Rachel’s Tomb (1912)
By Yonatan Gordon
Today, 11 Cheshvan, is the yahrzeit of Mother Rachel and a day which in recent years has also been called, Jewish Mothers Day. It is the mother (אֵם) or 41st day of the year (אֵם = 41), but in additional to this numerical equivalence, it is also a day to focus on building our true and innate Jewish nature.
What does it mean to build Jewish nature?
To explain, I thought to begin with a story. Recently on several Chabad websites a video was posted of a male Torah student doing Jewish outreach on Rosh Hashanah. The video was taken by a Jewish, but presumably not yet observant person, who agreed to listen to the student’s shofar blasts on one condition–that he perform the requisite blasts while jogging along with him.
Now blowing a shofar under stationary circumstances it is no easy feat, let alone while in motion… two tasks that require air! But perform these blasts he did… loudly and clearly to the complete surprise of this fellow Jew.
I brought this story for two reasons. The first is that part of building Jewish nature is to be sensitive to Divine Providence. So if you see a good story, keep it in mind until the opportunity arises to share it with others. The other reason was because this is a classic example of what is means to build Jewish nature. Even if such a feat is physically possible, it is hard to imagine someone thinking ahead of time that they could accomplish such a thing. Yet when put to the test, this is exactly what happened.
What is Jewish psychology?
This brings us to the topic of Jewish psychology. What is the Jewish approach to the psyche? First, what it is not is feeling energized in the morning. For this, maybe some juiced wheatgrass would do the job. It is also not about accomplishing great things in life… King David planned and pined to build the Holy Temple in Jerusalem but while God said it was a good vision, it was not in the end for him to complete. It was his son King Solomon who built the temple.
So if Jewish psychology is not about feeling energized in the morning, and not necessarily about completing the tasks for it is God who decides whether even our good visions will manifest in the world, then what is Jewish psychology about?
There is a three-year program called the Torat Hanefesh school of Jewish psychology that slowly and methodically attempts to answer this very question. The answer that I thought to give for this article is according to an introductory class given by Rabbi Moshe Genuth to his course “Faith and Confidence.”
Now this course is already part of the second year of the program. And while people are still encouraged to register, the first year dealt with rectifying the ego, to begin to learn how to do things for God and not for ourselves. For instance, if “Jewish” programs come your way that want you to walk away successful or feeling fulfilled, these are advertisements to appeal to your ego or animal soul, not your Divine soul.
As Rabbi Genuth explains, the ego is a limited resource. And while it wants to constantly be fed, there is no way to leave satisfied through placating the ego because the infinite Divine soul within us is not satisfied. Thus if you want to see who you really are, to see what your potential and purpose is in this world, don’t look at the self image that your ego has created. Instead, associate with your Divine soul. This is what is meant by accessing your true “Jewish nature.” As in the example of this boy spontaneously acting to help a fellow Jew perform a mitzvah, revealing our true “Jewish nature” first comes from a willingness to take initiative and act for the betterment of those around us.
The month of Cheshvan in general, and 11 Cheshvan in particular, are times to reflect and connect to our true Jewish nature. To connect to our true “superhero” identities, which means to act according to our Divine souls, thus revealing our infinite potential within.
Through her powerful faith in the eventual return of her children to God and their homeland, Mother Rachel brings her children closer together. But in addition to a physical return, within the borders of the Land of Israel, as was explained above, the return is also a spiritual and psychological one. To return to our true identity and our true Jewish nature.