Rav Daniel Kohn (left) and Eli Schwebel

Lessons From The Melting Pot

Eli: Wow, what an amazing view! Where are you, Rebbe?

Rav Daniel: On a rooftop in Tzfat. I just finished leading a four-day meditation retreat in the hills nearby…

Eli: What was that about?

Rav Daniel: Singing, connecting to our inner voice, great davening, music, chanting, practices for becoming more loving, aware, giving … and some really good connections between people that, be’H, are going to last! Now I’m here in Tzfat with another group for Shabbat.

Eli: Good luck with that, Rebbe. Last time I was really touched by the idea of wearing “tiferet” on my head. Something about it being a multicolored beauty hit me. It seems to me that there’s something that is two-way about this: we are able to influence others for the better because we have something very expansive and multifaceted about us as Jews. But the other direction is true, too: our being among the non-Jews has had a lot of impact on us.

Rav Daniel: Absolutely. Galut is not just a punishment; it’s a gilui, a discovery. It’s so amazing … at this retreat (like most things in Israel) I was with men and women whose ancestors are from Yemen, Morocco, the U.S., Russia, Lita, and more. We’re really a Technicolor people! We have come back to the Land impacted by where we’ve been—talking, looking, thinking, singing differently from one another. Our People has discovered its universal interconnectedness and yet, “ozer Yisrael b’gevurah,” has stayed girded and strong with its unique identity.

Galut made it possible for us to become a guide and light to the nations by both giving them so much and also by incorporating cultures and languages into our People in a way that—when we have deep clarity of what Torah is—makes us grow, become more expansive in our vision, and discover the hidden teachings in our Torah we wouldn’t have seen had we stayed back home. “Oter Yisrael b’tifarah” blesses Hashem for our consciousness as able to include and be enlightened by and enlighten others in a way in which we’re really able to assimilate all these colors without losing who we are.

Eli: Rebbe, maybe give us an example of how we Americans have done this. I know this is a big subject … but maybe just grab something you think matters to us, people listening right now.

Rav Daniel: I’m glad you limited me to that “grab something” because there’s a lot. But as for right now on Instagram, I’d say there’s something about America that is about enjoying and taking pleasure which lightened us up. I don’t think any culture knows more about having good old plain fun like America. There’s a certain playful, childish lightheartedness unique to America. You can see it when you watch people from other countries (let alone Israelis!) trying to have “fun” at Disney World. Umm, doesn’t exactly go. Hebrew doesn’t even have a word for “fun!” (In Ivrit we say “keif,” but that’s actually Arabic…) The pursuit of happiness runs deep in the U.S. Declaration. Yet, these are very positive things which can be shallow and silly … or they can lead to spiritual joy and ecstatic love of life and Hashem. They can lead to conversations like ours, they can lead to music like Shlomo Carlebach’s, and creative worlds that only open up when, well, you’re having fun! Maybe this isn’t the most important thing, but owning it can help people get back to a more openhearted and simple simcha and, more deeply, the oneg-pleasure which begins playful but becomes Divine when it’s in its higher realms.

Sitting here in Tzfat, coming off a meditation retreat which has so much to do with contacting the holy pleasure and vitality that we miss when we rush through life … it’s no wonder it’s an American rav teaching Israelis to do this…

Eli: Actually, Rebbe you’re speaking right on for me. That’s what I’m looking, that’s what we’re all looking to you for, to take us out of that American pleasure-seeking and into the space of oneg in an open heart and holy space where we can engage with everyone, with those eyes and that mind. And I think that’s what all of the people who are watching … this is what you’re doing for them. For us, and for me. Have a great Shabbos.

Please look out for more transcribed installments of Siddur Alive, and continue to follow @ HYPERLINK “https://www.instagram.com/elischwebel/” EliSchwebel on Instagram to see them in engaging video format.

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