the process of mind-opening and hitchadshut

When we journey back into the knowledge of our youth, there are, in a sense, gaping holes. It's hard for us to remember how we saw the world or what we understood at younger ages. That's because we are worlds away from that viewpoint now.

Rav Adin Steinsaltz once mentioned in a shiur I attended that a person is like a tree (or a building) the more we grow, the taller we get and the further the horizon recedes. Our world grows as our awareness of it grows. This is the difference between children and mochin d'katnut (small minds) and adults and mochin d'gadlut. (expanded minds) Our mind grows to encompass the world around us, the world we are aware of. The Tanya explains that children get very excited about relatively small things (a candy or toy) because their awareness, their mind, is small.

How does this happen? What is the process through which we grow our minds, through which we progress from mochin d'katnut to mochin d'gadlut? I mentioned in a previous post how Rebbe Nachman describes the teaching process. That a teacher pulls an idea into his/her mind, encompasses it, and then passes it into the (smaller) minds of his students by condensing it into something palatable by them. The process then repeats as he has emptied his mind of said idea, and has cleared room to digest another idea.

The Maor Eynayim explains that the same process happens on an individual level. When we are enlightened with some new understanding, it only stays with us for a short while, and then it moves on, returns to its source. The process of receiving that understanding, that knowledge, however fleeting it may have been, does not leave us in the same state we were before, instead it leaves behind an imprint or after-image. Here the Maor Eynayim reveals a great secret: That imprint becomes the empty vessel in which we may recieve a new idea/understanding. If we didn't have that imprint, we wouldn't have any empty space in which to digest the next idea that comes along. It is only through exploring each idea that we are able to perceive and digest the ideas that come after it. Still, each idea leaves us in short order, but the imprint left behind allows our intellect to grow and climb further, tackling ever-larger ideas.

My sisters used to play this computer game (I found a version of it here called Feeding Frenzy) where you are a fish that needs to eat fish that are smaller than yourself, if you try and eat a bigger fish, it eats you instead and you lose. As you eat the fish, you grow larger. The goal of the game is to grow until you can eat anything in the pond and nothing can eat you.

This fish game is the perfect metaphor explaining how our minds grow through digesting progressively larger and larger ideas until we reach a level of mochin d'gadlut where our minds can relate to and affect the world at large. The shocking discovery for me was still the chidush of the Maor Eynayim (in parashath Beshalah) that even as the ideas leave you, they leave behind the vessel in which you can contain the next idea. This is amazing because it parallels the creation of the world itself. God first removed (via a process called tzimtzum) himself (in a sense) to create a region that was empty, containing only an imprint of its former nature. This imprint was the vessel that would contain all of creation.

This also explains the midrash that before a baby is born he is taught all of the Torah and then is made to forget it. Now we can understand what the goal of such a phenomenon is. It is to leave behind the imprint of the Torah in the baby's mind, so that it can receive knowledge and wisdom from its parents after it is born. Without this imprint, this vacuum, the baby would have no vessel in which to receive knowledge.

[I just did my first siyyum of the Notzer Hesed, the Komarna Rebbe's sefer on Yirah based on the teachings of Chazal in Pirkei Avoth. May the imprint of the Notzer Hesed open my mind to greater knowledge of HaShem. And may all this learning about hitchadshut be in the merit of the refuah shlaimah (the speedy recovery) of my father in law Rav Meir Benayahu ben Victoria, Rav Elisha ben Miriam HaLevy, and Rav Binaymin Azriel ben Liba HaKohen]


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