Monday, April 4, 2011

Rabbi Nissim Teaches

I - Visiting Brooklyn

In spring time 2001, Rabbi Nissim came to Brooklyn, NY from B'nei B'rak, Israel for medical treatment discreetly administered by a local Jewish organization, specializing in health care. Though his own intention was to visit the United States for healing, the Creator had another intention as well. What he did not anticipate was that his situation was going to bring him to a place in desperate need of a professional Kabbalah teacher - to teach the basic foundations.

Jewish Brooklyn at the time had a loosely organized "underground" of men who studied Kabbalah. They had no set place to meet. One night they'd meet in one synagogue and the next night in another. Often enough, the knowledge of the teachers far outpaced their teaching skills. They were not trained in how to properly present the material, even though they were often familiar with very advanced concepts. Consequently in their loving efforts designed to help their students grow, they often taught them concepts too far beyond their level.

Truthfully, there were some students who absorbed the material well in this setting. However, this was not the case for everyone who was trying to study Kabbalah. They were encountering challenges that could have been smoothed away with a more polished teaching style.

In response to this need, Rabbi Nissim gathered us into a Syrian synagogue on Ocean Parkway. A large room in the synagogue was set aside as his classroom. There, he thundered away for three hours a night, all summer long - from Sunday night through Thursday night. Truthfully, he should have been much too weak to teach. After all, he was undergoing a serious medical treatment. Yet, he behaved like a youthful lion on fire! His consistent energy level and constantly animated expression were amazing !

He taught us a modern abridged version of an older Kabbalistic classic. Over July and August, he completed this abridged version with us. By the end of summer, concurrently with completing the book, his healing session was also complete. During the final class, he urged us to organize as a group and build on the foundations he provided.

Throughout his classes, I was always fascinated with his charming style of delivery. His unique charm seemed to transcend the topic. For instance, there was a youth in the community who was suffering from Down syndrome. Rabbi Nissim invited him to sit right beside him each night for the three hour lecture. The youth clearly was not able to understand the teachings. Yet, he seemed just as fascinated as everyone else who did. His face lit up with interest. Sometimes, he even imitated Rabbi Nissim's gestures and expressions with glee. 

For the past ten years I wondered, "What is the secret of Rabbi Nissim's charmingly animated expression?"

II - The "How" ?

Just recently, I had the opportunity to watch Rabbi Nissim teach on video. Soon after watching, a spark of insight flashed within my mind.  It occurred to me that just like the Torah scroll is read with a standard ritual intonation designed to reflect the gestures and expressions that are intended to accompany the words, so too, all Torah teachings share in this quality as well. Judaism's teachings are designed to be communicated with full bodied expression - not just words. This might be the reason why in ancient times a significant part of Judaism's teachings were kept oral, not committed to writing. This allowed disciples to absorb not only "what" the master said, but "how" the master said.

The "how" includes the entire range of non-verbal communication: tone of voice, rhythm of voice, facial expressions, motions, posture, gestures, body language, etc. Together, all these factors animate words, providing them with an expanded context - more dimensions. Sometimes, more can be said with a facial expression or a hand signal than with an entire sentence.

Kabbalah teaches that the Torah, both written and oral, is not just an intellectual subject, but rather a living spiritual stream of divine will and wisdom. This stream flows downward through each and every spiritual realm, finally reaching down to people who study Torah with proper purity, selflessly.

To the extent a person studies selflessly, there is an absence of internal blockages, allowing the stream of Torah to freely flow through the entire person.  When such a person teaches others, it is evident that the person isn't simply a "talking head". S/he comes across fully animated! The living stream of Torah continues her flowing course through the person's every communicative faculty - rhythm of voice, tone of voice, facial expressions, eyes, hands, feet, motions, body language, etc.

Therefore, when Rabbi Nissim teaches, his whole being channels the flow the Torah. She not only comes pouring out of his mouth, but from his whole being. So even people who do not necessarily understand his words, somehow feel reached when he communicates. This explains why the Down syndrome youth was not bored at all. Actually, he was very fascinated for an entire stretch of three hours, five nights a week.

Also, this explains how Rabbi Nissim had such strength to teach in the midst of illness. The strength he did not have
naturally on his own was given to him by the living stream of Torah, as she flowed her healing waters into every fiber of his being. The Torah herself became his strength and healing.

III - Going Deeper

Kabbalah teaches that the Creator interacts with everything through ten modes of divine expression. They are known as the "ten sefirot". They are: crown, wisdom, understanding, kindness, restraint, compassion, dominance, submission, connection and final outcome.

They are cosmically powerful. The Creator used them to create the universes. The ten sefirot simultaneously became the guiding model, crafting tool and the building blocks of creation. Every detail of creation is modeled on the ten sefirot, crafted with the ten sefirot and as a final outcome becomes its own set of ten sefirot.

In a very general sense, the first entity designed on the model of ten sefirot is the Torah. By contrast, the very last entity to be created with the ten sefirot is mankind. Beginnings and ends have a special relationship, since the end is the very goal the beginning was striving for. Consequently, even if they are at opposite poles from each other, surprisingly they share very close relationship with each other.

If a human being attains a heightened state of spiritual purity, s/he channels the Torah's stream of ten sefirot through his or her own set of ten sefirot, in perfect alignment. For example, the Torah's wisdom can stream through person's wisdom and the Torah's compassion can flow through the human's own compassion. As the Torah's ten sefirot flow through a person's ten sefirot, s/he literally becomes a living Torah - continuous with the stream of Torah. In this state the Torah speaks through the entire person, every inch flows forth Torah.

Probably, this is what occurs when Rabbi Nissim teaches, his own ten sefirot align with the Torah's ten sefirot. Without a trace of blockage, the living stream of Torah just gush forth from his full being, animating him on a level where he almost automatically communicates the Torah's love and message on multiple levels - not just from his mouth ! Therefore, even those who don't understand him verbally, still pickup on Torah vibes flowing through him. What a privilege it is to be such a human being!


1 comment:

  1. A video of Rabbi Nissim:

    I hope this link works.