Online Learning

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...

read more

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...

read more

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...

read more

Reflections, February 2016

»Posted by on Feb 17, 2016 in Online Learning | 0 comments

Reflections, February 2016

Ki Tisa By Rabbi Dr. James Jacobson-Maisels Judaism, for the most part, prescribes behavior; not thoughts or feelings. For a religion of laws, this is wise, as how can one demand that a person think or feel a certain way? But R. Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk, in his teaching on Ki Tisa challenges this approach and argues that while only behavior can be commanded, acting properly is not a sufficient test of who we are, of our spiritual progress and of who we may become. In our spiritual practice, we need to work on the roots of the ways we manifest in the world. This, he says is the meaning of ki tisa, colloquially a command to “take census,” but literally the “lifting up of the head,” understood through his teaching as the elevating and healing of harmful...

read more

Reflections, December 2015

»Posted by on Dec 3, 2015 in Online Learning | 0 comments

By James Jacobsen-Maisels, Founder and Spiritual Director There are times when we feel overwhelmed, helpless, as if life is closing in on us, like it is all just too much. In many ways, it’s the atmosphere of this time of year: the days are getting shorter, the darkness longer. What are we to do? Yet precisely at this time of year; precisely on one of those days, or in one of those fleeting moments when we feel closed in, we light the lights of Chanukah. We affirm that we are never helpless, never abandoned, never trapped. This is the lesson of the Maccabees. How could this band of brothers ever imagine that they could stand up to the might of the Greek empire? Yet, they did. Even if they had not emerged victorious, in the standing up itself, they already won...

read more

Reflections, October 2015

»Posted by on Oct 20, 2015 in Online Learning | 3 comments

By James Jacobsen-Maisels, Founder and Spiritual Director Earlier this month, a new baby girl was born to our family. She is our third child and hers was the third birth I had been present for. It was wondrous, emotional, extraordinary and simply miraculous. It isn’t surprising that it was so wondrous and emotional for me, nor is it that surprising that her birth felt as miraculous as my first child’s birth. But after, I asked our midwife (who herself appeared emotionally impacted) if each birth still moved her every time. “Yes,” she told me. “Every time is a miracle.” But, as we all know, especially those of us who are parents, somehow the awe of the miracle fades. We love our children, but, unfortunately, we aren’t struck by their...

read more