News Highlights Kavanah for the First Day of School
Hi I’m Eliana Willis. I’m in Shanah Hey. Gita asked me to share a kavana for the year ahead, and suggested I share something I learned while in Jerusalem this past year. There was in fact one teaching that I really took to heart. It comes from the Piascezner Rebbe, Kalonymus Kalmish Shapira from his book Bnei Machshava Tovah, which I learned from Yiscah Smith at Pardes.
He writes: “Human beings have a multitude of feelings. They move within us like thin and trickling streams. When we open them and draw them to capacity, they flow like a mighty river or a brook, whose waters never cease. But if we fail to widen them, they pass as if they never were created.”
The Piascezner Rebbe sees the human capacity for emotion as intertwined with our ability to perceive and connect with God. Our feelings, he says, “are a tentative probing of the soul”, which desires to be understood. The more we can tune into and understand our own feelings, our own soul, the greater our awareness of the Divine Presence.
He continues: “Now, if this is your goal, you must distance yourself from rushing. Harchek, harchek, harchek min hamehirut. Distance, distance, distance yourself from rushing. Ki ein hamahir mitbonen. For one who is rushing does not contemplate.”
When we are rushing, we are focused only on where we are going and not on where we are. We are consumed with arriving, and missing out on where we are in the moment. Missing the messages our soul may be sending, the questions she is asking as she seeks to be known.
Now, at the beginning of the school year, we are full of plans and To-dos. We have class schedules and internship contracts and goals for our learning. We have an idea of the rabbi or cantor that we want to become. And the default, let’s be honest, is to rush — between the many commitments that we have. Even rushing through the years, in those moments when we get ahead of ourselves with plans and concerns far in the future.
Many times since learning this teaching, I caught myself in the act of rushing and remembered to slow down. Once I slowed down, I found in that that empty space awareness, creativity, and play.
So this is my kavana for the new year, which I offer to all of us. This distancing from rushing can be proactive, by planning extra travel or transition time, building in time for rest and reflection during the week, and for those who work on shabbat, scheduling some shabbatot to just not lead anything. And this slowing down can happen in the moment — when we find ourselves rushing or consumed with future plans, we can remember the rebbe’s caution and the soul’s invitation.
And I want to add another layer, which is the connections we have with each other. In seeking awareness of the Divine, I cannot overstate how much I have learned and felt in relationship with my classmates and teachers. It feels especially significant to acknowledge that as my cohort begins Shana Hey, and as today we welcome new students into our community, each of you with full journeys ahead of you. Let’s take the time to get to know and honor one another, as each of our souls yearns to be recognized and understood.
May we be blessed with the time, space, and curiosity for contemplation. May we each find our own pace and rhythm. And may our connections with each other, Hashem, and our own souls only grow and deepen.
Eliana Willis is a student at Hebrew College’s Rabbinical School in Newton, MA. Learn more about Hebrew College’s rabbinical and cantorial programs at Ta Sh’ma (Come & Hear), our November Open Houses (in-person & virtual options).