Everyone has droughts and at other times the world floods you with inspiration. The last few weeks were meant to be some of the saddest in the Jewish calendar. For me they have been all about breakthroughs and inspiration. Fueled by learning from some incredible Rabbis (thanks Rabbi Kelemen and Rabbi Katz), I’ve managed to learn some pretty big lessons that i hope to share with you.
Seriously, the feelings we baal teshuvas go through can be very heavy and destabilizing: the ups and downs, questioning ourselves and the rules that exist both in the Torah world and in the world we once connected to. This is normal. Ride the waves of inspiration and let them carry you through the lows.
Now to share my highs.
1. Learn for connection not for yourself
I love learning and I get totally hooked on Torah. It inspires and propels me. But that is not the purpose of Torah learning. We learn to teach, to grow and to connect. Don’t let learning be an end in itself. When you learn, teach others, write down actions you plan to take as a result of what you learnt. Ultimately Torah is a set of instructions on how to live, not a theory to leave behind in the class. Learn with a purpose; to connect beyond yourself.
2. Schedule in ‘unproductive’ time
Everything in this world has a capacity for kidusha and to the same extent for tumah. One of the biggest issues we have in society is over-scheduling. Technology allows us to plan ahead, to schedule events, to connect over long distance and much more, but we block out our calendars with so many ‘important’ things like work, running errands, paying bills, etc. that we forget to give ourselves time to connect. Time is our most precious asset. So are our loved ones. Magic moments can’t happen in a vacuum. You have to block out time in your schedule to create magic moments. Rabbi Leib Kelemen calls it “time well wasted”. Give yourself enough time to connect with your loved ones. Schedule in ‘unproductive’ time. In fact Hashem already has. That is the beauty of Shabbos. It’s dedicated time out to be unproductive, thereby creating a space for connection. Use Shabbos to connect and create kidusha.
3. Even cold hard facts won’t sway someone with a blocked heart
Sometimes we work so hard to show our non religious family the beauty of Torah and how free we feel because of the rules, that in many ways we are leading not following. I’ve learnt that no matter what evidence is presented in front of them, they are often too blocked with their own biases and negative connotations to even hear. One of the Torah laws is not to put a stumbling block in front of the blind. In many ways, this is no different. Don’t preach, no matter how beautiful it may be, to those who cannot hear it. Let go. If they want to know they know who to ask.
4. In darkness your body rules. Train your body.
In Jewish thought there’s a lot of comparisons about light and dark, sun and moon, day and night, masculine and feminine. Tragedies like the holocaust taught us that when society is in its darkest days, those who are most educated or professional aren’t necessarily the most able to fight the darkness. Those that broke through the propaganda to save lives weren’t the most educated. So if knowledge isn’t a marker for morality during hard times how do we make sure we live up to what we know is true when our minds shut down under pressure? We train our bodies. Take your knowledge and instill it into the very fiber of your being. Make it easy to make moral choices by training yourself. How? Start with the smallest of acts and choose good. Then build up to keep making the hard but right choices. By the time a big decision comes you’ll be able to overcome any obstacles to make the moral choice.
Go listen to Rabbis you admire, live, in books or mp3s online. Just connect. The knowledge, the stories, the courage will inspire you to live up to your potential and chose life.