Universality of (Many of) the Teachings of Hasidism

I feel extremely lucky and privileged to have been able to "discover" Hasidism and start studying its teachings at Torat Hanefesh in Jerusalem. I have to confess that I had all kinds of prejudice against Hasidism, especially because I used to hang around among the-called "misnagdim", studying at one yeshiva of theirs in Jerusalem.

I came to this school through a chain of "chance" encounters and incidents dating back to November 2017, the most important of which is my encounter with the book הנפש - also available in English translation as Anatomy of the Soul - by Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh, the dean of this amazing school, through a course in Jewish life coaching I took between December 2017 and February 2018 in Jerusalem. In parallel with my continued study of Jewish life coaching I took a basic course at this school between November 2018 and June 2019 and studied Jewish psychology based on the teachings of Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Hasidism, and Chabad Hasidism.

My original plan was to taste Hasidism for one academic year, but the more I studied it not only formally at this school but also privately in my free time, the more fascinated I became with its teachings, one of the most important of which is the innerness of our psyche as reflected in the Torah, the more keenly I came to feel I don't know enough and I want to study more. My next plan was to continue studying another year, until I attended a half-day intensive course organized by this school yesterday and decided to spend two more years to complete its three-year program of this Jewish psychology.

Compared to it, both the conventional psychology and the so-called academic study of the Torah really pale as sources of life wisdom and spiritual growth. I've also come to realize that many of its teachings have a universal appeal, that is, not only for Hasidim and other frum Jews but also for secular Jews and even non-Jews. Rabbi Ginsburgh himself wrote an online article and gave a long lecture on what he calls the "fourth revolution n Torah learning"

Both this specific teaching of his and the universal teachings of Hasidism can be incorporated very nicely into my new practice of Jewish life coaching for speakers of Japanese. It's my new - and probably my most daring - life mission to bring the light of Hasidism to the Japanese and transform their inner darkness into light.

PS: The uniqueness of this school is, among others, that it has systematized the teachings of Hasidism that are scattered in various books, using a modern language.


Practical End of Academic Life as a Professional Linguist-Shminguist

The first year of my two-year sabbatical is coming to an end soon at the end of this month. Since its second year is, to be more precise, special leave (with basic salary but no research budget) rather than sabbatical (with full salary and research budget), and I'll be exempt from not only teaching but also research, my academic life as a professional linguist-shminguist is also coming to an end to all intents and purposes.

By sheer chance I finally got certified as a professional life coach this week by both the school where I studied Jewish life coaching for one year on Sunday evenings from last July to this June and one American association of professional coaches, and I had my last academic writing published last week - a chapter on Modern Hebrew (PDF download) I had been invited to contribute to the Cambridge World History of Lexicography. I'm glad that my last academic publication is in the area of lexicography, which is what has mainly occupied me professionally in the past several years.

So together with the fact that we are approaching the Jewish New Year, this seems to be the perfect time to reflect upon my academic life, especially its last period, that ultimately started when I decided to become a Hebrew linguist at the age of 19 and whose days are practically numbered.

When I started learning Hebrew by myself at the age of 19 back in Japan, I didn't even dream of becoming a tenured lecturer in Hebrew linguistics at an Israeli university. And when I finally received this coveted position and then even tenure, I dreamed even less of leaving academia of my own free will. But not only the internal "noise" inside myself but also various external signs became louder and louder, until I couldn't silence and ignore them any more. After all, the most difficult person to cheat is ourselves.

But on the other hand, the fear of uncertaity outside academia was overwhelming. If it had not been for one "dark night of the soul", I might not have been courageous enough to decide to leave this "comfort zone" of mine. This decisive life experience was my divorce, which came as a total shock when it was initiated by the other party involved. But in retrospect it has turned out to be a blessing in disguise not because I wanted to get divorced after such a short period of married life I had dreamed of but because it has cracked open the shells of my ego.

This has lead me to new discoveries and understandings about myself, which have been intensified through the formal study of Chabad Hasidism on this sabbatical. I've come to find less and less significance in academic life, which is after all nothing but the rat race, and linguistics, which studies language and languages, which in turn have come to seem less and less appealing to me as they belong to a more shallow layer of our human psyche and are both limited and limiting tools. I've also realized that there is a vast hidden world that far transcends our mind which is mainly served by language.

Though I started studying Chabad Hasidism to complement my new practice of Jewish life coaching, it has come to fascinate me in itself. Its teachings are far deeper than I imagined out of my utter ignorance. The following passage by one of my teachers and his teacher can also epitomize my decision to get "divorced" from academia:

"The mistake of the modern academic approach to the Torah is that it places its trust in human reason (i.e., deductive reasoning based upon axioms created by humans) above its trust in the Divine origin of the Torah, the infinite wisdom of the Creator which supersedes the logic of finite human reasoning. This mistake is what turns the Torah into just another field of human study, on par with all other fields of inquiry. The end-result is that mistaken generalizations (fostered by an egotistic certainty in one's logical abilities), which contradict the Torah, come to taint one's outlook on the Torah and one's ability to experience it as the source of life: the Tree of Life."


Sensitive Egoic "Button"

In spite of my intensive inner work to tame my ego for the past few years there still remains at least one sensitive egoic "button" inside me - every time someone applies their egoic mental filter based on their stereotypes, my ego still reacts emotionally though not in such a destructive manner as it used to.

I - I don't know exactly what I mean by "I" (and this loop goes on endlessly) - am getting more and more aware and convinced that most (or even all?) identities we are given at birth or acquire by ourselves are nothing but illusions of our individual and collective egos.

So I don't understand why I have to be bothered when someone categorizes me egoically by picking up one of these illusionary identities they ascribe to me and what part of me is bothered in the first place. But what bothers me most is that I'm bothered by this.

As a kind of precautionary measure I've started introducing "myself", if at all, as a divine being that is temporarily renting this specific body. Then most people look at "me" as if I were suffering from some mental problem. "I" haven't met few people who can focus on the presence of "other" beings.

"I" don't know how "I" have been successful in explaining verbally "my" innermost feeling. You may also think "I" am weird.