Absorbing our surroundings
Did you ever have a conversation with someone where you intended to teach them something but in the end you ended up learning something deeper about the idea yourself? As the words are leaving your mouth, you’re surprised at how clear it is to you and you notice how the other person feels deeply connected to what your saying. Or sometimes you discuss a certain challenge with a friend and come to a profound insight simply by speaking out the issue. (They might start responding with their advice but now you’re engulfed in your own thoughts, ignoring what they’re telling you).
Rebbe Nachman calls this the internalization of surrounding perceptions, אורות המקיפים.
In Tinyana 7 he says that when we speak with our friends and students about the fear of Heaven, we’re able to reach levels of knowledge that just before were unattainable to us. The Kabbalah speaks of two forms of perceptions, or spiritual lights. The first is called פנימי, or internal perception. The other is called מקיף, a peripheral perception. Whatever a person knows already is his internal perception. But there is always greater insights that he has yet to comprehend. These peripheral perceptions are said to hover around his mind. The Rebbe teaches that when we engage ourselves in the loving act of teaching another human being, we empty our mind of our internal perceptions. This now allows the peripheral and transcendent perceptions to penetrate our mind. Now we can understand that which was previously unattainable to us.
King David sings “מכל מלמדי השכלתי, I learned from all my teachers” (Psalms 119). What did David mean by saying that he learned from all his teachers? This could be answered by what the Talmud says in the name of Judah Hanasi, “I learned a lot of Torah from my teachers, and from my friends even more, but from my students the most” (Makkos 10a). How could it be that this great tanna learned the most from his students? But now we understand that when we give over our knowledge to others, we make space for new knowledge. When Judah Hanasi taught his students, he learned the most because the peripheral perceptions that he couldn’t grasp now became part of his internal knowledge.
Another thing that is crucial to learn from this teaching is the importance of communicating. So many of us feel too much pride to share. We feel too uncomfortable to make ourselves vulnerable, unburdening ourselves before others. But there’s deeper insight surrounding us, waiting to enter and illuminate our minds. Open your mouth, teach and let the light shine in.