The Shalhevet Learning Community is a one-on-one based learning program, connecting Jews from all over the world and from different backgrounds through our most basic common denominator: our Jewish heritage.
After a successful first year, in which 70 study partners were paired, learning and connecting with one another, we invite you – men and women from all backgrounds and communities to join this wave of non-judgmental, free, thought provoking Jewish learning with an Israeli study partner!
On the night of Tish’ah be-Av(July 29), when the Jewish people devotes itself again to mourning for all that
it has lost during
exile; after everyone is seated on the ground and before the Kinot(lamentations) are recited, the custom is that the one who leads the prayers
rises and proclaims to the congregation, "Today marks such-and-such many years
since the destruction of our Sanctuary.” For the essence of the mourning over
the great catastrophe, over the years of exile and all that they have entailed,
returns to the focal point of this mourning – to the destruction of the Temple
and city of Jerusalem.
Most of the people that are here tonight are, to me, beloved people. It is possibly my weakness, but I like the people around me. But beyond that, we are all connected by our common ancestry, by our blood, by our common dreams, by our wish to continue being in the future.
Let me begin with thanks. The first thanks are for the Master of all, Whom we never thank enough, for giving me life, health and the ability to do this work. Thanks to my wife and family; I know that for many years I was a legend in my own home; the members of my family believed that I existed, but did not see too much of me. So I wish to tell them that I do exist, and to thank them for bearing with my work, my efforts, my headaches and my troubles.
We are living in a time of many fast changes. Never before have things changed as quickly as they do now. There is more than one cause for this; firstly, the development of technology, which has affected not only technical matters but also society and inter-personal relationships; in addition there is a breakdown of tradition: old social institutions such as the family, notions like obedience and acceptance, and even modern ideas like nationalism. Newspapers are busier and bulkier than ever before: there is always something new happening, mostly smaller or bigger scandals on every possible level. All in all, life seems to be rushing in a much faster pace.
The basic meaning of the Hebrew word Shabbat is standstill, cessation. God "worked" in the six days of Creation, and when Shabbat arrived He ceased to work.
The path of spiritual life does not run smooth. Every human being, even the greatest of the great, has periods of elation and depression, of ups and downs, and this lack of spiritual equilibrium is inherent in the nature of things and is not necessarily a function of the individual's own failings.
At some stage, man reaches a sort of identification with his spiritual achievements, experiencing each and every element in the manner appropriate to his nature in such a way that his spiritual powers find expression in thought, word and deed. However, one should not remain for ever at a given stage of spiritual development but most continually progress to ever higher levels.
The performance of the commandments (mitzvot) has traditionally been conceived as a dual imperative: the contemplation of the content and inner meaning of the mitzvah, and its physical expression. Jewish writings have dealt extensively with the questions arising from this duality, weighing the value of deed against that of intention and seeking the relationship between the two.
Devout men throughout the ages have generally stressed the intention over the deed. Nevertheless, they also felt that while a deed without intention is like a body without a spirit, intention without deed is similarly imperfect, like an illusive apparition, having existence but no substance. Thus for these men, in the real of mitzvoth, there was no deed without intention, and no intention without deed.
The questions that prompted the continual re-discussion of this issue are still with us today.
modern world is characterized, not only in principle but also in practice, on
greater freedom – socially, in the sense of accessibility and of traveling the
world, etc. All these are supposed to be ways in which the liberated human
being finds expression.
It is one of the many paradoxes of Jewish history that where as the Jewish people has known premature and unnatural death as a constant companion probably more than any other nation, culturally and spiritually the Jews are remarkably unpreoccupied by death and the hereafter.
In the Exodus from Egypt, the Jews left a vast civilization that was obsessed with death and devoted much spiritual energy and material resources to preparations for the hereafter. This cult of death was one of the evils from which Moses led the Children of Israel, guiding them toward a more wholesome outlook that put the stress on life.
The Limitations of Human Consciousness
Human consciousness strives to perceive and know all, to understand everything that exists in the world, possibly also things that do not exist in it. However, man has realized that even though the desire to know is unlimited, the human ability to know is limited.
There have always been various limitations to human consciousness, some of which can be overcome through various technical means: by bettering technical thinking, or improving the various instruments we use in order to get acquainted with reality. But in addition to all those things that were inaccessible for purely technical reasons, there are things that are inaccessible in essence.
I would like to start with what I started out last year: with the feeling that here, at this time and in this place, we are in a sort of an island, isolated from the rest of the world. All around us the world is storming, boiling, full of trouble, while here we are in a kind of a bubble. On the one hand, it is quite pleasant to be in such a bubble; but on the other hand it is not only impossible, but also forbidden for people – and especially for us, as Jews – to reside, even temporarily, in such a world of calm and quiet. Even when one is in high and lofty worlds, one must remember that although the great Ladder reaches the heaven, it is firmly grounded in the earth. And the earth is not always a comfortable place; for throughout the world the earth is now shaking, quivering, and wet with blood.
This is why I chose to speak, this time, about a less abstract topic: Heroism; to try and understand what heroism is.
The last days of the year, which lead us to Rosh HaShanah, the Day of Judgment, are days of stock-taking, which every individual should do for himself. If the main part – namely, heart-felt repentance – is there, then the heart cries out and the stock-taking is done almost by itself. But if the main part is not there, people tend to cover this up with excessive detail – just like in the story about an absent-minded fellow who, before going to sleep, wrote down where he put each of his belongings, so that he can find them in the morning; the only thing that he forgot to note was … himself.
What is the nature of this yearly stock-taking? Surprisingly enough, the Rosh HaShanah prayers do not contain any reference to sin;
Most of the Jewish people are so very scattered and removed from each other that they hardly ever find a common language, or even any language that makes sense to them as Jews. This is what is called assimilation, which is basically the loss of the common heritage. We therefore have to try to reach some deeper levels of the soul, many of them bordering on the unconscious, to help us get back to talking together, to having some kind of a common language.
Jews can hardly be categorized as a nation (even though there is now an emerging Israrli nation); we cannot even be considered a religion in the ordinary sense of a religion with a message which we think should become general, which we want to sell to others.
Our sages said, “Six things were said about man:
in regard to three, he is like the ministering
angels, and in regard to three, he is like beasts.”
Babylonian Talmud, Chagigah 16a
This combination of angel and beast is only one of the strange and various combinations forming man.
Often, one can hear people say: "I don't want to be different, I want to by just like everybody else."
But who is "everybody"? Who creates this entity? Who defines it? "Everybody" is not an independently existing term, but rather the outcome of imitation. One person imitates another, and everybody imitates "everybody." Who, then, is the first, the real "everybody" that everyone imitates?
Furthermore, is "everybody" good? Is it smart, understanding, religious? Not necessarily; because had "everybody" been an expression of good, there would have been no need to rely on it or use its awesome appellation; rather, one would have simply said – "I am doing X because it is good.
The problem of the relationship between religion and science – or, to be more precise, religion and human knowledge – is an ancient Jewish issue. For over 2,000 years, it has been surfacing in various ways, but the crux of it has always remained the same. It is difficult to find a complete solution for it, because its details are so numerous and belong to so many spheres of life, that the mere presentation of the question – even without dealing with the solution – is a major feat. However, it seems that at the outset, we should not deal at all with specific questions, because there simply is no need for that. So many of these questions have changed: questions became answers, and vice versa. Therefore, if we devote our attention to specifics, we may soon find out that neither the questions nor the answers have any value.
Just as they do in the higher world, the ten Sefirot exist in the human soul; and from their mutual interrelations are derived and manifested all the broad span of thoughts, feelings, and experiences of man, thus, the first three Sefirot assert the aspects of pure consciousness: Hokhmah, expressing the power of original light, is that which distinguishes and creates and is the basis of intuitive grasp; Binah, expressing the analytical and synthetic power of the mind, builds and comprehends forms and probes the meaning of that which comes from the Sefirah of Hokhmaha; and Daat, expressing the crystallization of awareness in terms of conclusions and the abstract ascertaining of facts, is that which enables consciousness to make a transition from one form of existence to another, thereby ensuring its continuity.
Peace a mind has came to be regarded in our time as one life’s highest ideals, Clergymen, leaders of cults, psychologists, advertisers —all seem to agree that this is the thing most to be desired. And of course all of them are in some measure prepared to provide it. Rest and relaxation are no longer the exclusive province of resorts and sanitariums. Peace of mind is regarded not merely as something pleasant and desirable bur as a spiritual ideal and significant life goal, the final achievement to which various schools of thought and meditation aspire.
Generally speaking, the Jewish way is not designed for outstanding individuals but for the people as a whole. In areas that pertain to the people of Israel, every single one of the Torah commandments pertains to the entire nation, and there is no commandment or teaching that involves only a select, special section of the people. Moreover, one of the aspirations and ideals of Judaism is the Tikkun, betterment, of the whole world.
What is the relationship between the external manifestation of the human soul (its "aspects," forces) and the essence of the soul itself? This question lies at the center of much Hassidic speculation concerning human psychology, and is central in the doctrines of the Chabad school.
The founder of Chabad, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, made apparently contradictory statements concerning the nature of this relationship. In his major work, the Tanya, we read: "The soul .. consists of ten aspects (behinot), which correspond to the ten Divine Manifestations (sefirot) from which they are descended … and are subdivided into Intellect (sekhel) and Attributes (middot): (Chapter 3). Later in the same book he writes: "The essence and the being of the soul … are its ten aspects" (Chapter 12).
Intrinsically, what concerns us can be reduced to three questions: Why, How, and What For. In other words, the problem of the reason for things, the inquiry into the essence and manner of existences, and the search for the purpose of it all. Men have been asking these fundamental questions throughout history and each of them has resulted in a vast realm of knowledge.
In comparatively recent times, however, the third question. of the ultimate purpose, has become superfluous, it is considered to be an inquiry that has no place in modern scientific investigation or progress. It is felt that since human reasoning cannot apprehend any possible solution to the problem, there is no point in asking the question. The only thing we can do, it is believed, is to endeavor to find the causes and the conditions for the existence of things, in other words, a revealing of reality prior to anything ultimate.
The Inner Aspect of Education
Every educational method, everywhere the world and at all times, is based upon certain ideas, ideals and world-views. In many cases - perhaps even in most cases - educators (or whoever else is in charge of education) are only partially aware of these fundamental ideas, goals and aspirations of the education they impart; and the degree of awareness is even lower in the education given by non-professional educators or teachers. In the final analysis, however, it is not the awareness of ideals that determines education, but their existence in the mind of the educator or of the influential figure.
The Crisis of Innocence
The Hebrew word for innocence – temimut – comes from the same root as wholeness, perfection. And although the word is not used in the exact same meaning as "perfection," it is universally accepted that innocence entails a state of primordial perfection.
How does innocence find expression? How do we define it? Usually we see innocence as a direct approach to things, an approach that is neither convoluted nor intricate, without complicating and without even thinking that things can be complicated. It’s a simple, direct approach based on trust and without apprehension.
Surely, the innocent approach is not always sufficient for finding solution or unraveling intricacies, either natural or man-made ones. But innocence can sometimes fall short, because it can be deceived and tricked, and as a result it often seems to us somewhat ridiculous and silly.
In spite of the unpopularity of the whole concept of reaction, there are always many people who look back to the “good old days” with a certain nostalgia, if not with a strong desire to actually revert to what they see as a better state of affairs. Amongst modern Jews, the preferred period seems to be located about 2009 years ago, when, it is conceded, Jewish life had an authentic style and vitality, and was vastly richer in content.
But is it possible to go back to any period in the past? Is not the very idea of a return self-destructive in its direction?
There are many indications that we are not yet living in the Messianic Era. Rather, we are in the period shortly preceding the Messiah's coming, which in Jewish tradition is called "the footsteps of the Messiah," and we are being trampled by these footsteps, with suffering and confusion. From the wide variety of the existing turmoil and problems, I wish to focus on one issue, which has to do with looking at the totality of the Jewish world. Each and every one of us can, of course, remain in his or her small corner and see just one tiny slice of the world. But I think we should consider the Jewish People as a whole – in the Land of Israel, the United States, Jamaica, New Zealand. When I look at this overall picture I see something that frightens me.