Although it is important to consider how to receive the Torah, our celebration centers around God's act of giving it to us. However, the more effort we put into preparing ourselves to receive the Torah, the more we will appreciate the gift that God has given us.


Consider the following analogy: Two people are going to receive a brand new machine in 50 days. One person does nothing to prepare for it. The other spends time learning about the instructions. Both receive the machine, but the latter person will have a greater appreciation and understanding of the gift. Similarly, by putting in effort to prepare ourselves for the receiving of the Torah, we can deepen our appreciation and experience of this gift from God.


Thus, we can see that just as the Freideker Rebbe discussed how avodah (divine service) is what allows for the hamshacha (drawing down) of the Torah in study, counting the Omer's avodah prepares us to receive the Torah from G-d on the 50th day.


In fact, Torah and avodah are two of the three things upon which the world stands, as stated in Pirkei Avot 1:2, "the world stands upon three things - upon Torah, upon avodah (divine service), and upon gmilas chassadim (acts of kindness)." The third aspect of gmilas chassadim is the mitzvahs. Although not discussed in this article, one's performance of mitzvos could fall under the aspect of avodah, in reviewing and refining how a person performs G-d's commandments.


Bringing it all together - What can we learn from all of this?


Life is all about releasing and letting go of what is not really us. We tend to hold on to things - behaviors, characteristics, and habits - that no longer serve us. However, in order to let them go, we need to allow ease and flow, holding space for the soul to work it out. As I've written about before in Use Tools, Not Used by Tools, even important things in life can be treated in an unhealthy, addicting way.


To be a servant of Infinity means to be always fluid and at ease, as in chassidic terms, to be in Zerizus b'mesinus. This means to be prompt to respond to what the moment calls for, yet calm, confident, and at ease, never rushed.


Ultimately, this lesson teaches us to live in greater fluidity, being present and responding effectively to any moment without being attached to certain tools, food, times of doing things, people, places, experiences, or anything known.


The soul needs discipline and structure, as well as adventure and creativity. The real flow is a natural harmony of the two without planning for each one, but allowing them to occur naturally. This may sound difficult because as children, we may have been told to "do your homework now because otherwise you won't do it." However, when living in alignment and flow, we answer the call of the moment without worrying about getting something done - it happens naturally.


In short, having a set schedule and discipline is important and valuable, but we need to break out of it and mix things up a bit. Otherwise, "if you keep doing the same things, you get the same results." This could mean changing yourself, changing what you're doing, changing your environment, or all of the above. However, it should always start from within. When a person focuses on changing themselves, they will find that what they're learning, how they're learning it, and their environment will change around them.


This Shavuos may we all Kabalos haTorah bSimcha ubpnimius (receive the Torah in joy and internalization)!


Practical:

  • Look at the light and vessel in your life - What are you learning? What are your skills and receptivity of the information?

  • When I learn, I should think, how will I apply this in my life?

  • Since, “I, G-d, don’t change,” then pray not that G-d change, but that you should change to be able to receive the blessings He has in store for you!

  • Rashi comments on the verse, vayichan ("and he camped), that the Jewish people camped to receive the Torah as “one human, one heart,” reflecting the unity of nation. To work on love and other attributes checkout the Tools mentioned in Are you Equipped to Love?

  • Every day do the 3 things that the world stands on - learn Torah, pray and work on your self, and do a mitzvah for another.

  • Checkout My Ultimate Guides & my blogs on Reflection

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