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Journey of the Mind
by Prof. Yirmiyahu Branover

In the academic world of today, there is a tendency to work only applied research, which has an immediate and local application. Basic research, with the purpose of expanding scientific knowledge but without an immediate application, is seen as irrelevant to the here and now. The type of research that questions basic assumptions and investigates the fundamental underpinnings of common phenomena is no longer seen as worthy of support and expansion.

In the educational system as well, the trend of today is simply to cover the material to meet established objectives measured by standardized tests. The academic world is structured so that knowledge is defined as earning one degree or another, rather than by making a new discovery or following up on one’s curiosity and imagination. The same is true in other fields as well--medicine, engineering, agriculture, even housework. We tend to focus on immediate problems, not on long-term solutions or groundbreaking new visions.

*  *  *

One area in which we do not move in a closed circuit is Torah study, particularly the inner dimensions of Torah, the teachings of Chassidus. These teachings take the learner outside of his or her own limited boundaries and open up a world of infinite possibilities. Through Torah study we gain the feeling that the sky is not the limit--we can connect with Infinity itself.

Although such spiritual journeys hold the risk of an uncontrollable drift into dangerous territory, towards madness on one hand or apostasy on the other, if we follow the guidelines of our sages there is no such risk. With proper spiritual preparation we can delve into the deepest parts of Torah with no worries that it will turn our minds in an undesired direction.

The main principle is that before embarking on a spiritual journey, one must set the objective from the start. Before seeking the Infinite, one must take a firm resolution to return to familiar reality to implement that understanding. Any spiritual insight that one gleans through one's studies must be applied immediately in day-to-day life. This removes the possibility of flying off in the great theoretical "beyond," or returning to this world damaged, unequipped to meet the demands of daily living.

Chassidic teachings free our thinking from the ancient bonds of exile and allow us to experience personal redemption. Moreover, they give us the tools to make positive and lasting changes in this world. The Redemption will be a fundamental change to the entire world, as Maimonides writes: "Do one mitzvah, and cause oneself and the entire world to be judged favorably, and bring about deliverance and salvation." A positive action can be critical for the whole world, the entire cosmos.

Prof. Yirmiyahu Branover is chairman of the Center of Magnetohydrodynamic Studies and Training at Ben-Gurion University.



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