Lessons in Yeshiva
Last summer, you may remember that I learned at a yeshiva in Jerusalem and wrote about my experiences and learnings each week for 6 weeks. On Simchat Torah - where we mark the conclusion of and a new beginning of the Torah - I made a hachlata (a resolution) to study again at a yeshiva. As months transpired and coaching basketball came to a close, I felt the pull to seize the opportunity now.
In this first week it has really been special yet a bit challenging to soak up the vast information and look after sleep and physical and mental health. I get up early to meditate, immerse in the mikveh, and take a cold shower before there’s a class on chassidus at 7:30 am, followed by a full schedule, so it has been on my mind how to assure quality sleep, exercise, and eat nutritiously - as the meals served are not the most healthful. Finally, I think I came across an effective approach to make sure I am rested and energized to internalize what I learn. I hope some of the following lessons that connected with me will also help you:
Lessons/Experiences at Yeshiva in Morristown, NJ
When a rocket 🚀 bursts through the atmosphere it experiences a great amount of tension prior to the lack of tension in no gravity. Similarly, the days close to coming to yeshiva felt like expending great effort in overcoming limited perspectives - that were never mine! As the trip approached, many doubts and concerns arose as an attempt from the body to resist change. As we know (and you may have read here before) about the biological process of change, the body, wanting to stay in its familiar ways (habits and reactions), does whatever it can to resist change, especially in response to an experience that involves self-improvement. In order to remain the same, the body births thoughts and feelings in attempt to keep a person from changing. Hence, it is very challenging to break or build a habit. Upon arriving at Morristown and the first morning in meditation, it felt like I could take a deep breath and watch tension in my body dissipate. It was a very real and positive feeling that this is where I am meant to be and precisely at this time. To quote Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, “nothing begets wholeness better than a heartfelt sigh.”
Many fellow students have been asking me for guidance on their health and how to be healthy at yeshiva (link to a class I gave there), including help with nutrition, meditation, and stretching their bodies. This transpiring has been informative on how I can support my fellow students improve their health, optimize their learning, and breakthrough stress.
Finishing is greater than starting. One may think that a person who initiated a good deed is greater than the one who simply finishes it. When the Jewish people were collecting necessary things for their exile from Egypt, Moshe collected the bones of Yosef to bury him in Israel. It turned out that Moshe’s purpose did not include entering into the Holy Land. This left it up to the Children of Israel to finish the mitzvah of burying the bones of Yosef in Israel. According to Rashi, this is where we learn that “the mitzvah is called by the one who finishes it.” Since everything comes from G-d, all the events were set up for the final person or people to complete the job. In truth, everything from the start and finish of a mitzvah (a deed or connection) is one unit; only technically are there parts to it. When you have an opportunity to finish something you started or something someone asked you to finish, finish it!
Humility. I had a word with one of the Rabbis here about some guidance on what to learn and how to approach learning. I had attended some of the advanced classes and felt my learning was more passive than active. In response to my desire to have a greater perspective of the things to learn, he shared with me that you don’t always have to have a bird’s eye view before learning. Just jump in, learn as you go, and don’t get bogged down. If you were to lecture to a young boy about playing basketball, he’d get bored quickly. If, however, you just let him play and throughout it you guide him, it will be fun and enduring.
“You” is more personal than your name! In this week’s Parsha Tetzaveh there is no mention of Moshe’s name. The commentaries explain that when Moses pleaded G-d on behalf of the Jewish people, he declared, “if You don’t forgive them then erase me from Your Torah!” Since G-d always fulfills the words of the righteous, this was why Moshe’s name was not mentioned. However, a deeper explanation expresses that the portion is an extension of the first words “And you shall command…” It seems like a contradiction that Moshe’s name is not mentioned and that G-d is speaking directly to him. To reveal the inner connection of the two, we learn about a name and about the purpose of Moshe Rebbeinu (our teacher) - and the Moshe Rebbeinu in each generation. Whereas a name is a degree of revelation, calling out to you (yes you!) is more personal. “You” is calling out to your essence. G-d is empowering Moshe to speak to the Children of Israel rather than just relay a command to them. This reflects the purpose and completion of Moshe. It is the leaders like Moshe who guide us and connect us to our essence, to G-d Himself.
Mirror, Mirror on the wall, what lesson can you teach us all? According to the Alter Rebbe a mirror has two purposes. “First, when one looks at a mirror, one sees his own self. Second, one also sees that which is behind him”(Sichos Kodesh). A person must always be aware of both his present situation and his past, meaning how he can continuously improve.