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Lectures Offered by Maggid Yitzhak Buxbaum

Mystic Breezes/Jewish Spirit: The Essential Teachings of Jewish Mysticism

What is the difference between religion and mysticism? It is the difference between believing in God and actually experiencing the Divine Presence. Hasidism simplified Kabbalistic mysticism to make it accessible and easily understood. The hasidic masters taught how to do all activities, religious and worldly, with God-consciousness, until a person attains a constant, devotional awareness of God's presence, a blissful state called "being in the Garden of Eden."

Mysticism is a path to the deepest meaning of life, to the source of joy, and to a closer relationship with God. Yet, even non-mystics can tap into these wellsprings of mystic teachings.

We learn about the guiding principles of Jewish mysticism and its spiritual practices, such as prayer, meditation, mantras, storytelling, song and dance, and the soul-ascent into heaven. Illustrative stories about hasidic saints, such as the founder of Hasidism, the Baal Shem Tov, will be told and discussed.

This lecture can be accompanied by an experiential workshop involving Jewish spiritual practices for d'vekut (God-consciousness) -- for prayer, song and dance, meditation, "mantras," eating, etc.

The Light and Fire of the Baal Shem Tov

Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov was one of the greatest Jewish leaders of all time: the founder of Hasidism, who revived Jewish mysticism and brought a renewed joy in God to the common people.

Though many of us have been touched or moved by the spiritual waves set in motion by the Besht -- through hasidic songs and stories, for example -- how much do we know of his personality and life -- its stages, turning points, heights and depths? During a soul-ascent to heaven, the Baal Shem Tov was told by the Messiah that he would come when the wellsprings of the Besht's teachings spread abroad to all the Jewish people. What are those teachings? Have they reached us? In this lecture we will learn about the Baal Shem Tov through the legends about his life and his core teachings as recorded in the books of his disciples.

Topics covered: 1) an overview of the Besht's life-history; 2) particularly significant and beautiful stories about him; 3) the teachings that constitute his essential contribution; 4) his spiritual path and practices; 5) what he has to teach us.

An Open Heart: The Mystic Path of Loving People

Many Jews over the past years have developed an interest in Jewish mysticism, with its goal of God-consciousness. But Jews are also attached to the Jewish ideal -- expressed by Hillel and Rabbi Akiba -- that the essence of Judaism is to love your neighbor as yourself. What is the connection between Jewish mysticism and Jewish religious humanism? We explore the exciting teachings of Jewish "mystic humanism" as expressed in the Torah, Talmud, Midrash, Kabbalah, and the teachings of the hasidic and Musar movements.

The Life and Teachings of Hillel

Hillel is one of the greatest rabbis of the Jewish tradition, yet even knowledgeable people usually know only the same few stories and sayings of his -- about his teaching the Golden Rule to the gentile standing on one foot, his saying, "If I am not for myself, who will be for me, and if I am for myself alone, who am I?" and so on. Many fascinating aspects of Hillel's life and teaching have been neglected and virtually "lost."

The early rabbinic tradition offered two contrary ideals, represented by the gentle Hillel and his stern adversary Shammai. It recommended the softer one and judged the rigid one critically, preferring the loving and flexible hasid to the severe and intolerant ascetic. But the later tradition transmitted Hillel's teachings mixed in with the contrary teachings of Shammai and attempted to reconcile the two opponents by pouring both streams into one cup.People assume that Hillel represents what came to be identified as normative Judaism, but when his teachings are viewed separately, his pious radicalism becomes apparent.

People will be charmed and fascinated by Hillel's fiery gentleness. The struggle and choice between Hillel and Shammai, between these two ideals and types, is still with us. Hillel has a special attraction for our generation, representing the gentler, more loving side of Judaism that so many today are searching for. This lecture will show that the teachings of this radiant religious figure can still speak to our hearts today.

The Deepest Jewish Truths I Know

Maggid Yitzhak Buxbaum shares the deepest spiritual truths he has come to know in his many years of religious study and practice.

Storytelling and Spirituality

Storytelling has always been a prime vehicle for communicating spirituality. Some of the greatest religious teachers were expert storytellers. Then, as time passed, events in their own lives also became stories. In Judaism, hasidism emphasizes sacred storytelling and the sacred story -- especially tales about tzaddikim, the hasidic rebbes. The Baal Shem Tov, Rabbi Nachman of Bratzlav and Rabbi Israel of Rizhin all specialized in storytelling.

Hasidic rebbes considered storytelling and listening so important that they developed a hasidic "theology" of storytelling as a spiritual practice; there are many hasidic teachings and stories about storytelling. The rebbes asked and answered the questions: What is the place of storytelling among spiritual practices? Why do stories fascinate us so? How should they be told, and listened to? What are their effects? We will investigate their teachings and the many interconnections between storytelling and spirituality.

We will learn how for the rebbes, storytelling was not only inspirational, but also a form of mystical activity. This material can be taught more fully in a workshop format. See workshop information.

God's Loving Face

God revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai the essential nature of His personality and goodness, which the rabbis called The Thirteen Attributes of Divine Mercy. We will study the Torah teachings and tales about this concept, the explanations of the different divine attributes, and the relation between God's loving "face" and His occasionally angry "face."

Many people have a view of God as often angry and judgmental, which troubles them, but they also know that God is supposed to be a loving parent (this is usually less prominent in their minds). They don't know how these two conceptions relate.

We study the teachings of the Rabbis which make clear that the loving God is the inside, and the occasionally angry God etc. is only the outside. God has "two faces" to His "personality": He is loving and strict, gentle and wrathful, forgiving and judgmental; but the inside is always love.

The Rabbis taught that we should imitate the divine attributes of mercy. We will consider each of them in turn, to learn how we can be like God by being loving, giving, patient, and forgiving.

Storytelling by Yitzhak Buxbaum

Reb Yitzhak is a maggid, with s'micha (authorization as such) from Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach. He is an expert teller of hasidic tales and one of the Jewish world's experts on hasidic tales and on the subject of Jewish spiritual storytelling.

Tales That Touch The Soul

In Hasidism, storytelling is a sacred activity. Late at night hasidim sit in the intimate tent of a candle's light and share holy stories. Each story is a ritual of healing, that weaves together wisdom and action, the finite and the infinite. In the telling, the story becomes a living reality; not an intellectual event, but one that strives for joy, the "holy shiver" that speaks to the soul.

All the sacred tales are really about us. The stories make us wonder: How can I grow spiritually? How can I reach the peace, goodness, and holiness I dream about?

Share in a session of sacred storytelling with Maggid Yitzhak Buxbaum, listening to hasidic tales and then discussing what they can teach us about how to progress in our spiritual life.

Tales of the Deepest Depths

Yitzhak Buxbaum tells tales from his two new books, Jewish Tales of Mystic Joy -- about the joy, ecstasy, and bliss of God-consciousness
-- and Jewish Tales of Holy Women -- about tzaddikot (holy women) of the last few centuries. It is a special event to be able to celebrate our holy women by means of these rare traditional tales. Hasidic tales seem to be about great rebbes or pious, humble water-carriers, but they are really about us. Yitzhak leads a discussion of the tales to learn lessons for our own spiritual lives.

Jewish Tales of Holy Women

Yitzhak Buxbaum tells tales from his new book Jewish Tales of Holy Women-- about tzaddikot (holy women) of the last few centuries. These precious tales display a specifically female spirituality, giving us a peek into a world of devotional beauty that focuses on kindness. It is a special event to be able to celebrate our holy women by means of these rare traditional tales.

Storytelling for the Holidays

Maggid Yitzhak Buxbaum tells enchanting and inspiring stories for Jewish holidays-- Selichot, the High Holidays, Passover, Sukkot, Shavuot, Hanukkah, Purim, Tisha B'Av, Tu BeShvat, and Yom HaSho'ah. All his stories bring people up not down, even tales of the Holocaust.

Workshops by Yitzhak Buxbaum

Storytelling and Spirituality

In this workshop we will learn how to deepen our spiritual relation to story telling and listening. We will learn skills in spiritual storytelling: how to tell a story to reveal its divine light, how to hear its divine hints, how to meditate on a tale to extract its practical religious lessons, how stories can be used as prayers, and, even, how they can save.

Much of this workshop will be about storytelling, but there will also be storytelling. We will hear, tell, study, analyze, discuss and enjoy stories, and discover how storytelling can enliven our religious sensibilities. Participants will be introduced to a new type of Jewish religious activity-- spiritual storytelling.

This workshop will be based on Yitzhak Buxbaum's book, Storytelling and Spirituality in Judaism, and on his extensive experience as a maggid, a spiritual storyteller.

Real Davvening : Jewish Prayer as a Spiritual Practice and Form of Meditation

Most teaching on Jewish prayer seeks to familiarize people with the structure of the prayer service and synagogue choreography, or to explain the meaning of the various prayers or the theology of prayer, why we pray and so on. This workshop aims to teach you how to pray so that davvening works as a spiritual practice, so that it moves you spiritually. The goal is for you to achieve during prayer an elevated state of mind so that you actually taste and experience the nearness of God. That is what is meant by real -- not rote -- davvening.

Prayer is a form of meditation and to benefit from any meditation you have to learn and apply the proper methods. Only by knowing how to pray can you really davven and progress spiritually by davvening. In this workshop beginning and experienced davveners, men and women will learn traditional hasidic meditation techniques for prayer that will infuse new life and vitality into their davvening. This workshop is based on Yitzhak Buxbaum's booklet: Real Davvening: Jewish Prayer as a Spiritual Practice and a Form of Meditation for Beginning and Experienced Davveners.

Jewish Spiritual Practices

Taste the varieties of Jewish meditative practices that lead to God-consciousness and mystic joy, such as silent meditation, mantras, niggunim, service of the imagination, and more-- with the option of incorporating them into your spiritual life.


"Yitzhak Buxbaum is a gifted spinner of tales. The audience sits enraptured as he unfolds a tale with skill and warmth."

Rabbi William Berkowitz, former head of the Jewish National Fund and Rabbi of Congregation B'nai Jeshurun, New York, N.Y.

"Yitzhak Buxbaum is a storyteller in the tradition of the great Hasidic masters. He retells their stories with penetrating insight into their relevance for the great and small actions of our lives. People of all backgrounds are powerfully affected byYitzhak's unique Jewish presence."

Dr. Herb Levine, Hillel advisor, Franklin and Marshall College, Pa.

"Many thanks for your presentation and for sharing your wonderful insights and delightful teaching manner with all of us."

Rabbi Jeremiah Wohlberg, President, New York Board of Rabbis

Everyone at our congregation is still talking about how much they got from your teachings. I was filled with awe as I looked around the room at my congregants and saw how spellbound they seemed to be by your mesmerizing presence. You really spoke to their hearts. Most gratifying of all is that I am beginning to see new faces around the synagogue, of people from the community, who, after taking in your words, are beginning to see our synagogue as their new spiritual home. Yitzhak, I can honestly say that you hit a home run, a grand slam!

Rabbi Baruch Melman, Cong. Shaarie Torah, Portland, Oregon

The feedback from your scholar-in-residence at our synagogue has been extremely positive. You are truly a master storyteller who is able to spin a tale in such a way that it is compellingly entertaining and at the same time instructive. Your teachings and tales touched the souls of your audience. Your mentor, Reb Shlomo Carlebach, most certainly "shepps nachas" in Gan Eden from your able perpetuation of his legacy! Thank you and may G-d bless you for your holy efforts!

Rabbi David Bateman, Mount Freedom Jewish Center, New Jersey

You captured the attentiveness of our colleagues [at our rabbinical gathering]. Your presentation was illuminating, inspiring, and instructive, so much so that they expressed a wish to explore the subject of spirituality in greater depth.

Rabbi Solomon Freilich, Vaad HaRabbonim of Long Island, New York

Thank you for the extraordinary program of spiritual learning and experience you brought to our community. You prompted people to reimagine deep question of belief and practice. Your storytelling and teachings intrigued, inspired, and challenged us. Many of our congregants are now reading your books and seeking ways to continue their Jewish studies and deepen their spiritual practice. I expect enrollment in our Kabbalah study group to skyrocket. Thanks again for a wonderful Shabbaton!

Rabbi Raachel Jurovics, Program Director, Temple Beth Or, North Carolina

I want to thank you for your mind-expanding and heart-opening teachings at our congregation. You brought to us such a wealth of knowledge and insight about Hasidism and Jewish spirituality. At least as important as the knowledge you shared was your presence. I think you were a model of humility and openness, attempting at every moment to practice what you preach. This combination of head and heart, together with your abounding love for Jews and Judaism, makes you an unusual and very dear asset to the Jewish people. You also have a special ability to reach out to Jews of many different religious orientations and to non-Jews as well. I will be more than glad to recommend you to any group seeking to deepen their appreciation and understanding of Judaism. I think you are a treasure.

Rabbi Jonathan Kliegler, Woodstock Jewish Congregation, Woodstock, New York

You opened up the deep wells of Jewish learning for all who attended your workshops at Cornell. With your stories and your songs, you breathed new life into ancient teachings. We could hear the hasidic masters of old speaking through you. Those with little Jewish knowledge left with greater appreciation of the depth, power, and relevance of Jewish tradition. Those steeped in Jewish knowledge left having learned many new things and recharged about what they already knew. Thank you for your wonderful teachings and presence.

Rabbi Jeff Sultar, Cornell University Hillel

Some Audience Responses:

"Great. This guy really inspires me. He is a passionate Jew. His religion is his life."

"Extremely well-read, offers original, thoughtful comments, presents a beautiful view of Judaism."

"Excellent. Yitzhak drew everyone together spiritually and intellectually."