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Living with the Times

In addition to the classes the yeshiva has, there are certain subjects that are encouraged to learn daily by the Rebbes. One of the subjects is reading the weekly Torah portion that is broken down into daily sections. The Friedeker (Previous) Rebbe was known to say, “from the Parsha of every week, we need to learn a lesson in life.” Even more so, there is a teaching from the Alter Rebbe to “live with the times,” meaning, “we must live with the Torah portion of the week and, more specifically, of the current day. It is not enough to study [a segment of] the weekly Torah portion every day; we must live with it.” Funny enough, over the past two weeks this lesson has become more apparent to me. I began a new practice where I read the daily section after concluding morning prayers. Similar to reading the news for the day, it instills in my mind what happened in the Torah for this day. Surprisingly an event occurs that reflects the daily portion in a personal and meaningful way.


To see how it played out specifically in my life - and begin seeing it more regularly in your life - let’s first explore last week’s Torah Portion and this week’s Torah portion.


Last week was the Torah portion of Lech Lecha (which is my favorite Torah Portion!). In beginning of the portion, G-d tells Avram (before he received the name Avraham), "Lech Lecha…” meaning “Go forth from your land and from your birthplace and from your father’s house, to the land that I will show you.” The phrase Lech Lecha can be translated to mean “Go to yourself” or “Go for yourself.” In yeshiva we learned an exploration from the Rebbe on the meaning of this verse and what it is here to teach us individually.


In short, G-d is testing Avram to go beyond his limitations and to live from his higher self. The land, birthplace, and father’s house each represent an aspect of self to be transcended. The word for land used is meartzecha which shares root with the word ratzon (will). The “birthplace” represents G-d telling Avram to go out of his emotions and habits. Finally, “from your father’s house” represents getting beyond your intellect and ways of thinking. In order to be in touch with your higher self, one must go beyond his will, his emotions, and his intellect.


Why is it important to “go for yourself” in order to be your higher self?


The reason is because our thoughts and emotions are limited. As a person grows up he develops modes of thinking and feeling. This is not to say, G-d forbid, thinking and feeling is negative. On the contrary, through their limitations we can actually reveal our intentions and our feelings. However, some situations or decisions that need to be made can be clouded by our mode of thinking and feeling, which leads us to make decisions limited to our capabilities. Often, decisions we make for our life are based on animal-like desires (will), based on emotions from our past, or from our intellect. For example, often you may hear someone say, this thing “always happens to me,” or a person won’t go to that place because “last time it was a terrible experience,” or even they won’t try something new because “last time I tried something new it ended up horrible.” These are all based on past experiences. The question that lies ahead is has the person tried going into it with a new perspective?


Each of these ‘places’ limit our ability to make a conscious and clear decision. By “going to yourself” one can align with one’s best life, the values and visions most important, and then live from that space of openness and from a diverted focus. In fact, we learn from the Sages in Sanhedrin 97a, “a new discovery comes when one’s attention is diverted,” and comments the Rebbe in a sicha I learned over Sukkos, that Moshiach will come when our attention is diverted(!).


Ultimately, G-d wants to raise Avraham (and you and me) to a level beyond his capabilities.


How can one get beyond oneself?


The solution came from my dear friend who sent me a short audio lesson from his Rabbi, Rabbi Moshe Weinberger. The merit of Avraham is that he successfully “passed” ten tests that G-d had put him through. The first of the tests was Lech Lecha, which as Rabbi Weiberger shares in the words of Rabbi Shlomo Twersky, is G-d challenging Avraham to let go of the past. Meaning to get beyond all previous ways of thinking and feeling, and enter into the unknown, into the present moment. Truly in the present moment means there is no worry of something that happened in the past, including previous lines of thinking. An example of going beyond previous ways of thinking is to look at a relationship in your life. Around a known person in your life are many thoughts and feelings from all the experiences you had with him or her. To be present is to let go of any thoughts and feelings of negativity about that person and to begin rewiring a more positive outlook about that person. This process is letting go of the thoughts and emotions that no longer serve you - negativity, anger, frustration, and other emotions that limit full expression and health.


The other aspect of being truly present is not having anxieties of the future. Thus, the tenth and final test G-d challenged Avraham with, which we read about this shabbos in the last section of the portion of Vayeira, was the Akedah. At the Akedah G-d told Avraham to, “please take your son, your only son, the one whom you love, Yitzhak, and go to the land of Moriyah… as a burnt offering.” Yitzhak represents Avraham’s future, through whom he will have descendants. Through these two tests, G-d was essentially asking Avraham (in my words):


Can you leave the past, leave the future, and be here with Me in the present moment?

An important element to being present involves accepting, trusting, and loving, without needing anything to change, what is happening in this moment. In periods of discomfort and unpleasantness, this is a difficult task. The brain is constantly thinking thoughts of things that happened or things that the future holds, so how can one just let go? It’s possible when there is no resistance to what is. This does not mean not having any desires for things to improve or to achieve something, but rather in the process of receiving a desire or achieving a goal, seeing it as done in this moment. Often, it can also mean to accept the opposite of what one wants e.g if you want to get married, accept being single; if you want to be wealthy, accept being poor. The saying, “what you resist, persists” applies here as well.

And all of this is only possible with a positive outlook and trust that things not just will turn out well, but that in this moment everything is exactly as G-d intends. This state opens the possibility for things to unfold better than imaginable.


In other words, there’s more to life than meets the eye. Just because we don’t see something does not mean it’s not real or happening. Thus, live in the moment and experience beauty unfold in your awareness - especially if it appears opposite! In the famous words of Nachum Ish Gamzu, “Gam Zu L'Tov” This too is good!


There was a decision in my life that I thought I had made final, and yet, as I wrote about last newsletter, I felt this increasing intensity of emotion building within. I didn’t know how to respond and the solution my soul seemed to be telling me seemed quite risky. I asked one Rabbi and another Rabbi, heeding their input. Yet, the intensity kept increasing until I knew I had to act on it. As I finally shared with a third Rabbi, I wanted to split hairs with if what I was feeling/sensing was reacting on emotion, or if it was a nudge from my intuition to act on what I was feeling/sensing. “Why don’t you [do it]?” He asked me.


This question was very helpful as it reminded me to “Lech Lecha,” and lifted me out of the the thoughts and emotions I was experiencing. More so, it reminded me to listen to myself. When I sat in meditation and went “to myself,” beyond my thoughts, - and the opinions from others - and feelings, G-d was intending to guide me. I just had to listen.


On the Shabbos of Lech Lecha, even though I listened to my intuition, there was overwhelm and discomfort around my decision. I couldn’t seem to accept how things were in my life. On Shabbos morning when I was meditating, I recognized and was able to laugh at this emotion. I breathed into it and accepted everything as it was, which led to a release of emotional tension that later allowed for me to recognize an inflow of events aligned with the Torah portion. Truly, it is laughter that lifts us out of the “many waters.


Even on the physical level, a few students and I actually went out of yeshiva for the Shabbos to Monsey, New York. When I learned I would be going to Monsey for Shabbos, I reached out to previous podcast guest Rabbi YY Jacobson who lives there. I hoped I would meet him and be with him for a Shabbos. Turned out he was away that Shabbos, so I didn’t get to see him there.


At the beginning of Vayeira, G-d “vayeira” (appeared) to Avraham to, as Rashi comments, “visit the sick,” and comfort him after giving himself a bris (circumcision), which marks the covenant between G-d and the Jewish people.


After the Shabbos in Monsey, I woke up a little slow and feeling out of it, missing the morning chassidus class (which I thought would be canceled). Nevertheless, once I finished davening (praying) and learning the daily Torah portion for Sunday, a friend came up to me on my way out and let me know that Rabbi YY Jacobson was praying downstairs in the shul(!). This was such a pleasant surprise! Rabbi YY has played an important role in my development personally and jewishly.


After meeting briefly with Rabbi YY, I realized that, in a way, this was “living with the times.” It was G-d “appearing,” through somebody I look up to, with evidence of me “Lech Lecha,” of the leaving the past and the future, and of being present in the discomfort.


When we’re practicing presence, we’re truly living with the times! Are you living with the Times?

The days that followed continued with this theme of living with the daily Torah portion:

  1. On Monday, Avraham pleaded on behalf of the righteousness so G-d wouldn’t destroy Sodom and Amorah. I had two calls that felt like keeping alive areas of my life.

  2. On Tuesday, the Angels of G-d instructed Avraham’s nephew, Lot, to leave the city immediately. He was hesitant to leave behind his things. At yeshiva, a Fire Alarm went off and we had to leave the building!

  3. On Wednesday, Sarah gave birth thanks to Avraham blessing Avimelech. This led me make a video on “How to Get your Prayers Answered.”

Lessons:

  1. Listening to Self - ask different opinions and then learn to run all the input by your heart. When intuition gets louder and louder, keep listening. The answer will resonate.

  2. Sometimes you just gotta let go.

  3. Where are you placing your attention? Look at all the knowns in your life - the people, places, and things - and observe the thoughts and feelings you have around them. Then, ask yourself if these thoughts and emotions belong in your life from now on. If not, whenever the thoughts of negativity come up, choose to replace them with a positive thought.

  4. How can you live with the times?

Tools to Help practice Presence:

  • Meditation

  • Silence

  • Checkout the tools at the end of, “Are you Equipped to Love?”

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