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Higher & Higher

Shraga Simmons

Nineteen years ago, Rabbi Doniel Katz didn’t have a single Jewish friend. Today, he leads Elevation, teaching even FFBs how to connect to Hashem

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

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WITHOUT A NET “Society thinks that happiness is found in the outside world. In truth, only when our emotional state is internally generated — independent of external influences — have we achieved emotional liberation” (Photos: Courtesy of Elevation Seminar)

A t a recent Elevation seminar in Jerusalem, Rabbi Doniel Katz takes the stage to share the Baal Shem Tov’s technique of ha’alos hamachshavos for getting in touch with one’s inner world.

“We first identify a negative middah, then subdue it, then turn that energy in a positive direction,” he explains. “This is how Chazal define the difference between a rasha and tzaddik: The rasha’s heart speaks to him, while the tzaddik speaks to his heart.”

At the seminar, Reb Doniel emphasizes how constant dveikus is predicated on controlling one’s own mind. “Society thinks that happiness is found in the outside world. In truth, only when our emotional state is internally generated — independent of external influences — have we achieved emotional liberation.”

Reb Doniel then selects an audience member for a real-time practical application of the technique. “Talk to your heart,” he encourages, as the participant silently focuses on an inner struggle. During five minutes of guided meditation, the participant reports that decades of anxiety have dissolved on the spot.

“No, it’s not magic, and lasting change doesn’t come instantly,” Reb Doniel tells the group. “Once we have awareness of our inner thoughts, we can build a tool kit to control our minds.

“That,” he says, “is the beginning of tikkun hamiddos and true dveikus.”

Point of Connection

Ironically, in today’s hyper-connected world, the greatest challenge facing Jews is spiritual disconnect. We step up to pray and struggle to stay focused. We face life’s challenges and fail to see Hashem’s constant intervention. We yearn for dveikus but find it elusive. The high percentage of non-observant Jewry, and “frum at risk,” are painful symptoms of this problem.

“Without question, the greatest challenge facing Jewry today is the lack of an emotional connection with the Borei Olam,” Rav Yitzchak Berkovitz shlita of the Jerusalem Kollel told Mishpacha. “This phenomenon spans all segments of our people, from the unaffiliated to the highly observant, Lithuanian bnei Torah and even chassidim. We must bring the neshamah back to Yiddishkeit. Every Yid has to know Hashem loves him. Every Yid has to feel close to Him. Every Yid must learn to speak to Him.”

Reb Doniel Katz, a 42-year-old Australian baal teshuvah now living in Jerusalem, is embracing the challenge. Through practical and experiential workshops, his multilevel “Elevation” curriculum mixes tools from mussar and chassidus for increased self-awareness, inner serenity, and joy. His 300-page sourcebook covers the gamut from Rav Wolbe to Tanya, Chovos Halevavos to Maharal, Rambam to Rav Dessler.

From Joburg to Boro Park to Jerusalem, people are flocking to seminars like Elevation to learn how to connect with Hashem

This message has clearly struck a nerve. Over the past year, Elevation’s “spiritual connection” seminars have been presented to packed shuls and kiruv events in Brooklyn, London, Tel Aviv, and Los Angeles; to a crowd of 5,000 at Johannesburg’s Sinai Indaba; and to thousands more in online chaburahs, business summits, and mindfulness conferences.

Those who grew up Orthodox note the irony of a baal teshuvah teaching them about connection with Hashem.

Speaking with Mishpacha from his home/study center in Jerusalem, Reb Doniel explains that while the Elevation seminar is officially a kiruv program, its message resonates with frum audiences.

“For centuries, rabbanim have been speaking about mitzvas anashim melumadah — the rote performance of mitzvos. But until now it’s never had such fatal consequences. Previously, even a Jew doing mitzvos by rote still had emunah peshutah, along with a communal safety net. In our generation, this is no longer the case. A Jew might appear frum externally, yet is missing the true experience of Hashem. With today’s outside stimuli so strong, that house of cards can quickly collapse.” (Excerpted from Mishpacha, Issue 679)

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