R' Abraham Isaac HaKohen Kook, sometimes referred to as the Rav, was the first Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of pre-state Israel. The Rav earned a towering reputation as a scholar, thinker, legal authority, kabbalist and poet. Many today see him as a modern day prophet, a visionary whose spiritual and redemptive teachings speak to the individual, the people of Israel and all of humanity.
Rav Kook addresses the spiritual meaning of freedom in his introduction to his commentary on the Passover Haggadah, the text used on Seder Night.
He writes, "On the holy night of the festival, we are full of redemption, full of a higher freedom. Our freedom liberates our spirit...Our redemption is universal - the redemption of all worlds. It scales all heights and penetrates all depths. Our lofty thought, broader than the expanse of space, shows its absolute freedom on this night..." (Siddur Olat RAYaH II, p.256).
He also teaches that "When we forget the individual soul, when we stop paying attention to the inner life of a person, everything becomes confusing and unclear" (Shemonah Kevatzim 8:213).
In this online course, taught by Yiscah Smith, we will explore, through Rav Kook’s commentaries on the Passover Haggadah, the spiritual practice of cultivating mindfulness to our inner selves, which will then birth the consciousness of remaining faithful to that sense of deeper being. The course will be based on the English translation of the Rav’s commentaries by Bezalel Naor in his wonderful book, "The Rav Kook Haggadah: Springtime of the World."
We will learn together the first 10 of the 15 signs or steps of the Seder, that will guide us as we move along the path to discover aspects of our true essence – the image of the Divine in Whom we have been created and Who continues to dwell within us.
This will allow us to not only approach the Seder experience in a more informed, inspired and indeed prepared way, but also to experience individual and personal spiritual redemption, as we celebrate the "time of our freedom."
All texts will be provided with clear translations, and no prior knowledge or experience with the subject matter is necessary.
This course is welcoming of advanced students and novices alike.
How does it work?
The course consists of eight weekly, online sessions, of approximately 1.25 hours. Sessions will be conducted live on Mondays over Zoom and will also be recorded so participants can watch and listen at their own leisure. Each class includes two essential components.
1 – Close study and interactive discussion of Rav Kook’s teachings that address the weekly signs of the Seder. Participant engagement during dedicated time through questioning and offering insights is encouraged and valued as a key component of the text study.
2 - The text study will be followed by a guided meditative practice focusing on the particular theme studied that week.
Each participant will receive a printable source sheet in the original Hebrew with English translation. This will be emailed each week prior to the class with the zoom link. The source sheet will also be provided in the zoom chat.
Following each class, each participant will receive the YouTube link to the video recording.
Throughout the duration of the course, Yiscah will moderate a WhatsApp ongoing discussion group, allowing participants a platform to share thoughts and experiences, to ask questions and to receive support in their ongoing practice.
The course begins on Monday, February 1 and continues through Monday, March 22.
The live zoom sessions begin at 9am Pacific / 12pm Eastern / 5pm UK / 7pm Israel.
Sessions can be joined live and/or listened to or watched at your convenience.
Audio and video recordings will be shared each week for participants to use at their own convenience.
"Yiscah Smith is a force of positive energy and loving kindness, in addition to being a knowledgable teacher. She communicates her belief that we are all created in the divine image of the Creator of all. I am calmed, inspired and warmed by her words. She is also a clear and insightful spiritual leader / teacher, breaking larger concepts into relatable pieces that are easy to grasp."
- Ruth S McRae, Atlanta GA
"Last year plus I have been fortunate enough to learn with Yiscah. She has introduced me to a world of spiritual growth I didn’t even know existed. Yiscah not only possesses a deep wisdom and wealth of learning, but she is a one of a kind teacher, who’s unique soul enables her to reach anyone who desires a soulful interaction.Yiscah is an amazing manifestation of love and kiddish Hashem and learning with her will leave an indelible mark on your life!"
- Barry Rosekind, Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies, Jerusalem
"I have taken classes with Yiscah Smith at the Fuchsberg Conservative Yeshiva and online, and found her teaching nothing short of transformative. She possesses a rare ability to connect the spiritual essence of Judaism with our daily lived experience. Her choice of texts - Rabbi Avraham Kook, the Piaseczner Rebbe, Viktor Frankl, enhanced by meditative practice - are both modern and timeless. Studying with Yiscah has helped me center my spiritual practice while deepening my engagement with the Jewish tradition."
Lane Igoudin, M.A., Ph.D., Professor of English and Linguistics, Los Angeles City College
"Learning with Yiscah Smith: nothing short of life-changing."
Jyll Bradley, London, UK