Newsletter

Reflections, September 2016

»Posted by on Sep 5, 2016 in Newsletter | 0 comments

By Rabbi Dr. James Jacobson-Maisels Parashat Shofetim R. Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk’s opens his reflections on Parashat Shofetim by quoting from Torah and the Talmud: [Then the officials shall address the troops, as follows:] “Is there anyone who has built [a new house but has not dedicated it? Let him go back to his home, lest he die in battle and another dedicate it. Is there anyone who has] planted a vineyard [but has never harvested it? Let him go back to his home, lest he die in battle and another harvest it. Is there anyone who has] betrothed a wife, [but who has not yet married her? Let him go back to his home, lest he die in battle and another marry her.” The officials shall go on addressing the troops and say,] “Is there anyone afraid [and...

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Reflections, August 2016

»Posted by on Aug 5, 2016 in Newsletter, Online Learning | 1 comment

By Rabbi Dr. James Jacobson-Maisels Parshat Va’etchanan The Vitebsker’s interpretation of va’etchanan starts with Rashi’s reading of one of the parsha’s most famous verses: Rashi interprets the verse “You have been shown to know [that YHVH alone is God; there is none beside Him]” (Deut 4:35) according to the Targum (the ancient Aramaic translation) which renders it ‘You have been shown,’ that at the time of the giving of the Torah [God] tore open for them the seven heavens and just as God tore open the upper regions so God tore open the lower regions and they saw that He/it is one etc.” This tearing open, this seeing of oneness, the Vitebsker tells us, is the very meaning of revelation and the path to freedom. Yet how do we reach this...

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Reflections, July 2016

»Posted by on Jul 18, 2016 in Newsletter | 0 comments

By Dr. Rabbi James Jacobson-Maisels Parashat Balak We have just returned from a powerful retreat where it was wonderful to see some of you. We had the opportunity on retreat to be with our experience, such as the craziness of our comparing minds (ie. s/he is a better/worse meditator than I am) and the truth of the ownerlessnesss of our experience (ie. it’s just a thought, I don’t need to identify with it). In R. Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk’s teaching this week on Balak he addresses precisely these two issues through one of the most well known verses of the Torah with which we begin our prayers each morning in synagogue, Ma tovu / How goodly are your tents O Jacob. Rashi’s famous interpretation, based on the Talmud (Bava Batra 60a) is that the beauty...

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Reflections, June 2016

»Posted by on Jun 5, 2016 in Newsletter | 2 comments

By Dr. Rabbi James Jacobson-Maisels Parashat Nasso / פרשת נשא (This will apply to this week’s Parsha if you are in Israel, or next week’s if you are in the U.S.)  What is freedom? Our consumerist culture would have us believe that freedom is about having access to many choices and the ability to decide which choice to make. It is about what the Vitebsker calls choice/possibility (reshut) and desire (ta’avah). It would have us believe that buying that car, those clothes, that music, or fulfilling any one of the many desires advertising cultivates, will make us free. Yet do they? Does a choice of a hundred different cereals and the financial means to buy whichever one we want produce freedom? Or, do we experience freedom when we are not caught in...

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Reflections, May 2016

»Posted by on May 9, 2016 in Newsletter, Online Learning | 0 comments

By Rabbi Dr. James Jacobson-Maisels “I will run on the path of Your mitzvot for they widen my heart” (Ps. 119:32). Do not we all want that widened heart? The Vitebsker in parshat Emor tells us that joy is accessible to us all. The path is the practice of letting go of ego, and the compassion and joy this engenders. It is our practice of Yom HaAtzmaut, of becoming free and independent, precisely by surrendering what we think we own, by releasing our tight protective sense of self. And this is the very nature of the mitzvot the Vitebsker teaches. The mitzvot bring us into contact with this joy, that, when we truly access it, courses through the cosmos, awakens the worlds, and causes the energy of life to flow. Does it not feel that way? Is that not the texture...

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Reflections, March 2016

»Posted by on Mar 28, 2016 in Newsletter, Online Learning | 0 comments

By Rabbi Dr. James Jacobson-Maisels “This is the law (Torah): When a person dies in a tent” (Num. 19:14). How do we want to die? What kind of death do we desire? R. Israel Hopshtein of Koznitz, the Maggid of Koznitz uses death as a way of talking about life and uses two ways of thinking about death as ways of thinking about life. On the one hand, death is the opposite of life. It is stagnation, resignation, being trapped and frozen, apathy and shutting down. This is the death of self-satisfaction and this is the death of shame and unworthiness. This is the death of pride and this is the death of depression, which is not sadness, which can be a positive spiritual quality, but rather it is what happens when the heart shuts down. The other form of death is the...

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