May 21, 2018 – Rabbi Chai Levy

On Shavuot, we re-lived the receiving of Torah at Mount Sinai. One of the texts we learned together was a Hasidic teaching about always listening for the voice of God speaking to us. The idea is that revelation is not just a one-time event that happened thousands of years ago, nor is it an unattainable experience that only happens on mountain-tops or in the desert. Rather, the Hasidic approach of Jewish mysticism is that the voice of God is always present, waiting for us to hear it.

This notion is also found in Mussar practice, that is, the Jewish path of personal growth and character development. Mussar teachings suggest that the first step of growth is called Hitlamdut. The word Hitlamdut is the reflexive form of the Hebrew verb “to learn,” so it means to learn and grow from all situations. Before working on any middot, or personal character traits, Mussar teaches that Hitlamdut is the first practice that underlies all Mussar work; it’s approaching life from the stance of: what can I learn from this experience? Or to use the language of revelation: What is God’s voice saying to me in this experience?

In Pirkei Avot, Ben Zoma says: “Who is wise? One who learns from every person, as it says, ‘From all my students I gained wisdom.’” Every interaction, every conversation, every experience is an opportunity for self-reflection, personal growth, and learning Torah. The Rambam, in his laws of Torah study, says that Hitlamdut is the essence of Torah learning. How might we learn Torah in everyday moments and conversations? How might we gain wisdom, as Ben Zoma says, by learning from every person? How might we receive revelation by listening for the voice of God in each experience?

 

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