No limits, No boundaries

Guess we’ll start off where the last post left off…

During our last week of break we were told (commanded 🙂 ) by Rabbi Wichnin to go EXPLORE Israel. Therefore, me and a few guys from Mayanot took a bus to Tzfat to check out the holy air up there. We reached Tzfat in the evening, and stayed at Ascent, an amazing hostel in the heart of Tzfat. Image

There were 7 of us staying at Ascent, 4 guys stayed in one room, and the other three had to stay in other peoples rooms. I was one of the three who had to stay in a random room. The room I was assigned was very nice, shower, beds, nice view. There was only one drawback: the other guys staying in the room smelled like OLD TUNA AND COUCHES IN NURSING HOMES! (don’t ask me how I know what the couches one smells like). luckily, Yaakov had a cold and a stuffy nose, so he switched rooms with me, B”h.

In the morning we started our hike from Tzfat to . The terrain was very rocky, climbing up and down parts of the mountain. It was a very cool experience to walk past other people hiking to or from meron, because many people were singing niggunim on their way. You don’t really see that walking around lake Calhoun in Minneapolis!

Along the path there were streams and water deposits where many people would take a break and jump in the freezing, yet refreshing, water. I couldn’t help but think how amazing it must have felt years ago for people traveling long distances to finally see.

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Once we arrived in Meron, we went to the Kever (gravesite) of the Rashbi (Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai), a true Kabbalist (none of the Madonna shtick). It is a known practice in Judaism to go to the grave of a Tzaddik (righteous person) and daven (pray and connect) there. But what are we connecting with? (good question!) Believe it or not, a person is much more than their body (come again?). By delving deeper under and beyond our superficial bodies and wants, we uncover an authentic, pure, and genuine piece of our inner selves (what’s that you say? a…SOUL?!). When we pass on, especially a Tzaddik, that part of our selves can still be connected to by others, even if our physical body is not here. “One cannot help but be affected, be charged with a renewed, uplifted spirit, and deep sense of renewal after visiting the Kever of a Tzadik”. (read more about this here!!)

That evening we scouted the mountain for a (semi)comfortable place to lay out our sleeping bags around a campfire. We fell asleep to the howling of (hopefully) distant coyotes, and the grand expanse of stars and unknown planets above us.

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Once back in Jerusalem, I made a quick stop at Hadassah Hospital – Ein Kerem, for an undisclosed reason (but it involves a psych ward!). details of that will surely ensue in forthcoming posts.

This past monday (Oct. 7th) was not only my amazing Ema’s (that means mom in Hebrew) birthday (Happy Birthday, Ema, you’re the best mom I’ve ever had!) but it was also the start of classes here at Mayanot! I’ve been waiting quite a while to finally be in a place where I can focus almost entirely on learning and growing in my Yiddishkeit (Judaism). We’re learning Chassidus, Talmud, Tanya, Philosophy, Halacha…OY its wonderful!

We’ve already finished our first week of classes, and my head feels like it’s ready to explode. Interestingly, I say that with a giant smile plastered on my face because I’ve never been happier to have a headache brought on by the studying of Torah instead of Economics and Natural Resource Management (probably the worst class of my undergrad at the UofM).

An important message in Torah is: once you learn, teach. Therefore, since I am B”h lucky to be here at Mayanot, where the company is good (vast understatement), the food is great, and the rabbis are even better, I feel indebted to share the wealth which it has to offer.

*What I am about to write is my overview from an article from the Kehot Chumash*

Every week, we read a chapter of the Torah, this weeks chapter is Lech Lecha (literally translated to: Go, to you)

Lech Lecha is the third Parsha in the Torah. The first Chapter (Bereshit) dealt with the creation and Adam & Eve, The second chapter (Noach) told the story of the flood and the descendants of Noach and his children, Shem, Cham, and Yefet (my fathers namesake!). Now by this chapter, we talk about Avram (Avraham) the father of the Jewish people.

Avraham grew up in a time where corruption, idol worship, and crime were the norm. He was not fazed by these terrible actions, on the contrary, it gave him the inspiration and the fire to actively point out the illogic of idolatry and spread the monotheistic revival.

Despite Avrahams work, his efforts were limited because he was speaking from his own personal reasoning and views. The people who listened to him were simply told a more honest and intellectual version of understanding life.

To Avraham, g-d was still this transcendent being not bound by the laws of nature and human existence (as can be seen by g-ds intervention in Nimrods furnace). Avraham had not level of awareness. The level that this transcendent G-d can be felt in this mundane life as well. Up until now, monotheism during that time period was merely Deism! (still a good step forward!)

Everything changed when G-d spoke to Avraham for the first time, “Lech Lecha!” (Go, to you!). It was through Avraham that G-d made his initial and true descent back to earth. By G-d telling Avraham to “Go,” G-d made Avraham into a new person who could now progress beyond his own capabilities. “Go, to you” means “Go to your TRUE, higher self, the self you could never reach on your own.” the definition of a G-dly person changed from “a person who connects to g-d as much as the limits of human capacity allow” to “a person who connects to g-d by always progressing and growing BEYOND the limits of human capacity!”

Firstly, this is CRAZY! that we can understand astrophysics is one thing, that we can (attempt) to understand the female brain, fine. but the fact that we have the ability to connect to g-d in a way that is beyond the capabilities known to ourselves, is insanely awesome! In this Parsha, g-d gave us the gift of returning to our authentic selves, the self we never even knew existed, constantly uncovering new vistas and perspectives of the Divine.

For this Shabbat, I want to give a Bracha (blessing) that we all “Go, to ourselves”, that we all uncover that part of ourselves which is infineley connected to Hashem,  The part of ourselves that knows no limits and boundaries,  the part of us which has no fears or reservations, the part of ourselves which is our TRUE selves.

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Shabbat Shalom from the Holy Land,

much love

Avi

P.s. A kid on our hike from tzfat to meron ate a bunch of berries from a bush. BAD IDEA!

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Pursuit of the Horizon

A lot has happened in the past week…I can’t believe it’s only been a few days! So we’ll start with a picture of the Kotel (Western Wall) I took on Sunday Morning.

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This is going to be a bit longer of a post – sorry! Instead of going into detail about each Hebrew word, I’ve made them all hyperlinks, so if you click on the word it will take you to the wiki page. Enjoy 🙂

This past week was spent celebrating the holiday of Sukkot. I have never sat in more Sukkahs or danced at more parties in my life! Instead of going into the nitty-gritties of each night, I’m just gonna give an overview of the crazy happenings which I attended and participated in.

Over Shabbat I went to the house of a man named Shmuel Moshe. He is a Chassid and follower of the Hornsteipler Rebbe. The way that he chanted the different brachas before Shabbat was truly an experience. Each word was said with so much Kavanah (intent) and care. He almost came to tears at each word, although as soon as he would finish saying a bracha, he would look up with a warm smile on his face. The meal was eaten in the SUkkah, and yes, it was delicious. After the meal we went to the Rebbe’s sukkah.

In Chabad the Sukkot are not decorated because it is believed that the Sukkah is beautiful in and of itself, it is not necessary to add pictures or fancy trinkets. Other sects of judaism do not hold by that though, as can be seen by the Sukkah at my parents house and by the Sukkah of the Hornsteipler Rebbe. His sukkah was decorated like a kings sukkah, bright lights, crowns, purple cloth and many pictures of other Rabbis and fruit. Being at the house of a Rebbe is very interesting. Everyone was very cautious to be doing the right thing, and not miss a word from his lips. After he finished eating, his plate was passed around and people would take a piece of his food and eat it (apparently this can give brachas). He spoke many words of Torah, more food was eaten, and heart-felt songs were sung. I didn’t get back to Mayanot until well into the night, but it was well worth it.

After davening I went with Mordie to his boss’s house. by the way, just a word about Mordie. If anyone comes to Israel and is interested in learning all about the history of different Chassidic and Litvak communities – ask Mordie. He may look semi-normal on the outside, but on the inside he is a geeky genius 😉

AAAAnyway, so we went to his boss’s house – a Belz Chassid. The meal was great (and thats an understatement) the Cholent was ALMOST as good as the cholent at Chabad UofM. Yiddish was the main language spoken at the table, although both of the parents were able to speak English to me when necessary, and Mordie was translating most things. After the meal we went to the Belz Shul. Many people call it the Belz HaMikdash because it is so huge and it resembles the Bais HaMikdash of ancient days. We went to the Bais Midrash to learn a bit. We learned from a chassidic text by Shlomo Hakohen Rabinowitz called The Tiferes Shlomo, which is a classic in chassidic literature. The chapter we learned about was drilling into the reader that we must be happy with the abilities in knowledge, understanding, and wisdom which have been given to us. We should not look at our neighbors level and say that is where we need to be. We need to work on ourselves, on our own level.

The mornings during the week were spent chilling in the Sukkah, going around town, and hanging out with Inbal and her kids. The evenings and nights were spent going to parties all around town for Simchas Bais HaShoevah! We went to parties right outside of Mayanot, Karlin, Toldos Aharon, and Marat Hamachpelah in Chevron. The craziest and most memorable of all the parties was a Tish with the Rebbe of Toldos Avraham Yitzchok. There were so many Chassidim dressed in golden robes and large Shtreimels dancing in unison. Everyone was trying to get a glimpse of the Rebbe. It really is powerful to be in the presence of a Tzaddik, the energy is almost palpable.

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The whole week was a blur of friends, dancing, learning, great food, and morning headaches. Misha, Daniel and I went to the Kotel on Sunday . It was more packed than I had ever seen in my life. Everyone came for Birkat HaCohanim. It was a really cool experience.

I’ve only been in Israel for two and a half weeks, and classes haven’t even begun yet, but I feel like I’ve learned so much already. Thanks to Mordie and the guys in my Yeshiva for taking me around Jerusalem to see different sects of Judaism, or just by opening up a book to learn about our history. One important thing I’ve learned so far is to open up. We have so many misconceptions about distant people, and ways of life. It’s difficult to be open minded to different thoughts and morals, but it’s quite rewarding. They say ignorance is bliss, but I think bliss is knowledge. True, the more you know the less you REALLY know, but that’s whats fun with life. When you chase knowledge, you pursue an ever growing horizon of light.

I miss and love everyone back home, and a special person in Madison 😉

I’m off to Tzfat to backpack and camp under the stars for a few nights!

Much love,

avi-natan

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And so it begins…

And now im here. in Israel. in Mayanot. In Jerusalem. Thang g-d!

But it wasn’t easy getting here. On sunday the 8th of August I drove to chicago with my sister, Hela and girlfriend, Jenna. That evening we went out for pizza. Joining us were Hela’s room-mates and my brother, Amir. We went to a kosher pizza place, but the service was subpar at best and there wasn’t any A/C. The food took forever to come out, so they tried to appease us by bringing out guac and chips. Long story short – I got the worst food poisoning I have ever gotten in my life. Albeit everyone said the guac tasted weird…I nevertheless kept on eating it…I guess it served me right.

The food poisoning made my traveling very difficult and once I finally landed in Israel after what seemed like an eternity on the plane, my cousin Inbal picked me up from the airport and I stayed that night at her house. In the morning she dropped me off at Mayanot and that’s where I am now!

My first day in the Yeshiva (thursday) was spent in bed because I was still recuperating. Friday evening was also recuperating, but then right before Friday evening which was Shabbat AND Yom Kippur, I started to feel better, bh. Yom Kippur in the yeshiva was quite an experience. After the prayers friday night I walked to the Kotel with Raskin. It was so cool to see so many Jews at the Kotel. Jews in long black coats, with curly payos, black hats, and majestic beards, sitting right next to a Jew wearing orange nikes, a pink mohawk and basketball shorts. Achdus!

It was my first time being at the Kotel in four years. When you return to a place you haven’t been to in quite a long time, you are forced to think about how you have grown and changed since that previous time. I realized I have morphed into a more mature version of who I was, with a better refined identity. I’m excited for all the growth time enables.

Saturday was all about davening and connecting. The whole day was spent in the Mayanot Bais Midrash. The fast was tough for me, but sometimes (key-word) the lack of physicality enables the spiritual to express itself in a purer way.

That evening we went to a Farbrengen at a man named Uri Kaploons house. He is an old rabbi who used to be in the IDF and did reserves up until recently. He spoke about keeping the things we learned from Yom Kippur throughout the year, and not letting the inspiration dwindle into the past. His eyes shine with life and he is HILARIOUS! its amazing how he was able to connect with people 50 years his junior. I’ll be seeing much more of him throughout the year, im sure.

The yeshiva is very nice, and the rooming situation is much better than I anticipated. The food is delicious (i know, right?!) and the location couldn’t be better. I’m a 7 minute walk from the Israeli Shuk (market place), 15 minute walk from Ben Yehuda Street and a half hour from the Kotel.

I haven’t gone to any classes yet because the Yeshiva is on break now (lucky me!) so for now I’m just walking the streets, getting to know the guys better, meeting up with old friends, learning chevrusa style and eating good KOSHER food.

Today I’m meeting up with mordi to learn some Gemara, and then in the evening I’m going to the Lifta reserve  – a nature reserve in Jerusalem.

 

Until next time! I hope you enjoyed reading…maybe more will come.