It has been awhile since our last newsletter, which was the longest duration without one. While it was necessary for me to fully immerse myself in yeshiva during this time, I have missed expressing myself through writing. With the upcoming holiday of Passover, the season of our freedom, I’d like to share a major lesson from the past two months since the last newsletter.
During one of the monthly farbrengens at yeshiva, a rabbi shared an empowering story about the Rebbe Rashab, whose yahrzeit (anniversary of passing) was Nissan 2 and fell this year on Friday, March 24. The story really influenced me and reminded me of a lesson that seems to be a constant in my life. It is also a reminder of the inner meaning of the upcoming holiday of our redemption, the holy day of Passover. But before sharing the story…
Recently, I visited my parents' home in Houston to be with family and meet my first nephew. As I flew home, I concluded exactly three months at Hadar HaTorah and won the championship game in the basketball league I joined the night before. It was a beautiful way to conclude exactly three months of learning and living in Crown Heights.
During my time at home, I was able to slow down and digest the past three months. While it was relaxing in many ways, not having a full schedule of learning made me feel less emotionally sound.
Upon returning to yeshiva, I felt overwhelmed and stressed. I wasn't sure if it was due to the time spent at home with little to no meditation or prayers with a minyan and learning with many other yeshiva students, or simply from returning to it all.
On the second day back, I felt so overwhelmed that I went to my room to meditate. However, it felt unfamiliar since the last newsletter where I wrote about breaking out of my routine of meditation. The practice I was doing up until visiting Houston was to meditate in the morning after chassidus class and before formal prayers.
Nevertheless, the meditation practice in my room was very powerful and healing, and it left me with a question on what I can learn from this now common-in-my-life lesson.
Around six months prior, during the high holidays of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, I first “broke” the habit of needing to meditate. After my time in Delaware for Sukkot and Simchas Torah, and returning to Yeshiva, I revisited the practice. Now, this month I had a similar healing experience.
The lesson to learn - and learn again - is the importance of flexibility in one’s life. There are many things that are valuable tools, such as exercise, meditation, breath-work, and so on, and there is a value in discipline, setting a time to practice that tool, and consistency. However, when it becomes rigid it may be a trap.
Furthermore, I became curious about the differences between the meditations I had done. I decided to reach out to another close Rabbi and previous podcast guest, Rabbi Rome, who provided me with valuable insight.
When practicing prayers, meditation, or learning something new, we often desire perfect conditions to be present. Any distraction can affect our ability to focus. This mindset, however, is rigid and can be limiting. Instead, we can reframe our perspective and use distractions, such as sounds, to deepen our focus rather than allowing them to derail us.
This mindset can transform the way we view meditation, known in chassidus as hisbonenus, prayers, and other activities. Rather than being viewed as merely tools, they can be seen as a state of being. Meditation, for instance, can be done anywhere, with eyes open or closed. This state of being enables us to truly live the teaching of "know Him in all your ways."
What, then, is redemption? Redemption from exile is not only a physical return, but also a liberation from rigidity and an embrace of fluidity. Redemption means entering into the unknown with excitement, curiosity, and trust, without the need to know everything. This idea is emphasized in the holiday of Purim, where we are required to be "ad d’lo yada" to the point where we do not know the difference between the blessing of Mordechai and the curse of Haman (How to Achieve Inner Drunk).
The Month for Redemption
Another point to consider is the debate in the Gemara about the opportune month for the ultimate redemption. In a Maamar from the Friedeker Rebbe on Parshas haChodesh in 1940, the question and answers are explored. Rabbi Eliezer believes that the month of Tishrei is the ideal time for redemption, while Rabbi Yehoshua argues that Nissan is the time of redemption. The Friedeker Rebbe examines the advantages of both months.
Tishrei is the seventh month in the Hebrew calendar and includes Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, Sukkos, and Simchas Torah. Moreover, the Midrash states that "all sevenths are beloved."
In contrast, Nissan is considered the first month in the Torah, and G-d redeemed the Jewish people from Egypt during this month. The Rebbe compares the months to Avraham Avinu and Moshe Rebbeinu in that Moshe was able to redeem the Jewish people, but his mission only began thanks to Avraham. The Torah even tells Moshe that he cannot compare himself to Avraham.
Ultimately, the Maamar concludes that even though Tishrei has many advantages, Nissan is the opportune month for redemption because it is the time of the Jewish people's redemption from Egypt.
On a deeper level, as written in the Guide to Silence, both of these months represent two types of redemption. Tishrei is a time of gevurah, or discipline and judgment, and of arusa dilitata, an arousal from below, and personified by G-d's name Elokim which represents nature. Nissan is a time of chesed, or kindness and flow, and of arusa diliayla, an arousal from above. This month is personified by G-d's transcendent name Havaya and therefore has no restrictions, as expressed through the miracles of Passover.
When I connected the lesson about fluidity to the months of the year, I realized that I had learned about fluidity during Tishrei and Nissan. I was in Morristown during Tishrei, and I have been in Hadar HaTorah during Nissan. These insights align with what I wrote about these yeshivas in Learn Where Your Heart Desires.
Beyond the Self
To achieve ultimate redemption, we must get out of our own way (speaking to myself here). G-d wants to free each of us from whatever Egypt we’re experiencing. Perhaps this is why the following story of the Rebbe Rashab which the rabbi relayed at the farbrengin rings true:
"My revered father-in-law, the Rebbe [Rayatz], once told me that on the last Simchas Torah of his father, the Rebbe Rashab, in this world, in the year 5680 , he asked his father to deliver a Chassidic discourse for him. The Rebbe Rashab answered that he would do so, provided that his son first drank some mashke [alcohol]. The Rebbe Rayatz retired to his room and drank a glass of arak, but in order that it should not blur his focus, he immediately regurgitated it. When he returned to his father's study and reported that he had fulfilled the condition, his father delivered a Chassidic discourse for him. His father then told him that he should "get out of himself and become quite different...."
We put limitations on ourselves, and it's about time we transform them. The Rebbe's father was challenging his son to go beyond his limitations. So too, we are being challenged to "go out of [ourselves]," meaning the limitations we put on ourselves, "and become quite different," meaning to embrace our soul, which is beyond any limitations.
The Solution - The Intention
There is a well-known saying, "where you place your attention is where you place your energy." The solution to personal redemption is to focus on HaShem doing the redemption, rather than on wanting to be freed, healed, or the like. Recognize that Ein Od Milvado, meaning "there's nothing but G-d," and then there can't be any place for limitation, illness, or sickness. Simply put, it's all one. It's all G-d. If we look to gain something from the experience, our attention is still revolving around the self. Instead, there is only G-d.
This idea is also alluded to in the matzah that we eat on the first night of Passover. The Passover Haggadah states that the matzah is eaten in remembrance of the fact that "the dough didn't have the opportunity to rise before Hashem revealed Himself to them and redeemed them." In several maamarim of the Alter Rebbe and our Rebbe, it is explained that the deeper meaning behind the matzah not having an opportunity to rise is that it couldn't leaven because the revelation of God's essence was there, which means there was no possibility for the flour to rise. To explain, the flour in bread rises symbolizing an inflation of ego, while the flour in matzah remains flat and reflects humility. In God's essence, there is no ego (only Him), and it was God Himself that took us out of Egypt, as stated in the Haggadah that "God Himself took us out and not an angel."
When the focus is on God, and the intention is to connect with Him, He can reveal Himself to us and redeem us.
It reminds me of when I first began meditating using the app Headspace before college basketball games. The app offered themed meditation packs, including one focused on sports. In the introduction, there was a quote that has stuck with me since 2017 and which I credit with helping me learn about and harness "the flow," which I connect with living in alignment with God. The quote reads:
We are at out most ready when we forget ourselves.
Enjoy the Redemption.
Transform the things that distract us from our spiritual path into holy endeavors
Ask: How can I bring G-d further into my life?
Meditate on “Ein Od Milvado” that truly “there is nothing but G-d.”
Be clear that your intention and focus is on G-d doing the redeeming rather than on being (and looking to be) redeemed