Here’s the both/and truth that’s frequently been on my mind over the last year: At a certain point, knowledge acquisition can become a shadow comfort that keeps us from doing the deeper, arduous, and sacred work of spiritual and emotional introspection, expression, and release. Most of my clients struggle not because they lack knowledge, but because they don’t yet possess the resilience and emotional agility that being an effective and adaptive citizen and leader in today’s climate of social (in)justice requires.
Especially in this season, the American culturescape encourages us to continue to engage in heartfelt but wasteful consumerism. We are wracked by intense guilt and self-awareness that is temporarily assuaged by seasonal giving and various emotional numbing practices. All of this distracts us from the harsh weather and a nagging knowing that many of us aren’t where we want to be. Conscious Community by Rabbi Kalonymus Kalman Shapira, known as the Piaseczner Rebbe, offers a concise, potent, and profound alternative:
“Cut through the noise and return to ourselves, our community, and most importantly, our personal relationship and alignment with the Divine.”
I’m thankful to Rabbi Debra Kolodny for recommending this book to me after noting the resonance between my analysis and this remarkable rebbe’s wisdom. We are in–and are likely to continue to be in for the foreseeable future–harrowing times. Who better to learn from than a pragmatic mystical master who championed devoted Torah learning and aligned action in the Warsaw Ghetto. Conscious Community (B’nei Machshavah Tovah is the original Hebrew title) was written in the 1920’s as a guide for Shapira’s Chasidic students to develop their spiritual and emotional depth through group work. Shapira is also known as the Esh Kodesh (Holy Fire), after the book he wrote in the ghetto that was discovered, along with other manuscripts, and published after the war.
Cultivating focus on enduring truths we can consistently rely upon is imperative for our long-term resilience. That spiritual groundedness provides access to our capacity to imagine radically visionary and loving possibilities for what our future may hold, no matter what circumstances are presently unfolding.
This new translation is a brief, highly-readable volume, tightly packed with profundity. While there are references to Jewish texts from Tanach to Rambam to kabbalah (some more obscure than others), they are not required to comprehend Conscious Community’s key insights.
April N. Baskin is the Director of Joyous Justice, where she weaves her 20 years of award-winning leadership experience into her executive & life coaching, facilitation, and thought leadership. Recognized as a faith leader to watch by the Center for American Progress, she is a rising Kohenet (Hebrew Priestess) and is passionate about helping good people cultivate greater courage and clarity so they can actualize their dreams and powerfully contribute to collective wellness & liberation. April hosts a weekly podcast, Joyous Justice.