Over the past few years in my journey of discovering what I truly value, what I am passionate about, the person I want to become, and how I want to contribute to the world, unravelling limited behaviors and cultivating beneficial behaviors, and beyond, it seems clear it all has all guided me into my identity as a Jewish soul and wanting to practice orthodox Judaism, expressing it in the ways of Chabad Chassidus.
A beginning point in this journey, could be said to be when I played college basketball and got introduced to meditation to improve the mental performance of my game (which I now coach). As I transitioned out of playing, and found meditation to be a beneficial tool in all areas of my life, like emotional well being and breaking a habit of biting fingernails, the practice became a staple. It grew into a daily morning practice which eventually led to a silent meditation retreat and then a weeklong meditation retreat. As the practice developed and consequently my perspectives expanded, it seemed that in diving into who I truly am, being a Jew rose to the surface (see reflections from 10 day silent retreat). Despite a lot of intense emotions around yeshivas, eventually I went to learn at one. Today, I have some experience learning at three chabad yeshivas.
Recently, upon noticing my experience at various yeshivas, friends have inquired about the differences from each I’ve had.
To preface, it may be beneficial to explain what has led me to study at various yeshivas whereas it can be beneficial to be in one place. Additionally, it can be said that each yeshiva has its miylas (advantages),purpose, and role. No yeshiva is better than the other, but, as will be explained, as I grew so too where I was drawn to changed.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe often writes about being focused on the seder, or order, of learning. However, each yeshiva has a different set time and order of the classes taught according to the instructions from the Rebbe. Generally the subjects are the same, but the times of learning vary which can influence one’s learning.
Clearly, the benefit in investing time, fully entering, into one. Nevertheless, there’s also benefit in experiencing others, if possible, in order to make the best decision for you. Then one can fully enter the seder that will enhance their learning and growth, which is what the Rebbe’s intention is - for each of to reveal the best within ourself. Also, it’s taught in the Gemara, “A person should always learn Torah in a place where his heart desires.” Therefore, through sharing with you my journey, I hope it helps you find the place where your “heart desires” to learn. And we should all continue to learn and grow daily.
If you’d like to get right to the practical aspect first, skip to the end.
On the first Shabbos I spent at Hadar HaTorah one month ago, in feeling a pleasant surprise about this yeshiva, an idea arose to compare each yeshiva experience I had to the derech, or way, of our forefathers. In developing this idea, I felt I could take it further to even before my yeshiva experience and about my experience at non- religious meditation retreats. This newsletter; however, will focus just on the yeshivas. G-dwilling, I will return to it and develop the comparisons further.
A few topics I was asked about are how the yeshivas compare in:
intensity of learning
student body and amount of students
Truly, I think each yeshiva supports all of the above, so it depends on the individual’s preference, place in life, and where his/her “heart desires” to learn. However, as I mentioned last newsletter, Hadar HaTorah continues to impress me by the atmosphere, and the pace of the learning and of the davening (praying). The actual building is probably the smallest of the three yeshivas, yet the student body is also the smallest.
If you have any other specific questions about each yeshiva, please feel welcome to reach out!
Avraham - Mayanot
6 weeks in Summer 2021.
Avraham is know as the father of Chesed. Often translated as kindness or a flow. Avraham’s service was to go out and spread monotheism.
Mayanot was like Avraham because it was about showing and expressing Judaism, specifically chabad Chassidus, in the holy land of Jerusalem. Granted, I was there for a summer program, but in sharing my evaluation with friends who’ve studied there longer and have experience at atleast one other yeshiva, they supported the comparison. In that the yeshiva is like Avraham where monotheism was a chidush, a novel idea, to the world at the time, Mayanot does an excellent idea in spreading out the basics of chassidic Judaism in some ways that follow: engaging classes that start off a student in learning chassidus, reading and comprehending mishna and gemara, questions about Jewish philosophy, trips around Jerusalem, frequent farbrengins (chassidic gatherings), and more.
When I got home after Jerusalem, and after living in Houston again for some time, I realized the best thing for me moving forward was to continue learning in a yeshiva. At that time, the only yeshivas I knew about were Mayanot and another yeshiva in Morristown, New Jersey. I had some questioning about which to go to next, and in doing intention setting (activity at the end of this newsletter) and asking myself what’s most important now, I discovered that focusing on learning with minimal (possibly) distraction was the main priority. This led me to experiment with Morristown.
5 Lessons from week 4 of Yeshiva (in this link there are links to Week 1, Week 2, and Week 3.
Yitzchak - Morristown
2 weeks in February, 7 weeks in Summer, 8 weeks from Elul 12, September 8 To 24 Cheshvan, November 18, 2022.
Yitzchak is the attribute of Gevurah, commonly translated as discipline, strength, and restriction. Unlike his father who traveled to bring Judaism to others, Yitzchak remained in one place, Israel, and others traveled to him. Additionally, he re-dug the wells (link to video with RMF) of his father. This act alludes to the attribute of gevurah because it requires discipline and dedication, assuring a lasting of what his father began.
Similarly, I have found Morristown to be a place of Gevurah. The yeshiva is a campus of its own that is secluded from the suburbs. It is also within a forest allowing for pleasant nature walks. The quiet environment can be an oasis that facilitates deep, focused learning and growth. Since it’s actually a Rabbinical College and has a campus, there’s also space to exercise outside with many sports courts and fields, as well as an indoor gym. The other yeshivas are in the city, so nature or sports are not as readily accessible.
Thus to really dig into the learning of Torah and Chassidus in a place secluded, in a way - which is what was my intention during the times I was there - Morristown is appealing. The campus is in such a way, there’s technically no need to leave it.
Lessons at yeshiva in Morristown, NJ (in this link is a link to the recording of a class I gave in Morristown)
After a couple months studying in Morristown; however, I yearned for something more. Prior to returning to Houston, I spent a shabbos in Crown Heights and had an opportunity that Sunday night to go to the Ohel to write to the Lubavitcher Rebbe. My intentions developed to wanting to be in a place where I can “harmonize learning with living - creating and contributing.”
In 2nd Bar Mitzvah, I wrote about just leaving Houston without knowing where I’d set place. Once in New York, I felt “some dis-ease with where exactly was the place to go.” Nevertheless, I had heard of another yeshiva in Crown Heights and decided I’d step into the unknown.
Yaakov - Hadar HaTorah
Currently studying here since December 1, 2022.
Yaakov is the harmony of Avraham and Yitzchak. He is the attribute of Tiferes, often translated as harmony and beauty. The beauty can be understood like a mosaic.
In a surface level view, the location of Hadar haTorah, Brooklyn and Crown Heights, can seem very crazy. It can be easy to be pulled by the energy of the activities going around. However, if a person is strong in who they are, their praying, and their learning, ie if the person is focused, he can generate a state of peace, clarity, and alignment amid the craziness going on around him.
As written in my previous newsletter, Hadar HaTorah is an example of this peace within the chaos, which is what Yaakov embodies. Funny enough, the original name of the yeshiva was Kol Yaakov Yehuda. And the Rosh Yeshiva’s (Head Rabbi) first name is Yaakov!
As long as one can access this state of focus, there are several miylas (advantages) to studying in Crown Heights: being at the e headquarters of the Chabad Lubavitch movement, quick access to kosher stores, Frequent Shabbat meals with families that live there allowing for experience of Shabbat in Crown Heights.
2nd Bar Mitzvah
Since this is based on my experience, I invite you to do the following activity to determine what aspects of yeshiva (or any school) are most important to you. I have done and regularly do this intention setting activity for many aspects of my life. It is modeled after the Passion test which I mention in my guide to Journaling and the Point of vYou.
Intention process of how I choose where to study.
What does an Ideal yeshiva look like, or even your ideal life at yeshiva look like, for you? What are the priorities for you?
Here are some examples: surrounded by great Rabbis, close with fellow students, access to healthy food and environment, access to daily mikveh, learning meaningful things, in engaging classes, time and space to oneself, etc.
Other Baal Teshuva Yeshivas 🕍
Chabad Yeshiva in Migdal Haemek, Israel
Torah Ohr in Florida
Chabad Yeshiva in Tsfat, Israel
As mentioned earlier about adding the meditation retreats, which I compare to Adam and Noah, I look forward to further developing the comparison of the forefathers with these yeshivas.
Other Resources on Learning