Thursday, March 30, 2006

Soul Scrubbing

My right arm is officially a hundred times stronger than my left,
still burning and smelling of bleach.

The home that is Machon Alte had a day of cleaning yesterday, in honor of the approaching holiday of Pesach. Every student was given a job around the "campus."

My job? To scrub. To scrub the floor. To scrub all thirty refrigerator racks. To scrub the counters. To scrub the dishes.

As I was removing layers of grime, mold, and rotting food from the surfaces of all the items I encountered, I struggled to use my overly-exposed-to-fumes brain to tap into the meaning and purpose of all the cleaning. Learning in Tzfas has taught me enough to expect more from the seemingly mundane in this world.

The Alter Rebbe is known to have spent an enormous amount of time intensely cleaning his house. The Mitzva of checking for Chametz (after the house is already cleaned) takes about twenty minutes, but he went all through the night - carefully guiding his candle along the floor in search of crumbs.

Clearly, there is something here that goes beyond spring cleaning.

The Alter Rebbe wasn't only searching his house. He was searching his soul. He was identifying what a person's motives should be when cleaning for Pesach - checking for the crumbs and layers of dirt that could possibly be covering our soul, stopping it from shining its full light.

There are many explanations for the Pesach cleaning that we have all come to dread. But for me, the Alter Rebbe's approach stands out.

So here I am scrubbing and scrubbing. I've got my soul on my mind. And I'm talking to myself. I'm saying, "Mimi, scrub it away."

Scrub away negativity. Let your soul shine. Scrub away the suggestive powers of society. Let your soul shine. Scrub away the barriers between your brothers and sisters. Let your soul shine. Scrub away your silly insecurities. Let your soul shine. Scrub away your ego. Let your soul shine. Scrub away laziness. Let your soul shine. Scrub away meaningless distractions. Let your soul shine.

Scrub away all the layers. Reveal the light, the shine. Reveal your mission. Reveal your powers. Reveal the meaning. Reveal the light inherit in the dark. Reveal the G-dliness. Reveal redemption.

This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine. And the whole world, too, is with me. It is Nissan, the month of redemption, and Jews of every type and affiliation are cleaning away. Soul scrubbing and world scrubbing. The world is starting to freshen and sparkle. Pesach is on its way.

I'll see you in Israel.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Chassidus Saved the Spider

He was chillin' in Chapter 37.

He looked like a "yud", the smallest letter, moving on the page.

But no - he was just a spider that wanted to learn some Tanya.

Okay, so he's a holy spider. But he still freaked me out.

I faced my Tanya towards the window, ready to blow the tiny creature into nowhere.

But then I froze. I couldn't do it.

And it's not because there was an 'animal rights advocate' in the room
that spoke up.

Once again, it's Chassidus I have to blame.

I know that my study of Chassidus is meant to open me up to worlds of divinity, of purpose, of light. I know the result is a smaller ME. I just didn't know that I could possibly feel smaller than a spider. I wasn't prepared to experience a moment like this.

The thoughts were intense and flooding:

G-d enlivens everything. Nothing lacks a purpose. I only appear to be
bigger and more significant. First in thought, last in creation. Raise
it up. Transcend the way you think - rise above. Break down the
concealment. Don't be casual with life, with G-d's creations.

Above all, though, it was a sense of the small spider's importance,
it's power, it's mission.

Chassidus is unlike any other type of learning. It's an experience of
lessons that have implications that you can't foresee. Its impact is far
reaching. Even times when you want to avoid it - when most of you is yelling, "get rid of the spider!" - you can't. Chassidus just has to pipe up. It's in your blood. There's no avoiding it.

Chassidus changes the lives of many. But it also saves the lives of spiders. I slowly brought my Tanya down to a leaf outside and watched the spider return to it's natural habitat. I finished saying my Tanya, and life continued as normal.

What's big is big and small and very small. What's big is misleading
and small, kind of big, but truly small. But mostly everything is huge
and relevant and vital and holds the whole world on it's shoulders -
especially that which is small.

I wonder how the tiny crawler has changed the course of history since it's rescue.

I hope he comes back to thank Chassidus for saving its life.

Chapter 38 is even better.

"Chassidus is Divine intelligence, an understanding which shows man how small he is, and how great he can become." [ Hayom Yom 19th of Iyar ]

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

My Own Deceit

I wanted to like him. He had a warm, bearded and soft grandfatherly face. He was friendly, on the ball and excited about life.

Waiting for the group meal to begin, I was sitting on the couch reading "Towards a Meaningful Life" yet again. His British accent caught my attention. Apparently he was a popular Rabbi. A small crowd of youngsters he seemed to know were gathered around him listening to his jokes, his stories - enamored with his presence.

He piqued my curiosity. I too was enamored. A respectable, well dressed and dignified Rabbi with a down-to-earth and youthful presence. I found myself staring blankly at my book, more intrigued with what he was imparting to the young kids standing around him. He seemed the type of Rabbi who had something to say.

And oh, did he ever...

Time suddenly halted, and there's only one thing I can remember. One of the kids asked him casually, "Where's Sarah? Have you seen her?" and my dignified subject of intrigue and respect responded, "I think I saw her upstairs. But be careful, she might be in her bikini."

My body froze in surprise, but my eyes uncontrollably shot a harsh quick glance in his direction. I didn't expect such crude, immature and thoughtless "humor" to leave his lips. What the...? Why?

Apparently, I've become comfortable with stereotyping, and assumed the black hat and beard represented a type of person who couldn't possibly have such a loose tongue.

My intrigue in him disintegrated completely. I felt disappointed. I sat there on the couch spitting out judgments and feeling anger towards the Rabbi's misleading persona. He was now "the bikini rabbi" to me. I wanted him out of the building, away from the youth, my friends. He clearly had nothing to offer us here, with his two-sided makeshift existence.

I pretended to not be sensitive to the stereotype-jolt and was asked to take a seat for the meal. Unexplainably affected by the little scenario, I was just calming down when another Rabbi stood up to introduce our guest speaker. The mysterious man was introduced like a "Tzaddik in our midst", and we are "very fortunate to have him with us."

I nearly choked on my food when the "Mr. Prestigious" introduced was revealed to be none other than the Bikini Rabbi.

What? This guy? Nuh uh. This is not happening.

I had witnessed something about this Rabbi that no one else had, and there he stood amongst the applause - ready to trick everyone.

All I could do was glare at him. Who did he think he was talking about the Torah portion with the same mouth he used for an insensitive and vulgar comment only moments before? Everyone was being betrayed, and I was stirring in my seat, totally disturbed. I felt a faker among us, and found myself totally distrusting everything he was saying. "Such hypocrisy doesn't deserve my attention," I thought to myself.

So there I sat - even long after he was finished speaking - with contempt and judgment boiling inside me.


Having this occurrence sitting in my mind for days now, I have found the insight to feel totally embarrassed from my reaction. It hurts me to come to terms with who I was in this situation. I feel disgusted with myself for having such righteousness in the face of a fellow Jew.

Do I dare pride myself on being a whole and ever-consistent human? Am I so blind to my own faults that I shake at the weaknesses in others? Why don't I ever view my own inconsistencies with similar fervor, and avoid all my virtues in light of my faults? How do I live without combusting from my own hypocrisy? How dare I easily give myself credit but break at one sighting of a Rabbi's immature comment? And who am I to even notice? Who am I to be the counter of another's deeds and consistency? Who did I think I was to discredit the Rabbi's words of Torah? Who was I to feel betrayed? Where was my right to react?

Have I ever been this unfair to myself? And most of all, has G-d?
How does G-d stand for it? I can use my mouth for lying and talking idly about others, and G-d still accepts my prayers. G-d sees my stumble and struggle and crash and burn - but his love for me remains boundless and clear and ever-present. G-d comes running to my side when defeat is in my future, and he can ignore my failures when he sees me succeed.

How did I forget G-d's kindness to me? How did it not penetrate and maneuver my reaction to my fellow Jew?

I don't think any of us profess to be whole. When we realize and speak of our own smallness, our weaknesses, we need to remember that part of this realization is brought to fruition with depth and truth only by the way we relate to others. Who was I to expect such unfaltering perfection from others when I myself know the ride, the ups and downs, of growth and existence? How can I come to appreciate G-d's kindness in dealing with me when I myself am judging others?

We have enough barriers in this world. Refusing to contribute to the blockages is one area I can value consistency with fervor.

I feel pathetic and sorry for my reaction to the Rabbi, but have renewed a determination to unwind the trend. It opened me up to a meaningful challenge - to not only view others as I view myself, but as G-d sees us all.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

[Purim] Wanting to Transcend

Purim has left it's impression on me.

It's images of masks and wine are still fresh, running around in circles in my mind - waiting for directions.

With the inspiration, I am finding a new strength to be completely true with myself, and with the world. To not tolerate misrepresentation and concealment. To stay in tune with the vision of myself, the self that so deeply wants to fully implement and live all the wellsprings of goodness and truth that are dancing around me every day.

It's amazing how everything happens in the right time, and how life events correlate so perfectly with our Jewish calendar. Intellect, trying, choosing, sifting, reaching; that was the pre-Purim Mimi.

Purim came - and BOOM!

The focus has shifted.

Now, it's about transcending. It's about going above, going beyond.

Transcendence isn't easy. It's like meditation - sometimes the
effort it seems to require gets in the way. So, that's why sometimes you just have to be quiet and listen to what's there without trying, without thinking.

So what am I when I'm not BEING me?

I am G-d's mission. And I'm ready to transcend all of this and fly.

Flying high, taking the sparks from outside, bringing them in, tossing them out and out and out. No time to doubt - I am a messenger with burning news. Running and running. Taking in the views of this world and emptying myself for the mission. Listen. Now feel the heat of this ambition. Du dum du dum du dum. A heartbeat. Something else is running my world, a waterfall got hurled, but there's no impact - it just rushes through. Who? The Almighty. He gave me his glory, his strength. I just borrow it, follow it - take it with me, where it leads, seeds of redemption and I'm allowed in. Listen to the drop of this pin, it's not about the win goin' in, but a champion is made. A leader without it's own identity - it's what G-d wants from me. This river never froze, it flows, it goes and goes - there aint no end, I just want to bend to your will, be still and hear the mission - gotta bring this in, bring it in listenin'. This is not my - but no one else's- job, emptying this vessel, nothing here to rob. Can't steal G-d's expression, that's where I gotta be, where I wanna be, wanna be.

[Waking up before I thought I could. It's not about what I expect of myself.Being a messenger spreading the news. I am being asked. Just do it.Your insecurities have no place here...

Finding a practical place for my transcending - I need advice. I want to move in many directions, but value focus. What to learn? What kind of meditation? Reaching out? Clarity always come with good questions. Looking forward to THIS journey...]

Sunday, March 12, 2006


[Picture taken unknowingly by the approaching friend]

He came out of nowhere.

It's a windy day and I'm sitting on the bench, ignoring my messy hair
and waiting for a friend.

Walking by slowly, he looked at me curiously.

Something about him forced me out of my shell, and I smiled at him. He
accepted with a shy forwardness, and took a seat on the bench next to

When I asked him what he was doing, he told me that a big wind had
come and he lost his friends.

We became immediate buddies.


His name is Yonatan. He is a four year old on a mission.

Yonatan came to release something within me that's been hidden, put
down, and woefully unexpressed.

I asked him questions, and he answered with enthusiasm. He was
completely unafraid when he realized I don't speak his language fluently. It didn't matter to him. There could be nothing in the way of what he was sent here to do.

He told me about his family. He told me about school. He's very
excited for Purim. He wishes they didn't have to learn about Pesach
yet. He likes candy, and seemed unsure of my sincerity when I shared his enthusiasm.

But the thing is, I was being totally sincere. While talking to
Yonatan, I realized that I was expressing a vulnerability that I have
closed of to most people. I felt light and simple. I towered over him,
but I felt soft and small. There was something about this four year
old that was overpowering me.

I thought I was innocent, but Yonatan opened me up to the kind of
innocence that I have forgotten to value.

It's the kind of innocence that let's you approach people with a smile. The
innocence that doesn't see boundaries. The innocence that lets you
give all of your attention to the moment. An innocence that believes
in it's own strengths, but that takes itself lightly. An innocence
that sees beauty, discovery, and adventure everywhere. The kind of
innocence that trusts the goodness in others, and won't be convinced otherwise. An innocence that allows dependence on another. An innocence that wears no sign of unnecessary seriousness.

An innocence that doesn't know how innocent it really is.

Yonatan made me miss the child I once was. I never got to say goodbye. Who dared to steal my youth and why did I not protest? Why can't I be more like Yonatan? Can I recover what's been lost? Can I invite my inner child back into this world I've created? Will it be comfortable with the new me?

I'm too serious. Serious about learning. Serious about relationships.
Even my happiness with life has a seriousness it can't seem to escape.
But deep beneath my intensity, my ever present feeling of mature
existence, is a child. A child that went to sleep without a lullaby
and has been waiting for someone to jump in and turn on the light.

If I would have had more articulate Hebrew skills working for me at
the moment, I would have told Yonatan that he changed something within me by stopping to say hi, by sitting on the bench and talking with me. I would have told him that his precious smile lit up a world within me that's been dark for way too long.

It pains me to think that, one day, Yonatan might come across someone who will send him the message - albeit subtly - that he "needs to grow up." It frustrates me that something about this world might ruin Yonatan's soft nature, make him serious, get tainted, and never turn back - all without even saying goodbye.

But why can't we all be a little bit more childish? Why do we all
leave a part of ourselves behind? As we grow up, our inner child wants to as well - but it never asked to be destroyed, to be forgotten. It still wants to be a part of our new world, our new adventures. Why do we fear our inner child? Why can't we grow up together?

I wanted to ask Yonatan if I could carry him around in my pocket. But, no. Yonatan knows my new mission. He vanished as quickly as he came, leaving me feeling old and lonely - but inspired to waken my inner playground.

Monday, March 06, 2006

The Chassidic Tide In My Mind

(I took the above picture in Tel Aviv last year)

Chassidic dualities stirring in my brain,

So many truths, but they all feel the same.

Tellin' me I'm small, got me in touch with my might,

My shrinking is great, but I turn darkness to light.

They say it's about this world, yet it doesn't exist,

Challenging my mind, Chassidus never wants to resist.

G-d's so huge and vast, yet they say he's within me,

The contrast explodes, but there's moments I can see.

Finding heaven's perspective, keeping my feet on the ground,

Finding my own beat, but taking from everyone's sound.

I'm a nothing - so small that I barely am here,

Yet I'm running the world without a single fear.

I make myself inferior, and superiority reigns,

Lifting up another, while being real with their pains.

They tell me to be loud, but totally quiet.

I'm bursting through this tumbling symmetry riot.

I am a shortsighted person expanding my mind,

Widening life's road, loving what I find.

An elevating calmness rises as my brain bends,

The beauty of truth is it's found in opposite ends.


Science says the world is expanding, and with it my mind - how they don't see redemption, is it that hard to find? Contrast, dualities - they share the same space - to a world of higher consciousness, revealing G-d's face. My soul at rest with this seeming bind - testifying to the burning truth in my mind. Chassidus revealing essence in both poles - the strength is in the opposite roles. Moving in one direction, I find light from each side - this is the movement of the Chassidic tide.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

The Sicha Rollercoaster

The questions mount. The Rebbe is not settled - and he dares you to be satisfied. You hop on, and there's no turning back. You have just got on the Sicha rollercoaster.

The ride slowly creaks, moving higher.

The buildup takes your stomach and turns it into a boiling pot of soup. It starts to spill, but you can't get off the ride. The Rebbe has caught you in his rapture. Questions burn your mind, and the whole world, like bacterial fire.

The Rebbe controls the direction, the inner pristine turmoil. You appear to be going in one direction, but sudden turns shake the foundation of your so called reliable intellect. The Sicha rollercoaster has a transcendental engine. The Rebbe is in full force.

You, too, suddenly need answers.

Just when you think you'll explode from the suspense, the Rebbe forces you to join him on the descent. You both go plunging to the core. Your hair, your insides, your brains, are behind you. They try to catch up. The speed is unreal. All movements are explosive. The noise is loud and harmonious, the feeling real and chaotic in it's lightening abyss.

Revelation arises from reaching the deep pit of excitement that just smashed into your face. Your mind and heart are sharing the same space in your small and firecracker world. The air is rushing past you quickly, but the reality - the drilling beauty and truth - turns everything to slow motion.

Your life flashes all around you. This rollercoaster was made for you. How have I tried all of them, while forgetting this one?

On the Sicha rollercoaster, there is no slow landing. There is no chance to calm your insides, to unwind. One you get on, there's no REAL getting off. You may leave the rollercoaster, but the Sicha rollercoaster never leaves you. You get off the ride, but the rollercoaster will always stay within. You have to tell people to give it a try, to experience the clear breathlessness and life-shaking insight.

All other rides pale in comparison. This is the real sort of thrill.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Shabbos in Jerusalem Conclusion: Gotta get down to get up!

Whoever said, "you gotta get up to get down" must have been standing on their head.

My experience in Jerusalem have served to be a explosive source of clarity and inspiration. I don't even know where to begin.

I want to be a light. That's what it comes down to. I entered a cave, a pit, a dungeon - darkness became all too real. Yes, I rested in it for a bit. It was important in ways. But it can't stop there, and it won't. Not if I can do something about it, and I can.

Visiting with the office of my seminary from last year was interesting. One of the teachers, who I have no connection with really, heard me talking about Machon Alte and jumped in to say, "just don't become a meshichist on us." Ew, yes. But, all I did was look at her and smile. She did look a little squirmish from my smile, I must say.

Chatting with a friend over Shabbos and her husband asks me if I'll be dating this year. I responded, "no, not in Israel" - meaning, I'm learning. My friend comments, "why? Because the Lubavitchers are crazy here?" I just smiled and said, "actually, I really don't think they're crazy." After that, she had nothing more to say or ask, and in many ways, more was revealed than if the matter was actually pursued.

I'm finding a calm place within me to deal with these little encounters. I'm learning that light can only come from this place - where's its more serene and clear and good.

At the same time, I've been floating on an intense cloud of thoughts these past few days, trying to jump into action, or even just real preparation for action. I can't come up with anything new, though. The Rebbe gave us clear instructions.

I'm excited. I feel the earth rumbling beneath my feet. Articulation? The details of what I'm getting at? I'm failing. It's really just a bursting in my stomach. I couldn't sleep last night because of it.

Chassidus, people! Aaaahh! I plan on posting some of the tidbits of life and learning I've absorbed since Shabbos. Stay tuned.

This world is insanely beautiful. There, that's about 1% of what I'd really like to get out. Aaaah! :)

As happy as I am to be back up in Tzfas, I'm truly happy I got down in Jerusalem.