Note to our readers: Each week, the Week In Review brings you a sampling of the Rebbe’s teachings—adaptations of his talks, essays and letters—that propose a way of life instructed by the Torah and illuminated by Chassidic teaching. Perhaps some of you have wondered: What would it be like to actually live this way? What happens when these teachings are embraced as a guide to daily living?
In this column, we bring you a glimpse into one such life. Jay Litvin is a 53-year-old husband, father, writer, filmmaker, public relations consultant and chassid. His articles are based not on any specific talk or essay of the Rebbe’s, but on his personal experience of the endeavor to incorporate the Rebbe’s vision into his life.
By Jay Litvin
The little green room held three people, maybe four (if we in crammed really tight). There was a desk, some straight-backed chairs, a rabbi, and a collection of books lining the sill of a tall lead glass window overlooking a busy Milwaukee street. It was here that I put on tefillin for the first time some eighteen years ago. And for two years following, it was here, once a week on Tuesday afternoons, that I was to experience a most profound and life-transforming spiritual awakening.
It was a Tanya class.
The rabbi would read from the text in a mesmerizing sing-song voice. His monologue was so tightly knit and cohesive that no one interrupted him. He spun a remarkable web of what to me was pure revelation.
As I listened, the words seemed to enter through the totality of my body, not just my ears. They entered and nested in a place that was waiting for them, like tiny pieces of a puzzle that found the space, or impression, that was carved exactly to fit the dimensions of the word. Then the words would snap together like little leggo pieces, forming sentences and paragraphs and concepts. And as they did, mini-explosions would occur, small releases of energy that made my mind and body zing.
My response to the rabbi’s words was so absolute, so visceral, that my mind had no chance to speak. Questions, analysis, challenge—they all seemed irrelevant. There was simply a complete acceptance, an “aha” experience—a moment when somehow, magically, you just “get it,” when all the contradictory parts of yourself somehow find a point of unity that until that moment seemed impossible.
My comprehension grew to such depth that I both understood what was being spoken and simultaneously felt completely understood. I rarely spoke, yet I felt completely heard. Though the concepts were new and the language strange, the words reflected back something that I seemed to have always known, yet never knew I knew. Without my having to reveal who I was, the words described me to a “T.” The result was a sense of melding into a greater consciousness, a feeling that I both possessed an individuality and, at a deeper level, had no individuality at all. The words penetrated to a juncture in my personality that was absolutely impersonal, and at the same time so profoundly personal that my heart grew warm as I listened and tears often welled in my eyes.
The Midrash tells us that when G-d spoke the Ten Commandments at Sinai, there was no echo to the divine voice. The Rebbe explains that this was because there was no resistance to His words. The Ten Commandments penetrated so completely into every crevice of creation that there was no surface off which the words could bounce to create an echo.
In my own small way, I felt the Al-mighty’s words enter me in just such a manner during those Tuesday afternoon sessions. It was as if the Almighty had come down and more or less stuffed truth and revelation inside of me. It seemed that He had simply bypassed all my barriers—my clogged ears, my cynical, defensive mind—and jammed His jewels right into my heart.
There were no echoes in that little green room.
Later, after I left the little green room and returned to my “normal” state of mind, I would ponder the words and concepts I had heard there. I would review what I had learned with my intellectual faculties back in tact. But something in my thought-process had changed. Previously, I had approached all new ideas and information with a certain degree of skepticism and cynicism. I learned with a “prove it to me” attitude that I had developed from years of having been surrounded by empty words and false revelations, and having read so many books filled with delusional journeys of personal discovery.
But now, I opened the books with one simple goal: to better understand. The truth of what was being said was not in question. The only challenge was to better understand the truth, to let it further penetrate my being, and to find the courage to transform my life in accordance with it.
I know now that hearing G-d’s words so unconditionally was a rare gift—a momentary show of divine kindness. Like many others before and after me, I received during these two or so years what Chassidic teaching calls “an awakening from Above.” The Al-mighty had given me a glimpse—fleeting yet profound—into a treasure chest that was mine. But following this “awakening” came the demand for my own toil. The treasure chest was filled with the most sublime knowledge and understanding—but ultimately I would have to work to possess it.
In rousing me with this “awakening from Above,” G-d had slipped around and over my cynicism, my distrust, and all the contrary attitudes, values and judgments that had formed during my life. But He was not satisfied. He was demanding that I now go back and consciously refine each of these. It was now up to me to ensure that the light He had set shining so brilliantly within me would be used to illuminate every remaining pocket of darkness.
And so, I began to hear His words echo off the many layers that made up the totality of the self I had become.
After having heard without echoes, these echoes are now unmistakable. Like a trumpet, each echo has become a call to action; like a beacon, each echo illuminates an area of my life requiring transformation; like a signpost, each echo indicates another pathway to my inner soul. In the softest whisper, each echo bounces off a doorway to the place within me where I have always heard without echoes, where the treasure has always been mine.
The Week in Review is adapted from the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe by Yanki Tauber