Torah Study for the Soul
“The process of havruta study is… to uncover the truth of our experience and renew our inner lives.”
Torah is the foundation of Jewish life, and the study of Torah has been the energizing force of Jewish spirituality. Whatever else we might teach our participants to help them wake up and experience the presence of God in their lives, the core of our teachings is Torah.
Our approach to text study is to address the needs of seekers for teachings that connect text to experience, that offer the esoteric in an accessible and meaningful manner. That is why we access Torah through those texts that emerged from the Jewish mystical tradition.
The Institute continues a spirit of neo-Hasidism which began to grow in Europe at the turn of the twentieth century and which now has substantial roots in America. In our study, we explore, renew and apply the riches of Jewish spiritual traditions, especially emphasizing the teachings of mysticism and classic Hasidic thought that relate to personal transformation and the ability to remain engaged in repairing the world.
What We Do
In all programs we engage in text study – in large sessions, small groups, and havruta pairs. It is through the study of Torah we come into contact with the source of our direct, awareness of God’s verbal relationship with the world. In turn, the study of Torah gives rise to commentary – other texts that expand, deepen, redirect, open up, invert, respond to and continue our sense of connection to God.
The texts we study are primarily from the Hasidic tradition, because we believe it supports contemplative study, and because it expresses a fundamental element of the spiritual orientation of the Institute. The nature of Hasidic spirituality points squarely toward developing a sustained awareness of God in one’s daily life. It leads us to become aware of the nature of awareness itself.
The texts challenge us to pay attention to the thoughts that arise in our hearts and minds, to notice our reactions, and to raise these thoughts as positive responses, connecting them to God; to perceive God even in them. We might then transform them from “our” thoughts and “our” responses into the flow of God’s intention in the world. This process, which could remain a curious intellectual idea on the page, is brought to life as a living practice through contemplative listening as text study.
What We Ask of our Participants
We invite our participants to use “contemplative listening” – to sit quietly and attend to their inner experience. As that awareness grows and deepens, we invite them to rest easily in the present moment. In this state they are able to hear and respond to the texts with an open, curious heart.
The capacity to simply be present to what is – without assessing, correcting or attempting to banish the uncomfortable or discordant – creates the context in which they will be more able to be present to other views, ideas and responses. They will be able to hear a new teaching emerging, true in this moment, without having to first place it in a predefined framework.
What the Practice Leads To
The goal of study is not only to know more of a body of literature, but to open our hearts and deepen our sense of how God is present in our lives. There is no right or wrong answer. The process of havruta study is not merely to uncover a “truth” in the text, or to innovate some “chiddush (innovative reading),” but to uncover the truth of our experience and renew our inner lives.
When taken together, the contemplative approach to text study and the texts that we have chosen to study support the development of our core values (conscious awareness of God’s presence; compassion; wisdom; love; openheartedness; justice), as well as other values that help to sustain these core values (humility; honesty; teshuvah; joy).