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Rav Judah Mischel: A Change in Progress

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SUMMARY

In this episode of the 18Forty Podcast, we talk to Rav Judah Mischel – executive director of Camp HASC and founder of Tzama Nafshi – about change and teshuva.

Change is one of the most difficult things in life. We often wish we could snap our fingers and choose to live differently, but change usually takes time. We can think of change as a journey rather than a destination.

  • How can one appreciate the process of change, the ride, as much as we appreciate the destination?
  • How can we navigate the waters between hoping for change and embracing ourselves as we are?

Tune in to hear a conversation on change and teshuva, today.

References:
Tzidkas HaTzadik by Rav Tzadok HaKohen MiLublin
Baderech: Along The Path of Teshuvah by Rav Judah Mischel
Peninei Halakha by Rav Eliezar Melamed

Rav Judah Mischel is the executive director of Camp HASC, the founder of Tzama Nafshi, and a widely beloved teacher and travel guide to the soul of Jewish life. Rav Judah’s new book, Baderech: Along the Path of Teshuva, is a poignant road map to the pathways of penitence, so check it out now. Rav Judah joins 18Forty to talk about change, authenticity, and what teshuva means to him.

David Bashevkin:

Hello, and welcome to the 18Forty podcast, where each month we explore a different topic, balancing modern sensibilities with traditional sensitivities, to give you new approaches to timeless, Jewish ideas. I’m your host, David Bashevkin, and this month we’re exploring change, or teshuva: how people transform and develop their personal religious identity. This podcast is part of a larger exploration of those big, juicy, Jewish ideas, so be sure to check out 18Forty.org – that’s 1-8-F-O-R-T-Y.org – where you can find videos, articles, and recommended readings.

When my friends all started getting married, and that happened a long time before I personally got married, I remember one of my friend’s wives, and I may be misremembering some of the details of the story, had a game where she played with her fellow friends in Stern College. I knew a lot of them, I probably dated some of them. And it was a color war where they divided their dormitory into two teams. One team was called the Flip Outs, and the other team was called the Gradual Growers. And they had all of these competitions, and all of these color-war-esque activities. And it always stayed with me, and I got such a kick out of their two color war team names.

One name was the Flip Outs. Those were the girls who, having grown up I guess in a regular modern Orthodox home, so to speak, flipped out, where they became much more religious and serious in their year in Israel. And the other team was the Gradual Growers. And the Gradual Growers maybe didn’t have these monumental epiphanies where they totally transformed their life and what it was about, but it was, as the name suggests, gradual growth, where slowly but surely, their identity slowly began to develop and mature in different ways.

I don’t remember which team my friend’s wife was on, though I could probably guess, but I’ve always thought of these two teams, because I think in the way that we think about change, teshuva, growth, the way that we reflect on our own religious lives, very often we divide ourselves into these two teams. I know particularly in my work in NCSY there are a lot of people who cast on themselves and their own story this flip out narrative. There’s this moment, whether it’s on a shabbaton, or whether it’s a summer spent in a camp, where they so to speak can flip out. They change completely who they are, and their identity, and their commitments, and their values. And it can really be quite beautiful, and quite amazing. It can sometimes be a little quick. But very often, it’s really these monumental moments that people reflect and try to think differently about, what are the priorities in their own lives.

And I think there are other people who are more gradual growers. I know my next-door neighbor, not anymore, when we first moved into Teaneck, the person who lived right next door to me would give these classes Shabbos morning that were very involved in Gemara and Chumash. He was an unbelievable person. I can mention his name, George Sulfin. Really, one of the most special, unbelievable people. He just published a really remarkable Hebrew sefer that you could please reach out if you want it.

And I remember, he would always tell me that it happened very gradually for him. He didn’t, I don’t even know if he went to Israel. He didn’t have this amazing experience in Israel. He’s just a regular person, and slowly but surely, over the years, different bumps along the road, totally reinvented his priorities and the way that he lives his life. And he’s the kind of person… And I’ve seen him on the bus. He’s learning Eruvin, or some serious masechta, every free moment that he has. And that growth did not happen overnight. He said it had happened over many, many years.

And as a model, and the way that we think about the trajectory of our own lives, I think very often we don’t really fit neatly into either category. I think that even people who may self-identify as flip outs and say it was that one moment that totally changed their lives – I have sisters who probably would be described that way. They went to Israel for the year, they went a second year, and they never came back. They made aliyah and they live there, and they kind of embraced the Israeli Haredi culture. I think people may think of them as flip outs, and we kind of use that term somewhat derisively, which I don’t like. But we use that term in a way, it obviously comes back, as I wrote in the opening essay, from that famous Blue Fringe song, Flippin’ Out, which I’m sure some of you remember.

I’m sure that song brings up a lot of memories, and it definitely caused quite a stir when it came out. And I think it began this culture of using “flipping out” as a little bit of a derisive term, which I don’t particularly like. I think there’s something beautiful about religious change, religious growth, oscillation one way or the other. But to my mind, this binary of team flip out versus team gradual growth is very much not true in our lived experience. I think even people who are on team flip out, if you ever want a good color war team, or on the team of gradual growth, I think we have moments in our lives where we embody both. I think about and reflect in my own life. Did I ever flip out? Am I a gradual grower? I am not sure which one. There were definitely moments when I made very serious, drastic changes in my life. I decided, after my two years in Sha’alvim in Israel, that instead of, like most of my friends, continuing on to college, mostly Yeshiva University, or Queens, Touro, wherever everybody was going, I decided to go to Ner Yisroel.

Looking back, I have a hard time pinpointing a moment when I made that commitment, though I have no doubt that there were moments, over that year, where I decided to chart a different path for myself. And looking back at my experience in Ner Yisroel, I’m trying to figure out, was there these major moments? I think there were. I think there were moments of, so to speak, flipping out, moments where I felt such clarity. Probably where my mind goes is those Friday nights that I would have in the home of my rebbe, Rav Ezra Neuberger. And he would talk about self understanding and self knowledge, a topic that he would come back to very often, particularly this time of year, around Elul. He would talk about ani, capital T, ani being the I, your sense of self, and what role that plays in your religious development.

I remember being entranced. I still pause. It’s hard for me to speak about because it had such an incredible religious impact on me, those moments sitting in his dining room, singing together. And then he would come in and talk about what it means to be alive, what it means to be an individual, what it means to be a person. But at the same time, looking at my life trajectory, if I were to map it out like a stock market, ups and downs, I’m not sure that there’s a very clear trajectory of these moments that I can pinpoint that make up who I am today. There certainly is a gradual growth throughout the entire process.

And I think even that imagery of charting out your own life, your own religious life – And you can talk about your religious life, the highs and lows. You can define that however you want. But I actually give this exercise to students in my class, where I ask them to chart out, usually beginning in 7th grade, because my students are in college, so I want to give them a runway. And whatever your definition is of religious highs and religious lows, I’m not going to give them for you, chart out your religious life, like the way they measure volatility in the stock market. You have your X and Y-axis, and going over that period of time, chart out each year, each grade, seventh grade, eighth grade, ninth grade, going into college.

And for people who are in their 20s, 30s, 40s, chart it out each year and see. Does it go up? Does it go down? Did you flat-line some years? Does it stay pretty stagnant and consistent over a long period of time? And I think a narrative begins to emerge, especially when you see big changes, that kind of reflect people’s life. But overall, if you zoom out enough, I think that we have moments where we, so to speak, have these transformational experiences, where we proverbially flip out. And at the same time, we also have gradual growth, gradual descent, moving in all sorts of directions.

And I think that both of these models are obviously true in our own lives. I always come back to the thinker who’s animated so much of the way I think about Jewish life, and that is Rav Tzadok HaKohen MiLublin, the great 19th century Hasidic leader, who himself went through a drastic change. He was not raised in a Hasidic home, and he became Hasidic later on in life after his marriage fell apart, and he’s wandering throughout Europe alone by himself. He stumbles into this Beis Midrash of Izhbitz, which was led by the Rebbe of Izhbitz, Reb Mordechai Yosef Leiner. And he stumbles into this Beis Midrash. He was this recognized genius throughout Europe. It’s not just stories that we have. We actually have his bar mitzvah drasha. We have his writings. He was a bona fide genius. And he stumbles onto this Hasidic court.

And in that moment, he was so moved and so brokenhearted, I guess feeling like he didn’t have a path forward with how he was raised and how he was brought up, that he decided to join this Hasidic school of Izhbitz. And in the first Hasidic work that he ever published, which is called Tzidkas HaTzadik, the very first paragraph talks about change itself. Rav Tzadok begins, this very first paragraph in his very first work following his transformation to Chassidus, he begins, “reishis kenisas ha’adam,” the initial entry point of every individual, “la’avodas Hashem,” to the service of God, “tzarich lihiyos bechipazon,” it’s going to be quick. You’re going to so to speak flip out, you have to have that moment of commitment and inspiration where you’re ready to make serious changes and reprioritize some of your values. But then later on, Rav Tzadok writes in that very same paragraph, he says, “ve’achar kach,” and afterwards, “shuv yelech bemesinas velat,” afterwards, you have to walk slowly, carefully, deliberately, and have that gradual growth. You need both jerseys in this life.

And it’s probably no accident, and I’ve mentioned this many, many times, that this Hasidic court that animated Rebbe Tzadok, this personality, this transformative personality in his own life and in my own life, the school of Izhbitz that he connected to began, of course, in the year 1839-1840, which is why we have the name that we do, among other reasons that we’re not going to get into right now.

But this notion of thinking about your life, both as these flash points, these very volatile moments where you really reprioritize and reorganize your life, and then this gradual larger trajectory, I think is very valuable in thinking about the mechanics of change. How do people evolve their own lives? And I think very often we get stuck in the models of change that we’re exposed to in our late teens and early twenties, very much in Yeshiva, where the purity of ideology of commitment that we’re exposed to in those early years, whether it’s in Yeshiva, or seminary, or high school, or whoever those teachers are, we have these role models who we want to embody, and we’re looking at from that distance. And we want to become them. We want to embody their values and their commitment. Maybe it’s a parent. I know in my life, it very much was a parent.

I’ve always looked at my parents, the instinctive, prayerful soul that my mother has, the creativity, and my father is so regimented. I mean, the way he’s able to bounce out of bed at 4:00 AM to go study in Yeshiva, and he’s now in his seventies, and he’s still able. He’s retired already since January. He’s able to wake up at 4:00 AM. And my entire life, my number one struggle is getting out of bed. I’ve never in my entire life, I don’t think, have voluntarily woken up at 4:00 AM. I’ve gone to sleep at 4:00 AM. I’ve never woken up at 4:00 AM. I don’t have that as part of my constitution. But I’ve always had that as an image of what I’ve wanted to become.

And so many periods in my life I’ve said, okay, starting now. But it doesn’t start. Okay, starting now. And you come back after these transformational experiences hoping that your life is going to reorganize onto this conception, this ideal that you have, and you try to reorganize. Starting now I’m going to be waking up at 6:00 AM. Starting now, I’m never going to, I don’t know, miss a davening. Starting now I’m going to learn consistently every day. Starting now I’m going to talk to people differently, treat people differently. Whatever your starting now moment is, as you’re probably holding onto and hoping that you can embody that transformational flipping out, that chipazon, that haste that Rav Tzadok talks about in that opening paragraph on transformational experiences. You want to start now, and you want your life to reorganize, but anybody who’s ever attempted that knows that that ideal that you hold up in your life rarely starts now just because you said starting now.

Most often, and certainly in my own life, you set up these goalposts, these signposts that you reach out to, and the very act of reaching out and losing grasp, and not being able to hold on and incorporate it into your life, is ultimately where the change comes from. In this ironic way, what changes us the most is probably our failure to dramatically change. What changes us the most is reaching out and trying to reorganize our lives, be something different, embody something different, falling short. And then when you fall back down to earth, you still feel a little bit different. You don’t go all the way back to that initial step where you are before you reached out. Very often that’s where the gradual growth comes in. It’s in that moment after trying to reach out and seize that ideal and bring it into your life in one fell swoop, in one clear moment, that now in the ashes and dust of that failure to change, you now look up, and unbeknownst to you, you’ve changed.

And I think very often of that great commencement speech that I constantly come back to from Conan O’Brien that he gave at Dartmouth college, after he was fired from the tonight show. And Conan addresses the audience of Dartmouth in talking about his failure to become his role models. He had spent his whole life waiting to take over the great, great tonight show. And after a few months, NBC, for a host of reasons that we can’t get into now, took it away from him. And he had this to say about our yearning, our aspirations to become something else and ultimately fail. This is what Conan O’Brien said:

Conan O’Brien:

Way back in the 1940s, there was a very, very funny man named Jack Benny. He was a giant star, easily one of the greatest comedians of his generation. And a much younger man named Johnny Carson wanted very much to be Jack Benny. In some ways he was, but in many ways he wasn’t. He emulated Jack Benny, but his own quirks and mannerisms, along with the changing medium, pulled him in a different direction. And yet, his failure to completely become his hero made him the funniest person of his generation. David Letterman wanted to be Johnny Carson and was not. And as a result, my generation of comedians wanted to be David Letterman. And none of us are. My peers and I have all missed that mark in a thousand different ways. But the point is this: it is our failure to become our perceived ideal that ultimately defines us and makes us unique. It’s not easy, but if you accept your misfortune and handle it right, your perceived failure can become a catalyst for profound reinvention.

David Bashevkin:

And that line that Conan O’Brien says is one of the most profound things I have ever heard. “It is our failure to become our perceived ideal that ultimately defines us and makes us unique.” It’s when we reach out and try to grasp something, whether it’s my father waking up at 4:00 AM, whether it’s that prayer instinct that my mother has, whether it’s the teachers that I had throughout my upbringing, throughout my educational system, throughout all the educators and role models and mentors that I’ve had in my life, I’ve ultimately failed to become any of them by a fairly wide margin. But I keep reaching out and trying to embody certain values in my life, and I more often than not fall short. But I think in that very exercise of reaching out and trying to change and then failing to embody that change, it is that failure to embody that perceived ideal, to paraphrase what Conan O’Brien said, that ultimately defines us and makes us unique. I think it’s in those meanwhile moments that we actually find that change. And that’s why I am so excited to talk about this topic with you this month. Obviously we’re headed into the high holidays, the yomim noraim, beginning with the month of introspection of Elul, moving into Rosh Hashanah, and finally culminating in Yom Kippur. And these are times where people are always reflecting on change and how to reorient their lives. And as you get older, I fear that very often, we become more cynical about this entire process.

I open up social media, and I’m probably guilty of this myself, 80% of the jokes are about Elul, and the way their memories of the intensity of these months. And as you get older, our capacity to even reach out and try, we become cynical. We don’t even want to do that. But I think if we reorient where change takes place, if we think differently and realize that in the very failure to change is often times the place where change emerges from, in being able to integrate flipping out and gradual growth together into one narrative and looking at our life as that oscillating narrative, that volatility of the stock market, that ultimately, if you zoom out wide enough, points upward, will give us a more sophisticated and authentic view of how change and religious growth actually takes place.

And I think we’ve assembled an absolutely incredible slate of people who have confronted change, transition, growth in their lives in very different ways. For some, it was as an educator, and they’ve had to change the way that they educate mid-life. For some it was going through change in a very public space with people rooting for you and having that added pressure to change. Other angles of change is the philosophy of change. What does it even mean to aspire, to become something that you don’t know what it is until you become it? And finally, I think there are stories of change that we’re going to discuss that are about change after brokenness, change after disappointment and change after deep, deep tragedy, and being able to hold on to a remnant of religious stability in your life, even following such tragedies involving your own religious role models that I find to be incredibly profound. And ultimately we’re going to culminate this month with a story that I’m sure many of our listeners are somewhat familiar with. Maybe they read the initial article when it came out. But that is the story of a rebbe who changed, somebody who was quite public as a Hasidic rebbe eventually left that world and finally came back.

I am so excited about this subject because it is a subject that I think about a great deal in my own life. How does change evolve? How does change work? Because everybody, no matter what their religious orientation, whether they’re coming in, whether they’re going, whether even they’re staying the same, everyone is intrigued or even enamored with the capacity to really transform your life, to begin living life in a way that you idealize, that you had hoped for. And I think that’s what we’re going to discuss this month, the mechanics, the complexity, the sophistication of real change in people’s lives. I am so excited about our first guest in this series, and it’s somebody who I am privileged to call an extraordinarily close friend. And that is Rav Judah Mischel. I want to say a little bit about Rav Judah, just in the introduction, because my relationship with Rav Judah really changed a great deal.

I think the first time I met Rav Judah was in those heavy years in my year in Israel, when I was so desperate to embody and become, have this religious awakening and embody this change and become this amazing, I don’t know what I wanted to become, an orator, a speaker, an influencer, all these things, and I was incredibly immature. And Rav Judah at this time, he didn’t teach in the yeshiva that I went to, but he was the in-house, I don’t know what you would call it, Dean of students of a nearby yeshiva. And I went to visit them for Shabbos to a dear friend, I think the very same friend whose wife participated in the flip out vs. gradual growers color war in college. And I went to visit this very close friend, and there was all this buzz and hoopla around the personality of Rav Judah.

He was and remains this larger than life personality. Walks into a room and just has this, I don’t know, this glow, this energy about him. And me, being immature and insecure and inadequate, I hated it. I hated everything about it. The way people idolized him, the way people spoke about him. It was probably jealousy, he’s older than me, but I was jealous. I was insecure. I felt like, oh, if everybody’s so excited about him, he must not be a person of serious substance.

I remember I went into that Shabbos, I think I got half drunk and started speaking at their Friday night kumzits. He was very kind and generous. But we had that first meeting and we did not keep in touch. I think I was probably one of those people scrolling in the background, going through the early days when he had a blog. And he just was one of the early people on Twitter, and probably reading through his stuff with the same stink-eye that I imagined some people read my stuff, who does this person think he is? Why are people so excited about him? He’s not so special. He’s not so great. And all that stink eye that, at least I know in my own life, emanates from my own feelings of insecurity. When you see somebody else embodying the characteristics that you want, very often it’s hard to develop a sincere relationship with that person.

That was all of my own ugliness that I think that I have, I hope, in some ways changed from. And in many ways in part of our conversation, Rav Judah has also changed. I don’t think that my estimation of him was accurate in any way whatsoever, but he, as you’ll explore in this conversation, also changed a great deal in the way that he approaches relationships and religious growth.

Many, many years later, I invited Rav Judah to speak at a conference called YouthCon, which NCSY had organized, and bringing in educators and people who work with teens. And we began speaking. I don’t think we became close after then either. I’m actually thinking now, I don’t really know when I think that second chapter in our relationship began, but at a certain point in my life, I started to realize that my religious focus, my inner religious life, was being addressed, and the person who really spoke to it with very few parallels was Rav Judah. I have begun to see Rav Judah as a rebbe of sorts, somebody who has the language, the knowledge, the graciousness, and the boundless support for wherever you are on your journey. And the conversation I constantly come back to with him, aside from my professional life, which we certainly speak about, is really my family life. And I owe an incredible debt of gratitude to Rav Judah.

I think this is a mantra that most people don’t know him for, but for me has been personally transformative in ways that I cannot even begin to describe, is re-orienting the focus of my religious life on my family. In looking at my home, in looking at those private, intimate moments with my family, with my wife, with my children, as really the center of my religious life. Instead of looking at family, and this very often, I was married a little bit later, so maybe I didn’t feel it as acutely, but very often, the obligations of your home can be seen as distractions from the real work of your religious life.

I think that what Rav Judah’s contribution in my life, which is really inestimable of how important it was, is literally grabbing a hold of my head – I mean, not literally – but grabbing a hold of my focus and pointing me inside, pointing me into the bayis, your home, and saying, “This is where it is taking place. This is the real thing. This is where it happens. This is where religious change, growth, development, this is the center.” And not looking outwards, and not looking at those big moments, but looking in the privacy of my own development in my own home, I think was one of the most seminal changes I’ve ever had in my own life. And I remain so deeply grateful for his friendship, for his guidance, and just for his love. And that’s what makes Rav Judah so special. And it’s especially special right now because as anybody who’s, if you’re opening up social media, if you’re paying attention to these things, Rav Judah just came out with a book called Baderech: Along The Path of Teshuvah, which is absolutely beautiful. “Baderech” means in process, and that’s really in many ways who Rav Judah is. Which is why even before, I didn’t know the book was going to come out exactly when this interview was scheduled, but Rav Judah’s bio, if you look him up on social media, he writes “a Jewish work-in-progress”. And that notion of working in progress, and being under development, and under construction as a Jew, somebody who is constantly assembling and reassembling their lives, is something that I don’t know if everyone appreciates how much Rav Judah embodies this, that long-term spiritual growth and the journey that we are on. And I think that what he’s done more than anything else is, he takes people by the hand and says, “Look, I don’t know where the road ends. I don’t know where it diverges and where all the hills may necessarily be. But I know that we’re on this together.”

And that’s a mantra that I hear over and over again from him and from others, from talmidim of his, from the community in many ways that he has created, which is the line of the Zohar where we say [inaudible], we depend on each other, we depend on friendship, we depend on one another. And there is a togetherness that Rav Judah embodies, the sense that it is not him on a lectern lecturing the crowd, telling them tips of what’s right and what’s wrong, but grabbing everyone together by the hand and saying, let’s walk together, let’s be in this together. We are in process, ultimately, together. And that is why I am so excited to introduce my dear friend, Rav Judah Mischel.

Rav Judah Mischel:

Hey David.

David Bashevkin:

I am so excited to talk with you. I really got this idea, this is, full disclosure, our second conversation that we’ve had for the 18Forty podcast. We didn’t release the first one, but it’s sitting there in the archives.

Rav Judah Mischel:

Collector’s item.

David Bashevkin:

It’s a collector’s item.

Rav Judah Mischel:

That’s off the menu.

David Bashevkin:

That’s off the menu. But what I wanted to talk about today is, we’re talking about rebuilding, and what it means to reinvent one’s religious identity, personal identity. Especially something that’s a central theme of Elul and teshuva and the high holidays, yomim noraim. And you’ve just published a book called On the Journey of Teshuva, Baderech, which distills so much of your protest. So I wanted to begin with your own history as a catalyst in people’s life.

Rav Judah Mischel:

I actually am glad that you mentioned it because it’s actually On the Path of Teshuva. And this is a big conversation with the editor and with the publishing company, because often, people looking for a book, I bet you have people looking for a fix, right? Everybody needs to fix something, everybody feels like it recognizes at one point or another in our lives that we’re not whole, and that we want to fill that gap and make amends, whether it’s a family, or friends, or with Hashem, or with ourselves. And the title was important to me because it is a journey, and it’s a process. And originally when the publisher suggested that it was a journey to teshuva, I said no, not really, because that implies that teshuva is a destination that you’re going to get to, that it’s something that you’re going to be able to accomplish, and it’s going to happen. As opposed to being an ever unfolding process of restoration, of growth, of searching, of coming and going, of ins and outs, and gutters and strikes, et cetera. So, it was important that the title represent what the approach is, that it’s a path, and that it’s something which is never ending. And it’s not something which we can just get through on the high holidays, or get through with some epiphany, or some seminar, or some experience, and then move on, and we’re good. We’re cool. I did teshuva, now I’m cool. But it’s specifically on the path of teshuva.

David Bashevkin:

So that’s what I’m so intrigued by, because I think you really model this with the way you talk to your students, and that itself has evolved, which I hope we’ll get to. But I wanted to begin by talking about the different populations that you’ve connected with. When you began as an educator in a high school, I think in Frisch?

Rav Judah Mischel:

Yeah.

David Bashevkin:

In Frisch. And then you spent many years in a yeshiva, with family, who run the yeshiva, Reishit Yerushalayim, your brothers in law are still there, and you spent 10 years there?

Rav Judah Mischel:

Yeah.

David Bashevkin:

10 years even?

Rav Judah Mischel:

Yeah, 10 years.

David Bashevkin:

And then afterwards –

Rav Judah Mischel:

I’m still in the yeshiva, I just don’t work there.

David Bashevkin:

You’re still in the yeshiva?

Rav Judah Mischel:

The yeshiva’s a big part of our life, yeah, that’s for sure.

David Bashevkin:

And now you are the director of Camp HASC, which is a camp for special needs children, and your primary population who you’re educating there are college age, post Yeshiva, post seminary students. And I wanted to start by thinking about how at all these stages, high school, Israel, seminary, Yeshiva, and the colleges, there are always people trying to get Jewish teenagers, Jewish young adults, inspired. How do you think in your own life that process differed when you were trying to reach high school kids, and then you were working in the Israel seminary scene primarily, and now you’re working with young adults and relationships that you’ve already established? People in their twenties, thirties, maybe even forties, who you reach out with and connect to. What are the mechanisms of religious awakening, religious connectivity? How does that differ in those different age groups?

Rav Judah Mischel:

It’s a great question. We also work together at the Orthodox Union, working in NCSY. Kids who are coming from Yeshiva backgrounds and from public school backgrounds, and spending time with adults, and people of all ages. The rule is, I guess that peoples is peoples, right? So I think The Muppets Take Manhattan. Peoples is peoples. There are peoples who are young and peoples who are older, and peoples who have more education and peoples who have less education. But beginning from an inside out place, realizing that we’re all, in the end of the day, peoples is peoples. And that we’re all, looking at the Jewish community, how we affiliate, or however we identify, we all have the same background. We’re all cut from the same divine cloth and chipped from the same divine block.

We all come from what the author of the Tanya calls chelek eloka mimaal mamish, literally manifesting an aspect of the divine within. If that’s the beginning point, and a person is a person, and we see our role as being a service provider, trying to enable another person, or accompany them on their journey, we approach that with humility, then it really doesn’t matter where they are and what they’re up to. It really just is about how we see them as a person and how we see, what we could share in common. I’m not very good at that. I mean, I aspire, that’s aspirational. Until this point it’s aspirational. Certainly it’s been a major transition in our lives, myself. It’s my LinkedIn, but it’s really, my wife and I are together. And it’s really a family affair. When you’re working with 18 year olds in Yeshiva, and that’s the primary thing, it really was the focus of our days and nights. I mean, it was a focus of our conversations. It was a focus of, our family Shabbos experience was molded around hosting and giving them that experience. And there’s a different stage of life also, it was 10 years ago. We were a younger family, we were earlier in our marriage. So the confluence of factors made it just the right place to be at the right time. And it was an amazing experience, and has really shaped who we are, our experience at the Yeshiva. I’d say before that was when we were newly married and working in high school, days and nights, the high school kids, it wasn’t that much older than them.

The seniors in high school were close to 18, and we got married, I was 22 or I was 23 teaching there. We weren’t so far off, so the point of reference, and the shared interests, and for some it’s music, some it’s sports, pop culture, whatever it may be, or whatever the Venn diagram of the generational gap was really close. I feel like I’m very blessed, as we’re growing and getting older, we’re growing and getting older and changing and shifting. And the derech, pathway, is expanding with us. Wearing different hats, or wearing different professional expressions, are really just externals. It’s been very blessed to be able to grow along with the opportunities that we have, and are able to see clearly how every experience has been meaningful.

And I don’t see at this point, now, and after a lot of davening, a lot of prayer, and a lot of thinking, and a lot of talking it through, and a lot of work, I don’t really see much of a difference between working with a person with autism, or down syndrome, or working with someone who’s of typical development. They’re people. The conversation is different, the interaction is different. If someone is observant or not observant, whether talking to someone who spends their days and nights davening and learning, or someone who’s disconnected from that expression of Yiddishkeit, of Judaism… I don’t know, that’s become more of a detail. That’s become more of an external prat. Consciously so, so that it makes connecting with people as people a little bit more natural. And then what they do, as opposed to who they are, is the secondary aspect of it.

David Bashevkin:

So I was thinking, when I was in Yeshiva, I remember somebody wrote a book on prayer. And they confided in me, it wasn’t like a secret, but they said, ever since I wrote this book, I’ve had trouble davening. I’ve had trouble praying. They wrote a book on prayer. And I’m curious for you, you’ve spent a long time trying to excite, inspire, empower people to take control of their own religious journey. And I’m curious, after writing a book and spending so much time in Yeshiva, where do you look at the process of teshuva on yourself? How has it affected, this being such a central part of your life of helping others, campers, students, readers of your book, so where does your mind go when you think of teshuva and rebuilding vis a vis you?

Rav Judah Mischel:

I think about our conversations together, the off air conversations. We’re all on a journey. Every person, every person in this world, for however long we’re in the world, that should be for a long time, it should be healthy and well, we’re all in process. This whole idea that we’re going to accomplish, and we’re going to get there, we’re going to make it, it’s a misunderstanding of what the whole notion of Hashem’s intention in being a human being, of being a Yid is. Since God told Avraha Avinu to go from his home, Lech Lecha, spiritual growth and closest with Hashem is liminal, it’s transitional. We’re always in a state of movement, of going, and if our Yiddishkeit and our striving for closeness with Hashem in mid forties is the same as it was in our mid thirties, or it’s in our fifties, the same as it were in our forties, we’re looking back towards some experience we had when we’re 18 to shape our entirety of life, then we’ve missed the opportunity and the gift of Hashem renewing our lives and creating the world anew every single day, which is really where teshuva is drawn from. God is saying, “I restore the world every day, I recreate the world every day. So therefore I’m asking you to reconsider your life every day”. And if we’re doing today, to paraphrase the Kotzker, because of what I did yesterday, then what do I need it tomorrow for? Everything is in movement, and everything is in process, and things are shifting. And I feel like that’s what I see in my own life. The way I daven is different now than it was 20 years ago.

David Bashevkin:

Can you give me an example? Because I love that idea of reconsidering your religious life. Do you have specific areas where you think about your own religious life –

Rav Judah Mischel:

Every single area of life. I feel like if I’m living the practice that I aspire to live with, then it’s changing all the time. Meaning, let’s take something that we’ve spoken about many times, Shabbos, the Shabbos table. Our Shabbos table, I look forward to it all week. I love it. Our kids look forward to it. We have a really fun and comfortable, beautiful Shabbos table that looks very different than it did just a couple of years ago.

David Bashevkin:

How so?

Rav Judah Mischel:

How so? Our kids are older. The conversations, we have some older kids and some younger kids. There is definitely some entertainment for everybody, but there’s a certain attention that the younger kids require for engagement. There’s a certain level of conversation and an interest that has to be maintained for our daughters who are teenage girls.

And those are two very different things. And the truth is, what speaks to me now religiously and spiritually is different than it did than. I used to want to sit at the table and sing for hours. I don’t know. Sometimes I’m not always in the mood to sing for hours. There was a time we recently speaking recently reminiscing with Ora, when we got married, I wore a long coat, I wore a bekeshe on Shabbos, I wore a hat. And there was the two of us, and I would sit, or when we’d go to my parents, my in-laws, I’d sit and say all the prayers that precede Kiddush, and I’d sing azamer bishvachin after Kiddush in the traditional Breslov tune. And I really, at this point, retroactively am deeply grateful to my in-laws for not… Ora would sit there like a yalda tova, like a good wife, and sit there and smile.

And it really felt right. And it felt comfortable and exciting and meaningful and real. I sang that azamer bishvachin every Friday night for years, throughout my time at YU, from the first time I learned it in Beitar in my shana alef, I was 18 years old. I went with a couple of friends to Beitar, and it was our first real exposure to Rebbe Nachman’s light. I sang that niggun on Friday night for years. I had a hardcover bencher, or a sefer that I carried with me, the Or HaShabbos, for years. And we were married, we lived in Elizabeth for years. And then we came there to Eretz Yisrael, you probably were at our table those early years. In Reishit, we would sit there with the guys and teach them azamer bishvachin. I had tape that I learned it from. And after singing the niggun for 10 years with the bekeshe, put on some weight, didn’t fit so well, little shvitzy in Israel with the hat, and our kids are in a school system where, not so much the code of dress.

David Bashevkin:

Yeah.

Rav Judah Mischel:

Culturally and socially. It has other price tags to it than maybe it does in the United States. And our affiliation and cultural association shifted. The bekeshe came off on Friday nights. This Shabbos table wasn’t any less beautiful, it was actually more comfortable, because what fit then didn’t fit later. And that niggun, which I love, I can’t do that on a Friday night and expect my children to sit there while I do a 20 minute intro, attach myself to the upper worlds or draw them down to the table, when I also just want to make Kiddush and get into the challah. Like, it’s not where we’re up to. It’s not where I’m up to. And it doesn’t mean that it’s less spiritual or less meaningful or less beautiful, or that that was wrong, or this is better. That just means that we’re moving, that we’re growing. And I feel like that’s also part of what it means to be a person who’s in process.

David Bashevkin:

So we’ve spoken about this, and I want to stay with this example for one second, the evolving Shabbos table, the evolving home culture. Especially, you spent so many years, you lived at Reishit, you were the Av Bayis, which is the person who makes Shabbos so to speak for the yeshiva itself.

Rav Judah Mischel:

Right. We would have meals with the yeshiva, but also every single week, four out of five weeks. We’d have 10, 15 guys over at our house. Our kids were young, but it changed what my wife was, she was a caterer, and I was an entertainer hosting, and it was a very different kind of experience giving that experience to others at a certain point, when we paused and it was beautiful. Every moment was just beautiful and meaningful and real. But when you take a pause from that, you’re like, “Wait, what am I showing them? I’m not showing them something that I’m going to do when they’re not there. I’m not showing them something that when it’s just my wife and I, I am not getting up and dancing for 20 minutes in the middle of the meal.”

David Bashevkin:

So that’s what I want to dig into, because I’ve shared this before, I think it was the opening question, when I got to sit with our teacher, Rav Moshe Weinberger, and I told him the story of when he tried to set me up. And he mentioned this girl, talking about how holy she was and righteous and pious and all these things, and I kind of had to admit to him, “Rebbe, it’s not really where I am right now”. And there was a pain in having to disclose my own evolution, which he accepted in the sweetest, most decent way. And I’m curious as an educator, I deal with this probably not in the right way, of when you evolve your religious culture in your home, and then you have guys over who are expecting something. They want that experience that they can tell their friends about. They want that, wow, we were there and we went into the night and this and that. And there’s a sense of almost disappointment that you can’t be what they want in their heads, that you can’t be that person who can bring that ecstatic healing, that example in their lives. And I’m curious how you balance being an outward figure that represents something in a very real way to students, to people have worked in your camp, and at the same time, need to evolve personally on your own with your family. And then they show up and they’re like, “What’s this?”.

Rav Judah Mischel:

What’s this is a family. What’s this is real life. And I think that’s the most important way of modeling real spirituality and real growth and real connection to Hashem. I mean, I know the feeling that it’s a house of cards, and afraid that they’re going to see that some religious Ponzi scheme or something like that –

David Bashevkin:

Yeah, I don’t invite students to my house for that reason.

Rav Judah Mischel:

Well, I think I’ve grown out of that also a little bit. I’ve gotten much more comfortable – thank God my wife is very healthy and very normal and very connected to Hashem and managed to pop that dimyon bubble, that imagination that, I mean, I’m a person of imagination. I like to create environments. And I do that in a way that’s real for where I am. And I think that’s what Hashem wants. There’s a sliding state of yichud, of connectivity with God, and being comfortable in one’s own skin, and honest about where they are with Hashem, and still striving and yearning. I don’t want to go back to being 18 years old. I had some beautiful religious experiences in life. I want to be 44 with the family that we have in the life that I have, and to be happy there, to be drawing down real inspiration there, and to revealing the ruchniyus of the opportunity, the spirituality of the moment that we’re in right now.

And I’m more than happy for someone who wants to come to our house and experience that. And I don’t know if, they want to watch something on Netflix, the Netflix version of what a Jewish family looks like. That’s great too. And I have plenty of opportunities to go to those homes and to have those religious experiences, which are great and wonderful. I think that this is a more sustainable and healthy model that, I mean, at least for me, we’re doing what we do.

Hashem gave me a life and gave me a family, and that’s my achrayus. And the students, or the people, I don’t really have students, but if people want to come, and guests want to come and join and it works and it’s great, so that’s great. What they’ll see is that we’re trying, and that we’re doing our best, and we’re trying to figure this out and enjoy our Yiddishkeit, and vechay bahem, and live it for real along the way. Living it according to somebody else’s script, living it, trying to fill somebody else’s shoes and do it the way somebody else did it, it just means I’m not going to have it their way, and I’m not going to have it my way. So, what did we accomplish over here? And teshuva is returning to a baseline of when we say revealing self, and we use all these terminology, what exactly does that mean? It means undoing all the external pressure of having to perform some religious act or rite for other people, even if it’s intended to guide them. So I’d rather just do what I’m doing, and if there’s someone there and they see that and learn from that, that’s great. But in the end of the day, we’re responsible for ourselves. To be responsible ourselves we have to do our thing. And all we can do is try our best.

David Bashevkin:

I’m curious, because again, and this relates to the focus of the book, but I see it in many ways. I have a specific student, it’s a mutual friend of ours, a specific person in mind. I’m obviously not going to mention their name. But I know sometimes that you have an ability to stay connected to people, even after the rhythm of their personal lives is no longer in sync with what I think are the very healthy and very real religious expectations that we expect of people after they go through 12 years of yeshiva, high school, and then Israel, seminary, there’s a certain trajectory that we expect of people. And very often you’re able to stay connected to people. And I’m thinking of a very specific couple who I’m also connected with whose life trajectory doesn’t stay on that wavelength necessarily.

They’re not living with the type of observance that we expect communally from a lot of people. And I’m curious, what is the message of teshuva? What is the message of that reconsidering, when you remain connected with couples or with individuals who are not living on that wavelength? And do you ever like get accused by people? I could see this, I certainly do, by being too accepting, too complacent with people in their lives. “No, you have a relationship with them. You should be pushing them harder. You should be making them work more.” How do you balance that expectations of what you would expect from an educator in somebody’s lives with a couple or an individual figuring it out?

Rav Judah Mischel:

Yeah, this is a real thing. When we hug someone, I’m not looking for tzitzis. Also, this implies again, a misunderstanding. The whole question is predicated on this misunderstanding of what it means to be someone who is a baal teshuva, what it means to be someone who is close to Hashem. We’re all in process, and every day is another page in a chapter, in a book of our lives, and we’re in the middle of the story. People are working through what they’re working through. It’s not anyone’s job to be writing somebody else’s story. The parchment, o,r let’s say, the canvas upon which this is being painted, our lives are being painted is, as Hashem says, teshuva is created before the world. And before creating this world with all of its challenges, and brokenness, and sadness, and hardship, and rules, and regulations, and Halakha, and yirat shamayim, before all of that, and communal standards, and minhagim, and cultural pressure, and all of that, before I create any mitzvos and aveiros, things you can hit, and things you can miss, and do right, and do wrong, before all of that, I’m creating something called teshuva.A restorative power which transcends all of creation that you can always be connected to. And if you believe that you can break, believe that you can fix. It’s like the introductory chapter, sometimes we forget. So somebody’s living their life, and a couple is growing together, and growing together could mean that for the time being, on that page, or that chapter, there’s less observance, there’s less shmiras hamitzvos and Halakha on an outward level, that doesn’t mean that they’re not growing. It doesn’t mean that they’re not connected. It doesn’t mean that we’re not close to Hashem.

It means that whatever it is Hashem wants more than anything, I believe, from us, to be choosers, to be consciously choosing what we’re doing or not doing. And it’s not you, and it’s not I, and it’s not Rav Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev. It’s Moshe Rabbenu who says, “Listen, life is hard. Shibud malchiyos.” There’s an exile that we’ve gone through for a long time where we’re a nation that’s traumatized. We’re a people who have been beaten up. It’s not easy to be in the world. And there’s a yetzer hara in the world. And people are fighting their battles, publicly or privately. There’s almost a certain level of respect to have for people who in one time identified very strongly in a certain way, externally, let’s say in the Orthodox community, or in the Frum community, and then together, are growing and feeling comfortable in their own skin, outwardly looking a little bit different, or outwardly changing their standards.

If it’s conscious, and it’s something which is more real and more true, and they’re happy, and they’re growing, and people can be happy doing less. People can be happy at that stage sometimes loosening up a little bit. We’re not the Ribbono Shel Olam’s IRS agents over here, checking people’s stubs, and looking through their papers, and going through their filing cabinets. It’s not our place in the world. We’re all on this journey together, we’re all walking each other home. And teshuva is a lifelong process, a lifelong process. We have to be very patient with ourselves and with others, and focus on what’s going right, and what’s positive, and what’s good.

I don’t belong to the community that’s narrow. I mean, Jewish people are one big family, and one big community. And I feel very, very much that I’m part of that big community. And I don’t know if that’s a question of tolerance. I think it’s just being normal. It’s being a mensch, it’s being a human being. Myself, I mean, does anybody know, do we all know each other’s internet history? Do we know what we’re doing with our bein hazmanim in between activities on our off days? Does everybody know what goes on in someone else’s bedroom, someone else’s Shabbos table, when there’s not guests there? No one knows anything. So why do we presume to know what a person’s going through, or what another couple’s going through, another family is going through? It’s not our place. It’s just not our place. It’s not true. It’s not real, and it’s not appropriate. The opposite is true. The only thing we can see in other people is to try to find the things that are good, and that we have in common that we can grow together with. And I don’t see anything extraordinary about being friends with, or loving, or having relationships, or learning from, interacting with, or growing together with people who have a very different level of observance. In fact, I’m not blaming you, but there’s something very wrong with our community, and very wrong with our understanding of Torah, if that’s a chiddush, if that’s something which is a novelty.

David Bashevkin:

There’s a story, and you tell it beautifully, I’m going to ask for you to tell it, but it kind of cuts to this idea of the authenticity and honesty needed for the process of teshuva itself. It’s a story about, I think, three boys smoking in a barn on Shabbos.

Rav Judah Mischel:

Oh.

David Bashevkin:

Tell me the story, then I want to unpack it, its message.

Rav Judah Mischel:

That’s an oldie, but a goodie.

David Bashevkin:

It’s an oldie, but a goodie.

Rav Judah Mischel:

It’s an oldie, but a goodie.

David Bashevkin:

It’s been with me for some time.

Rav Judah Mischel:

The story goes that there was these three boys in a shtetl, they’re testing their oats, whatever, sowing their oats a little bit, and testing the waters. They went out on a Friday night to smoke in the barn. And I guess the people heard about it, whether it was the parents, or the rabbi, or whatever. The local standard bearers, representatives of the Ribbono Shel Olom heard about it, and it’s a terrible thing, chillul Shabbos.

David Bashevkin:

Breaking Shabbos.

Rav Judah Mischel:

It tears apart the social fabric of what makes us a Jewish community and a chosen nation. Terrible thing. So they went to the barn, a whole group of people went, the representatives of the community, the rabbis, and the teachers. And they get to the barn and they throw open the door. And these three guys are sitting there with cigarettes. And the rabbi looks at them and says, “It’s Shabbos, you’re smoking, what are you doing?”

So the first guy looks and says, “Oh, I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I forgot. I forgot it was Shabbos.” So the rabbi kind of looks, turns toward the parents, the parents look at the community, and they’re like, “Okay. You forgot. Okay, you forgot. Okay, nu, all right, fine.” The second guy drops the cigarette and says, “I also forgot. I forgot you’re not allowed to smoke on Shabbos.” So they all look at each other and say, “Oh, okay good. He forgot. Listen, okay, what do you want? The guy forgot he’s not allowed to smoke on Shabbos.” And the third guy holding the cigarette looks at them and says, “I also forgot.” They said, “Oh, okay. He also forgot.” He goes, “Yeah, I’m sorry. I’m sorry, I forgot.” And they said, “Oh, no. Okay, good. It’s okay.” He goes, “I’m sorry I forgot to lock the barn door.”

David Bashevkin:

I love the story. So, pause there, because you’ve told the story publicly, many times.

Rav Judah Mischel:

Before slichos in Teaneck –

David Bashevkin:

You don’t always unpack it. I want to know, what does this story mean to you? What is the message that you take from this story?

Rav Judah Mischel:

Well, I mean, if we’re talking about teshuva, repairing, restoring, fixing, recovering, or uncovering, so to speak, what really lies beneath, a lot of times we just needed to feel like something happened. Let’s take our relationships. We messed up, we misstepped, we misspoke. We don’t want to really get into what was behind that insensitive remark, or that inappropriate choice, or that lack of sensitivity with someone that’s important to us. Just want to, like, “I’m sorry.” Like, “Thank you. I’m sorry. I love you.” Which one do I pull out first here? And the other person also just kind of, usually we don’t have the bandwidth to really get into it, and really, so to speak, dig down and uncover, “What’s going on? I forgive you, but like, how could you have said that? Or how could you have forgotten? Or how could you have done that?” We just like to stay surface, because we got to go functional, we got to get back to work, we got to go back to the store and get the milk, or wherever we misstep, and we’re afraid to go further than being enough to get out of this situation, to extract ourselves from it, and get back to our previously scheduled program. “I’m sorry, I forgot it was Shabboas.” No, you didn’t forget it was Shabbos. You forgot it was Shabbos? Of course it was Shabbos. “I forgot I’m not allowed to smoke on Shabbos.” Of course…

We don’t do aveiros… what we’re going to be held accountable for are not for the things that we didn’t know. I mean, we say, we do teshuva, with what we know and we didn’t know. But if I didn’t realize, it was a mistake, it was an honest mistake, it was an oversight, you break it, you bought it. We can fix it. We can move on. You pay the bill. Okay. You know? I don’t know that the Ribbono Shel Olom is going to be busy with that. We have a process. But what lies beneath that? What lies beneath that? The falsehood of the fakeness of that? That’s the Ponzi scheme. Meaning, that’s like painting over, in the wall when the wood becomes rotten. The deck is rotted out. Then you’re just going to paint over it and make it look good. You know, there’s something behind the wall.

David Bashevkin:

The cosmetic fixes.

Rav Judah Mischel:

Yeah, we’re just going to… that’s not the root canal that’s going to fix what really is beneath the surface. And it’s just going to happen again, and again, and again. We just need it to look, the optics have to look right. We just want to get through it, and move on from here. When that third boy says, “I forgot to lock the barn door,” he’s really closer to being someone who is going to appreciate, in his life, kedushat Shabbos, and have a chance at restoring a relationship with his parents, and with the community, and most importantly, with Hashem, and coming to a really healthy and happy, good place with shmiras hamitzvos, with fulfilling Torah, because he’s starting from where he really is at. He’s starting from where he’s really at.

Like when we have our kids, and a kid does something. Before, a kid does something wrong, takes somebody’s toy away, or lashes out, say, “Oh, hey, say I’m sorry.” What do you mean, “Say I’m sorry?” Hold on. What happened? Do you even know what happened here? Do you know where we went wrong? Do you know what we expect of you? What caused that behavior? What caused that experience? Start with where we are, look at the person as a person. The relationship as a relationship. The dishonesty of making excuses and deflecting, and just trying to get out of it often leads to a long-term breakdown. Besides for trust, obviously, but of honesty. And it just breeds cynicism and a fake, external, you said cosmetic, superficial way of being with people, and with God. And that’s where you see the pushback against observance.

For a high school kid to go out to the outskirts of town and smoke a cigarette on Shabbos, it’s definitely a red flag, it’s definitely something which is an aberration, it’s definitely something which is inappropriate, and it’s definitely something which is against the Torah. But is it so crazy? I mean, it might be shocking to that community, to that standards, but I don’t know.

David Bashevkin:

I wanted to ask you a little bit about, again, part of that honesty and authenticity when it comes to teshuva. I think of different moments of teshuva in my life, and some which were cosmetic. I think when I first came back from Israel, I was grappling with the fact that I still wanted to watch television and movies, and in my head it was like, “Isn’t that supposed to be gone? Isn’t that desire to veg out supposed to be not a part of who you are?” I expected to really feel that, almost exorcism, of any of those connection. Really. And then later on, and I think you’re the one who sensitized this to me the most, I think of teshuva much more in the context of my family, my relationship with my wife, my relationship with my children. And I’m curious, for you, when you think of moments of teshuva, moments where you, again, you said to do it every day, surely there are moments when you confronted it in a stronger way, but did you have moments in your life where you were able to, so to speak, admit, “I forgot to lock the barn door,” where you were able to say, “I’m going to do something differently in my life, and start building that?”

Rav Judah Mischel:

I think there’s honesty and authenticity, these are great words. It’s hard to live in a community, and maintain community standards, and follow a playbook, a rule book. No. It’s in addition to Shulchan Aruch, or the Peninei Halakha, or the Mishna Berura. Aruch HaShulchan by the way.

David Bashevkin:

Love it.

Rav Judah Mischel:

Oh, I mean –

David Bashevkin:

Huge fan.

Rav Judah Mischel:

As we get older, where was that?

David Bashevkin:

Yeah.

Rav Judah Mischel:

You know, I think that honesty has to begin with a person in themselves, in their relation with Hashem. Meaning, first things first, I speak to Hashem a lot. I talk to Hashem, I tell the Ribbono Shel Olam, I walk around and I say, “Okay, I’m going maariv right now. You know and I know what this is going to look like, and I’m okay with it. I’m doing what I have to do right now. I’m in the middle of 25 things. This is just not a convenient time.” And, I say it.

I say it to Hashem. And it unties so much of the pressure internally, and the guilt of not feeling inspired sometimes when I just say it directly to Hashem. Or I say to the Ribbono Shel Olom, the rest of the world, literally, like this. “I’m walking back now, I’m going to come home and I’m going to light Hanukkah candles. I want desperately for this to be meaningful. I want this to be beautiful. I know it is. How excited the kids are. Just help me be patient, help me be sensitive, just help me just lock in and feel this the right way, the way that you want it to be done, and the way that it’s going to work for me and the family.” I say it very openly to Hashem, and expressing to Hashem our desires and our hopes, not confessing sins all day. But saying, “Listen Hashem, I know I’m really good at this. I just, I could use a little bit of a bump in helping show my wife that I really am trying in this area, and not disappointing her.”

And in that way, like Rebbe Nachman says, when that’s the opener, and I say, “I’m with you on this, Hashem. Like, we’re in this today, I’m with you in everything I’m doing today.” So sometimes things hit and sometimes they miss, but in the end of the day, it’s all time with Hashem. It’s all time with Hashem. It makes teshua not something I have to go take off the shelf, and go get out of my closet and put on, or go somewhere to do. But it’s something which is really constantly happening, and it makes it almost easier. Rebbe Nachman says, often we’re intimidated by teshuva, we’re intimidated by facing our mistakes. There’s not permission to be human in Judaism, there is an obligation to be human. And Hashem made us with a yetzer hara. And whatever you are struggling with when you’re 18 years old, that point, I mean, it was appropriate to be struggling with, you’re 18 years old. There’s nothing wrong with…

They can edit this, if it’s not the right thing to say. There’s nothing wrong with doing an aveira. I mean, you’re not allowed to do aveiros. And we have a system where we’re going to… but in the end of the day, I’m fairly certain, I haven’t learned the secret writings of the Rashash, and all of the great Kabbalists, that describe what happens after we die. I’m certain that I’m going to have a lot to pay for, I’m going to have a lot to deal with. And at least, I think the upper limit of that is like, 11 months, right? I don’t know, 12 months?

It’s some really heavy Gehinnom that goes on. I don’t know. If you’re out there when I go, if you could do a Mishna or something for me, or a kaddish, or something like that, after 120. But I’m also certain that as true as those aveiros were, in those moments, what’s more true were the mitzvot that we do. Which is eternal, netzach nitzachim. Eternity are the good things that we do, our good intentions, our efforts to rectify. The chessed, the kindness that we’ve performed, the generosity, the prayers, the holding the door open for people over the course of a lifetime, let alone all the mitzvos that we do that are innumerable.

As true as it is that we make mistakes, it’s even more true that we fix those mistakes, and that we transcend, that we overcome. The yetzer hara is a real thing. But it’s not an external force. That’s me too. Loving God with all of our heart, the Talmud tells us, means loving God with both sides of the dialectic of self, the upper and lower, the gravitational pull, and the yearning, and the striving for higher. If we’re open about that with ourselves, if we’re open, and we’re open about that with Hashem, and we don’t put on a show to be something that we’re not, it takes so much of the pressure off and removes the stigma of teshuva, because we’re all in process, because Hashem intended it to be that way.

David Bashevkin:

I’m trying to figure out the right way to phrase this, and I want to phrase it, because… with a deep sense of appreciation, but also a recognition, at least to my memory, that something changed with you in particular. I didn’t go to Reishit, I went to Sha’alvim, and I remember I visited for Shabbos, and the way that you were situated in the Yeshiva… and I’m phrasing this with graciousness and respect. It did feel a little bit like a show. It did feel a little bit like…

Rav Judah Mischel:

I said that. You don’t have to feel bad saying that. I said that, it’s cool. We’re cool. It was. Friday night, shalosh seudos.

David Bashevkin:

Yeah. And we weren’t –

Rav Judah Mischel:

It was a good show though, no?

David Bashevkin:

It was a great show. And we weren’t all that clos, in the years when you’re supposed to become close to you. I feel like we didn’t have… because I think I was also in show mode, you know, as my 19, 18 year old self. But then something dramatic changed. I don’t know what you attribute it to. Maybe if it was the environment, or the context of teaching in an Israel yeshiva, and the expectation that that has, or just the process of growing up, but your approach to teshuva itself, in my mind, and I could be wrong, seems to have changed. What do you attribute that change to?

Rav Judah Mischel:

How open are we?

David Bashevkin:

We should be open.

Rav Judah Mischel:

It was a shift. It was a change. Part of it is growing up. Part of it is just maturing, certainly being in a different environment, being in a different role, that changed. I mean, the opportunity and the privilege to have been in that space in the Yeshiva definitely shaped how I developed, and how I performed, let’s call it that way. I don’t mean that totally negatively. There’s an element of performance in every professional arena, and even in our personal space. I mean, we perform. I think this whole world is a big stage, and we’re putting on a show, and that’s okay. That’s something that we all do. Beyond growing up, I think that a lot of it had to do with what was taking place in my own home.

I think the orientation of those years was very much focused in our marriage, of a language of shlichus, which is like, we’re teaching, the sacrifice here of teaching Torah and giving over. I was raised with a very strong value to help Jewish people and to love with real Jewish pride. My wife came from a home of teachers of Torah, and my father-in-law is a Rav, he’s a highly accomplished builder of Jewish institutions, he’s a rabbi. He was a rabbi’s rabbi. And that’s who she grew up looking up to as her hero. And her four older brothers are rabbanim, talmidei chachamim. Real, learned people, extraordinary teachers, extraordinary builders of people with a yeshiva that is just phenomenally, just unique and a beautiful place of growth and learning, based on limud haTorah, learning Torah. That was not where I came from.

And when we got married, it was already out of my league. I married up, in terms of my own religious observance, and my own religious aspirations and knowledge base. My wife knew and knows a lot more than I do in Torah. It was in the family. I mean, she is the daughter of a Rebbetzin. My parents are proud Jews, educated Jews. They are caring and engaged Jews. They’re well read and well educated, Harvard educated, Jews who were on the board of every place that we studied and we were, they were a part of it. They were right front and center, volunteering and involved. And they fulfilled their life’s goals of making aliyah, because that was important to them. And then with my brother moving the summer, that’s the family story. But my parents are baalei teshuva, we did not have a set of Shas in my house growing up.

David Bashevkin:

Meaning they didn’t grow up religious.

Rav Judah Mischel:

No, my mother saw Aleph-Bet in college. And my dad grew up in a more traditional home, but my grandfather, who I’m named for, said, “Go to junior congregation.”

David Bashevkin:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Rav Judah Mischel:

Which my dad did, but there wasn’t limud haTorah, there wasn’t learning Torah. There was an appreciation for Am Yisrael, Jewish pride, Jewish values, Jewish self-determination, Jewish symbols and culture. The Land of Israel, the state of Israel, there was real engagement in Am Yisrael. There was not limud haTorah, there was not learning Torah. So, coming into my marriage, I always had that.

David Bashevkin:

Two very different models –

Rav Judah Mischel:

Yeah. Different models, different starting points. Now, in yeshiva I felt that. I didn’t get into Sha’alvim, originally. Rightfully so. I wasn’t –

David Bashevkin:

You were wait-listed.

Rav Judah Mischel:

That’s a nice way of saying it. Yeah. Good friends in the right places, and I had the right mentors in high school, who pushed me to be in that environment. And I went for one year. Most of my friends, if not all of them, practically, not all, went two years. Some went three years. And I went to YU, and was really caught like a deer in the headlights in limud haTorah. I was lacking real fundamental ability to learn Torah at high level, or at moderate level. And that has always been in the background of my mind, something which, I’m aware of it, and often try to overcompensate for that in other areas of Jewish experience, creating experiences.

So, fast-forwarding, it was only a couple years later, right out of YU, I started teaching at Frisch. It was the right time, in the right place. I didn’t study in Kollel, I didn’t have the long semicha experience at YU, but developed and got put into that zone, and married into this role in Reishit, which I believe I was worthy of, and believe I did a good job, and cared very much, and tried very hard. But it was very challenging to prepare a Gemara shiur, a beginner’s Gemara shiur, or a middle level Gemara shiur was very challenging.

And I was surrounded by my brothers-in-law, who are real talmidei chachamim, and I was missing a lot of foundational steps there, and that was hard, and that was a challenging thing. I couldn’t necessarily put words to it, and wasn’t necessarily asked by Reb David Bashevkin, at a very vulnerable moment, to share that. But when I finally had the courage to share that with my wife, she thought I was from Mars, she didn’t understand what I was talking about. I had to convince her that it was a real thing. And I said, “I think I missed a step here. I think I need to shift personally, in order to sustain being somebody who can help the Jewish people,” which was what I was raised to do. My parents raised us to be people who were thinking about others and trying to work for Am Yisrael. As much as my parents make like, oh, they’re disappointed, I dropped the law school thing, and didn’t end up going to Cardozo, and dropped the MBA and went for an MPA, really, they’re proud to say, “We want our kids outward-facing toward the Jewish community.”

I just didn’t have the keilim to do it effectively, long-term, at a high enough level that I would aspire to in Yeshiva. But what I was good at was what you experienced, and being able to provide that charisma, and that excitement, and being fired up for a religious experience, which I still have, and I still feel, and I still do. I still am. But that setting was challenging, and personally, going from 20 to 30, or 23 to 33, always feeling self-conscious in that regard, I needed to get back and process a little bit. I needed to not be the Rebbe figure who made it, and now was going to help you make it, but to really be a little bit more honest about saying, “I’m not really there, and I’m never going to be there, and that’s okay. And neither are you. So let’s not be there together, and let’s work at this in a more natural way.”

But for myself and my wife, at that point, different opportunities were opened and different ways to use our kochot. And that’s really where it happened, that’s really a shift that took place. And kids get older, and we get older, and there’s new opportunities, and I feel like that’s called being a baal teshuva. And that’s actually called being a baal teshuva, returning to not just your baseline, but returning to uncover and recover parts of the self that maybe weren’t being activated in religious terms.

David Bashevkin:

I want to come back to your book, which I really… You were kind enough to send me an early copy, an early draft. The title has since changed, Baderech: On The Path of Teshuva. Do you think that there is a Torah, an idea, a value, at the heart of the book that distinguishes it from other treatments of teshuva?

Rav Judah Mischel:

You’re very generous, I mean, I asked for help. I wasn’t kind to share it with you, I asked for help. What makes it unique is that it’s for me. And everybody has a story, and everybody is in process, and everybody is in some type of path of teshuva. This is sharing a little bit of just my own, it’s not autobiographical, but definitely represents a shifting or changing way of seeing myself, and by myself I mean a human being, a yid, a person in the world with the Ribonno Shel Olam. I think that it reveals, or kind of directs us toward, a very encouraging vision for ourselves, and a very optimistic way of seeing… Not just ourselves, there’s a lot out there in the world that can build our self-confidence and our sense of potential and et cetera. Self-care and kindness and generosity, it’s what the language of the world is.

But I think it reveals within the system itself, within the halakhic system itself, of hilchos teshuva, the laws of teshuva, the path of teshuva, real, genuine sensitivity and compassion. And reveals, at least from the perspective of, say, the Jewish perspective, it’s a Jewish perspective. It’s not the path of teshuva, a path of teshuva. But definitely, at least for me, it’s my working through a lot of the issues that I sometimes felt intimidated. Not just by Hashem, which is probably appropriate, but by the system that has been developed in the name of God, which sometimes can just be very heavy, and very daunting, and very scary.

And I’m not talking about yiras shamayim and yiras chet, fear of sin, and fear of God, and fear of punishment, but just fear of failure, and the sense that, what’s the point of even trying, if I know that I’m just going to fall into the same negative behavior pattern and the same pitfall? I’m not going to speak for others, but I’m doing the same averos for years now. I’m expanding my mind, I’m expanding my mitzvah arena. Yuma, that we’re finishing in Daf Yomi now, that was new for me. Definitely listening to, there were so many opportunities online listening to Rabbi Rosner’s lomdus shiurim, and Rabbi Aryeh Lebowitz’s Halakha shiurim. There’s new Torah, and new mitzvos, that are mentioned. It’s the same averos. It’s the same stuff over, and over, and over again.

It’s wonderful for persons in therapy, and wonderful for persons going to the 12 step, it’s wonderful for persons working on themselves formally, but we don’t need that much professional involvement in our life to be able to point out the same couple of things that we’re always working through. So I addressed that in the book, because I’m addressing that with myself all the time. And I believe that this is making a contribution in the world to show that the Ribonno Shel Olam knows that about us also. And the Torah is well-equipped, and the statements of Chazal –

David Bashevkin:

Would you feel comfortable sharing what one of those areas is, that you keep winding up in?

Rav Judah Mischel:

Besides the clothing spectrum of sizes on my shelf, in my closet?

David Bashevkin:

Do you look at that as a part of the teshuva process?

Rav Judah Mischel:

Of course. It’s not just the mashal, it’s not just the parable. Of course, we’re constantly up and down, and we’re constantly gaining and losing, and coming closer to who we want to be, and what we want to look like, and how we want to feel. We know when we feel good, we know what it takes to feel good and to be healthy. And we know how good that feels when it’s… And we know how disappointed we are in ourselves when it doesn’t quite fit, when it’s not going right. And it’s true in every area, in every area of life.

David Bashevkin:

I think a lot about that, and we are going to wrap up soon, but it’s something you sensitized me to, and it’s really where Rav Kook starts his entire work on teshuvah, where he talks about healthy eating. And I know for myself, when I’m at my best and most self-control, I never have quite the washboard abs that I imagine –

Rav Judah Mischel:

Keg is much more fun at a party.

David Bashevkin:

Yeah.

Rav Judah Mischel:

Everybody knows that.

David Bashevkin:

That type of discipline, that type of physical health, oftentime reflect, or sometimes even a doorway to that spiritual health, of just locus of control of your life, being where it’s supposed to be at the center.

Rav Judah Mischel:

I think it’s something different also. I think it might be even more. It’s that it’s not just about, “Are we in control?” It’s not just about the horse and rider. It’s not just about, “Am I a person who is being a bocheh, a chooser, but it’s, am I healthy? Am I being a person? Rav Kook writes about the natural experience of teshuva, teshuvat haguf, of the body. First things first, it’s the bottom of the pyramid of human needs, of am I safe, comfortable with myself? Do I have what I need to be a mentsch, to be a person in this world? Now I could be person who’s growing intellectually, and spiritually, and religiously. But the first things first: are the spiritual lights, do they have a proper vessel to rest in?

This is not about… Well beyond healthy eating, it’s about, how do I view my humanity? How do I view myself? How forgiving of myself am I? How much do I recognize that Hashem made us, hashamayim shamayim laHashem. Heavens are for God. The Ha’aretz and earthliness, this world, asah livnei adam, Hashem made it for us. Now, we can bring heaven down to earth, or we could review, we can bring earth up to heaven, and we could reveal heaven on earth, but only when lights and vessels are matched up. And that’s when we’re okay with ourselves. And that’s not to say that the pushback of, “well, you’re just telling everybody everybody’s fine”, validating everything. And then no one’s really going to grow, and no one’s going to have shifas, no one’s going to have yearnings, and no one’s going to try to change their state.

That’s not true, because if we really feel good about ourselves, really comfortable in our skin, and we really know that Hashem is with us where we are, where we are. Up in the heavens, yeah, Hashem is with me, but if I’m in the lowest places of hell, Hashem is with me too. And that doesn’t just mean in the camps or in prison, God forbid, or from a hospital bed, God forbid, but it means when I’m in my own head and when I’m stuck, and I feel like I’m nowhere near living the life that I want to be living. Personally, professionally, religiously, with my family, with my partner, with my spouse, whatever it may be, to know that Hashem is there with me, and that’s part of creation, that we have this ebb and flow, and that there’s this breaking and fixing as part of the way that God created the world.

And if we have permission, but not permission, obligation to recognize that Hashem can have nachas from us there, and feel good there even for a moment, and find a good point there in that lowest place far away, that’s not going to say, “Okay, then I’m happy to stay here.” It’s the opposite is true: focusing on what’s going right, on that positive point, will only compel us and inspire us to build on what’s going right. And if there’s anything that I’m trying to give over and present in Baderech, is that we are baderech, that we are on a path of teshuva, and that it’s always going to be that way. Can I share a personal anecdote?

David Bashevkin:

Please.

Rav Judah Mischel:

We had a family simcha last week. My dad made a siyum. My father made a siyum on mishnayos. Now, people make siyumim all the time. People finish a tractate and make a lechayim or celebrate in some way all the time. It happens all the time. Especially for people learning Daf Yomi. My father’s a highly intelligent person, both my parents, well-read people. Torah was not day-to-day in our home. We had homework from school that was Torah, reading Jewish books, ceiling to floor Jewish books. Now, when I was in eighth grade, we didn’t have a Mishnah Berurah in the house, or a Shas, I mentioned that before. And that’s an important part of my story, and it’s also important illustration here about the power of what it means to be a baal teshuva.

My parents became baalei teshuva so to speak, TM, trademark, with Chabad in 1970, ’71. My mom was in Woodstock. They were in Buffalo, in the midst of the riots, in the midst of the revolution. And they were open, and thank God they were honest, and Chabad found them and they found a path. And the only formal Jewish learning that my parents had collectively was a few classes in the Chabad house, over the course of college and university, and sitting at a Shabbos table, but not formal learning. And my dad went for a couple months to Ohr Someyach in Monsey. And growing up, I didn’t learn bechavrusa with my dad, I didn’t see my dad go to shiur. I remember at one point there was a certain type of shiur in the shul, but we didn’t wash during the week. And this is not an indictment of my parents. It just wasn’t, I thought it was a ceremony we do on Friday night. And they’re baalei teshuva, they sacrificed for us to go to Yeshiva, and wanted us to go further, so to speak.

And my father, close to 70, my mother and father, approaching age 70, made his first siyum in honor of his father’s 50th year yahrztzeit on Gemara, and then made a siyum on mishnayos afterwards, on Mishna, and studies Torah every day. And his spiritual practice has developed and changed and grown to include going to shul every day. Now, I’m saying that as, that’s called teshuva. Growth, change, development. The story is never over. Even if when we think it’s over, it continues on to the next world. And if there’s anything that I want to present to anyone about teshuva is just to be patient with ourselves, be patient with others. We’re all in process. And attach ourselves to the good points of who we are and what we’re doing, and build from there.

David Bashevkin:

I cannot thank you enough. And really for me, I think you can mark my own religious journey based on the people who I find the most inspiration, who I feel are connecting to the struggles, opportunities, at each different point in my life. You could chart out my own development of, who do I turn to. And just over the past few years, the fact that you’ve made yourself available, really as a friend and a sounding board, and somebody to work through so many of those issues, in my own teshuvah process, in the most maximal sense, really means a great deal to me. And I am just so excited that your ideas and your words are going to be able to live in print, to a wider audience. I always end our conversations with more rapid fire questions. We have three questions I was hoping you could share. My first question is, what other books or sefarim, Hebrew or English, do you attribute to your approach to teshuva? What do you find yourself returning to when you’re trying to access and inspire yourself towards this process of rebuilding, remodeling, in process, aside obviously from your own?

Rav Judah Mischel:

Thank you for pushing the product. It’s interesting, over the years I’ve spent a lot of time learning and davening with Rebbe Nachman’s writings. The last couple of years, it’s actually the Peninei Halakha, the writing of Rabbi Melamed.

David Bashevkin:

Much of which are available in English as well.

Rav Judah Mischel:

Yeah. Beautiful translations. A lot of it’s also on Sefaria. They’re so inexpensive and they’re so important because learning Halakha is a baseline, it’s structure. That side of the brain is challenging for me. I’m more of a midrashic person. I’ve found that studying Halakha has given me faith in system, faith in context, and has kind of de-stigmatized and taken a lot of the pain, or shame, and emotion, out of mistakes and teshuva, by learning Halakha in other areas. Making an omelet, and I take a knife that was used for fleishigs, for meat, cut an onion on a pareve cutting board in a pan that had cheese inside of it, like, “Oh no, what do I do here?” Chaos. Chaos. Can’t throw away the egg, like, “Oh my God. Ora. Here again.” I have to tell my wife. I don’t know what to do.

Should I text Rabbi Lebowitz, what do I do? I look it up. I’m like, “Okay, wait. No, there’s a system here. Hold on. We have a system.” And learning the Halakha more carefully. I learned Semicha, I took the test. I didn’t internalize it as a prayerful system that kind of gives a person stability and hope in this area of life. And not just what to do and how to do it, but know that we have a system, in the same way that, “Okay, so you kasher the knife, or you throw it away, or it hasn’t been used in 24 hours, it’s okay,” same thing. We have a system for teshuva. We have a system for teshuva. The Rambam has steps, and it’s Halakha, and we have a certain amount of minutes that we can bake a matzah for until you can’t use it as a matzah, and there’s a certain way to cut toilet paper. So, okay, we have a system and it’s okay. And this is the way Hashem –

David Bashevkin:

And he does it in such a brilliant, accessible, there’s a warmth and a graciousness to the way that he shares.

Rav Judah Mischel:

Yeah, yeah. Totally. Totally.

David Bashevkin:

I have the full set right above your head over here.

Rav Judah Mischel:

Yeah. I’m in love with it. And it’s so clear and nuanced.

David Bashevkin:

And it’s not a coincidence. He doesn’t speak English, so I don’t know that we’ll ever have him on, but it’s not a coincidence that the first works that he worked on was the kind of Hasidic ideas that I have found so inspiring throughout my life, the works of Reb Tzadok HaKohen MiLublin, which his yeshiva were the first to reprint and clean up. And really, Rav Melamed, that is an absolutely excellent place to be looking in this area.

My second question is always strange for somebody who just published a book, but if somebody were to give you a great deal of money, that early exit money –

Rav Judah Mischel:

I’m in.

David Bashevkin:

That early exit money that would allow you to take a sabbatical, clear all of your responsibilities, and either go back to school to get a PhD, or write another book, what do you think the title and/or subject of that book would be? Or PhD.

Rav Judah Mischel:

Not a PhD. If I had an early exit, I’m not getting a PhD. I would play golf with people who have a PhD, I don’t play golf, but I would maybe play golf with… It would have to be a book that would be published by a Jewish publisher?

David Bashevkin:

No.

Rav Judah Mischel:

Would have to be published by an academic publisher?

David Bashevkin:

No.

Rav Judah Mischel:

Would have to be published?

David Bashevkin:

No.

Rav Judah Mischel:

Can I take it with me?

David Bashevkin:

Sure.

Rav Judah Mischel:

I’d write a book about my family I think. Write a book for my family, for my kids, my wife. About them, with them. Love to sit with them and ask them questions and interview them, and talk to them. And write about my grandparents who I didn’t know, my great-grandparents, and understand the development of the family and how that impacts who I’m working on becoming. And my wife’s family and understand like this… I don’t know, there’s a narrative of mesorah. And we’re so busy in life, doing what we’re doing now and thinking about what’s going to come in the future, that sometimes we forget to take those three steps back when we Shemoneh Esrei, when we stand before God. We take those three steps back, to give a little context. Va’esah enay el heharim, look up toward the mountains, or to hehorim, to our parents. I’d love to give more attention to that, to understand how we got here, and try to figure out where we’re going from that. I think that would be meaningful.

David Bashevkin:

It just made me think, and I’m extra lucky. My uncle Alan, who sometimes listens, lives in Bennington, Vermont, he actually wrote his thesis on my great grandfather, in psychology. And that thesis, and there was a lot of stuff there, opened up our familial eyes. His answer was kind of both. He did the dissertation, and it was on our family, and it is eyeopening to take those three steps back and see –

Rav Judah Mischel:

I would like to open things up. In other words, the goal would be to be opening things up. Opening things up with our kids more, and with my wife more, and just to understand, whether it’s the good things, the strengths of character and the resilience that was inherited, or the trauma that came from what they went through, or –

David Bashevkin:

Yeah, he’s got a lot a trauma.

Rav Judah Mischel:

Yeah. We all do. And we all do as a nation, as a community. Just to open things up, literally just to have the opportunity to just sit and talk with the family, with the people I am closest to and love the most. And sometimes, the busyness of life, that early exit might facilitate that.

David Bashevkin:

My final question is, I’m always curious about the sleeping patterns of individuals. It’s probably even trickier, the fact that so much of your colleagues and the places you work are in America, and you spend your time living in Israel. What time do you usually go to sleep, and what time do you wake up in the morning?

Rav Judah Mischel:

This is a post-COVID question, pre-COVID question?

David Bashevkin:

You kind of tier it out to any period in your life. What’s the range?

Rav Judah Mischel:

People are really interested in this?

David Bashevkin:

No. And it’s the response I get every time. I’m thinking about changing the last question.

Rav Judah Mischel:

Because I have a lot to say.

David Bashevkin:

I’m stubborn.

Rav Judah Mischel:

I think people can, at this point, they probably listen to 2.0, no?

David Bashevkin:

I am interested.

Rav Judah Mischel:

This is where it goes to 2.0?

David Bashevkin:

Yeah.

Rav Judah Mischel:

The days that I have someone that I exercise with in the morning, I try to go to sleep earlier. I try, generally, working on American hours, have tried in the past couple of years, it’s been specific and it’s been deliberate, pushing late night conference calls and meetings toward one day. So that I just book that up very late, usually on a Thursday night, because Friday is a little bit more of a flex time, and try to be connected to the rhythm of what’s happening in the home. Try to be tethered toward the bedtime of when things are shutting down. There’s something meaningful about going through that winding down process together. I’m in camp right now. During the summer, there’s not really…

David Bashevkin:

I need numbers. I need a time when you’re usually asleep, and a time when you usually wake up in the morning. Sorry to be so data-oriented.

Rav Judah Mischel:

No, I know you, I’m nervous to say it. I don’t have a watch, and I don’t bring my phone upstairs to my room. So I don’t always know, but not enough. Not enough. When I sleep more, I’ve found more sleep deliberately, the stronger the day is, and it’s not just because of the amount of sleep, it’s just being respectful of the body. I try by one to be sleeping, our kids are older and everybody’s around all the time. I’m not the most consistent, but the years that I was most consistent davening, I was going to seven o’clock davening at my Rabbi’s shteeble, and that was the time that I felt like I was most effective, getting that seven o’clock davening.

David Bashevkin:

Wow. I cannot thank you enough for joining us today, Rav Judah. Thank you so much.

Rav Judah Mischel:

Love you, David.

David Bashevkin:

At the very end of Rav Judah’s book, Baderech, which is really, really remarkable, and I would ask, take a look, try to get a copy of it, because it’s really that good, he writes as follows, he says, “Real to teshuva is just that: a life of self discovery and self recovery, renewal, and rebirth. As Rabenu Yona put it, ‘Yesod hateshuva, the foundation of teshuva, is to consider today as the day you were born, the first day of your life. And he who is not busy being born is busy dying.’” He hasn’t quoted on the spot, but that’s that great line from that wonderful movie Shawshank Redemption that he seems to be paraphrasing there.

And he writes “Being Baderech is being in process, embracing life.” And then he has this beautiful quote from T.S. Eliot and that wonderful poem, Little Gidding, where he writes, “We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started, and know the place for the first time.” And I think that that perpetual nature of exploration, that perpetual nature of being born, not necessarily as a before and after, and now I’m done being born, but get busy being born, get busy with that notion of self-reflection and reconstruction in your own life. Because there is a perpetualness to change, and there is a stability, almost, in being able to find areas of your life that deserve examination, that deserve processing, that deserve love. And I think that’s what this period in our lives, at least on the Jewish calendar, is all about.

And I think for our listeners, the one thing that I would leave you with is, take me up on that exercise. Plot out your life. If you’re in your thirties, you can start from your teens. If you’re in your teens, you can start out from elementary school. Take a chunk of your life, take two, three decades, and plot out highs and lows. I’m not defining what the high is, I’m not defining what the low is, but plot out what it looks like. You don’t have to share with me, though I’d be so fascinated to look at it, but plot out those big movements in your life. And like a stock chart, you can do in 2008, in 2020, those big dips, or those big growth periods in the nineties, plot out what happened when you see those big changes. Maybe it was the tech boom of the nineties, the recession of ’08, Corona in 2020. But what does that look like in your own personal stocks chart? What is the change in the longterm bird’s eye view, that forest among the trees? Find those moments in your life where you found a lot of volatility, and then also zoom out and see, what is the overall trajectory of your life, of the stock chart in your life, even look like?

So thank you so much for listening. It wouldn’t be a Jewish podcast without a little bit of Jewish guilt. So do me a favor, I’m begging. If you enjoyed this episode, subscribe, rate, review. Tell your friends about it. It really helps us reach new listeners and continue putting out great content. If you’d like to learn more about this topic, or some of the other great ones we’ve covered in the past, be sure to check out 18Forty.org. That’s the number 1-8, followed by the word “forty,” F-O-R-T-Y, 18Forty.org. You’ll also find videos, articles, and recommended readings. Thank you so much for listening and stay curious my friends.