I broke out of my routine of meditation … Again! A few weeks ago, I went to hear Rabbi Laibl Wolf speak. In being with him, I decided to revisit the meditation practice he recommended to me during the 10 days of Teshuva (see How to enter fully). After chassidus class the following day, I sat to meditate before the minyan (congregation) started praying, and focused on being present. By creating this “new” space, the subjects I’d been learning arose in a new light as I meditated on how them. One discussion from the Gemara I’d been learning arose.
In Gemara class, the current book we are learning is entitled Gittin which is about divorce documents and various cases of a man writing and giving a gett isha (a divorce document) to his wife. The discussions include sending a shliach (agent) overseas to deliver the document to his wife.
In order to explain a bit about the meditations, it's important to share a basic background of the Gemara. In Judaism there are 6 orders of the Mishna, which is the first of the Oral Torah. Within each book, there are commentaries on the Mishna, which is called the Gemara. The Gemara Gittin is in the book of Nashim (women) which is about marriage and divorce. The tractate after Gittin is Kedushin (sanctification of marriage). One may question why divorce is discussed before sanctification of marriage. Upon asking one of the Rabbi’s about chassidus behind the Gemara Gittin, I received a response that answers this question. He had learned that the Rebbe commented that Gittin is before Kedushin because we have to divorce the impurity and limitation in our personal lives before we marry the pure and holy.
In chapter two of Gittin, there are many discussions brought to prove or disprove a certain principle, which would make the gett valid or invalid. One particular example was brought in regard to mikvehs. A Mikveh is a body of "living waters," such as collected rain water that women and men (men by chabad custom) immerse into to, in short, purify the unholiness. It can be looked at as an act of transformation where a person (or utensil) immerses in and emerges anew. For more about the Mikveh, checkout the link above.
In the Gemara there's an example about how the mikveh a community had got dirty, so many would bathe afterwards. There's a question if bathing in bath water - which is not considered a kosher mikveh - would make the person impure as he was before entering the Mikveh. The Rabbis ultimately made an enactment that it’s prohibited to bathe afterward the mikveh so the people wouldn’t start to think the bathing is what actually made them “clean” spiritually. If the bathing is what purified, the people might not immersing in the mikveh at all.
As I was meditating, this sugya (specific issue) came to mind in relation to my practice of meditation and being at yeshiva. Throughout practicing meditation along with practicing jewish observances, when opportunities and positive changes occurred, I sometimes would question what’s really the main thing that’s bringing the blessings and changes - the meditation and/or being in Yeshiva. Of course, both compliment one another; however, each has it's purpose as does immersing in a mikveh and bathing in a bath. Meditation and Yeshiva could seem similar to the story in the Gemara. For example, on the surface, yeshiva may not seem the most physically healthy of places and can look "dirty". Also, meditation is shown to provide several health benefits, appearing clean like a bath. However, living in and studying in the yeshiva is the real mikveh, so to speak, that purifies and cleanses the soul. Meditation too has its place. It cleanses and refines the body and brain, so long as what’s meditated on is holy. This is how I understood the Gemara and what it came to teach me: the yeshiva is really what’s making the pure, spiritual improvement. This is also not to say bathing, in the example, makes impure nor does meditation not assist in positive change. The Gemara comes to remind us not to bathe right after the Mikveh so we don’t confuse what is really making us grow spiritually.
Personal Questions to consider:
Gittin is before Kedushin, meditate on what in your life you can “divorce” ie let go of in order for something “mary” something better, for something new to come into your life?
As learned about the mikveh and bathing, what is the main thing in your life that brings in the blessings and transformation to your life?