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Wednesday, March 01, 2006


Answers to Questions by Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi

Answers to Questions
By Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi [sent to me without the questions -- make up your own!]

1. The term "paradigm shift" is used to describe a newly emerging way of looking at reality. When the patch jobs on old reality maps, like the Ptolemean (ca 100 BCE) world view (which saw Earth as the center of the Universe) no longer works and it has become essential to design a new one, like that of Copernicus, (that the Earth revolves around the sun,) we have a paradigm shift. A mind-move of such proportions has taken place that it represents not a mere adjustment of the old paradigm, correcting a detail here and another there, but rather a radically changed Weltanschauung. Our faith treasures are independent of the reality maps with which they have become combined. Even though a paradigm no longer works, many people hold on with desperate tenacity to what has become obsolete. A major shift of reality-view threatens to unbalance everything. So much of our assumptions and behaviors depend on these paradigms. But once we delaminate our faith-treasures from the earlier maps, we can connect these treasures of tradition to new maps. Judaism has undergone several such "paradigm shifts": one with Abraham and the Patriarchs, Moses and the First Temple, another after the destruction of the First Temple and and an even greater one after the Churban of the Second Temple, when all of our practice and belief had to be reframed. Auschwitz, Hiroshima and the moon walk have instigated yet another such shift and I write about that. In this book I offer the journey of my own recontextualization of Judaism as helped by Jewish Mysticism.

2. Jewish Renewal, differs from Restoration, which seeks to hold on to the last paradigm. People in Jewish Renewal do not want to abandon sacred and cherished traditions to toss them out along with outworn cosmologies. We are now privy to information which floods us with wonder at the view of a wider and ever more complex cosmos, and we don't want to put our minds in pawn as the price of our staying wedded to our tradition. Still, we look to fill our spiritual needs as experienced in the present with a maximum of tradition. To make this happen we have to retrofit our spiritual technology to the demands of our era. We are sensitive to feminism, human potential, ecology and Whole Earth thinking.

3. Mostly about the issue "what right have you got to modify a long standing and Divinely revealed tradition?". My response is that revelation continues in the present. We are as much at the service of Divine revelation as earlier generations were. We have at this time an additional task, and furthermore, we are aware that we have a task. So we feel our inadequacy - after all, how can we undertake this "updating"?. Yet those who may be better equipped don't perceive this as a need - so it devolves upon us.

4. There was no one pivotal moment with its special theophany. The process was gradual. There was a long series of these epiphanies, often unrelated to one another and the effect was cumulative. And - this is crucial - making sense of these "aha" moments. takes first of all an introspective attitude as well as some meditative and contemplative training. In this way I kept revising and readjusting my credo. I grew through adolescence during the Holocaust years. In the midst of hopelessness I saw glimses of the Presence to which I pledged my life. This created a dynamic tension causing me to hold fast to both doubt and faith. The process was amplified by other experiences: by meeting great souls, by deep prayer and by the struggle we call Godwrestling.

5. Critics of Kabbalah will keep criticizing those who teach it. Their criteria are largely ideological, intellectual and rationalistic ones. In those circles, preoccupation with Kabbalah is too reminiscent of the deranged Chanan of "The Dybbuk" and was thought dangerous. Still smarting from the excesses of the Sabbateans and the Frankists, followers of pseudo-messiahs, they felt the need to defend themselves from an unstable, reality-denying mysticism. Today our situation is different. As one encounters souls in process, one marvels at the amount of inner knowledge and sensitivity they possess. In my own adolescent searches I was blessed to find those who listened seriously to my questions, and encouraged me to reach for answers that matched my inner learning, my in-tuition. So I find that those who honor this direct knowing will not place obstacles in the path of the seeker. The people I teach are often of much greater soul sophistication than those who have heaps of traditional book learning. The established institutions of Jewish education did not know how to cope with the issues that agitated many of the young of the post-Holocaust generation. They went to look elsewhere for their spiritual nourishment, and found in a variety of places e.g. Zen, Vedanta, psychedelics etc.. Hungry to relate the reality of the experiences to their ancestral tradition, they found very few who could honor their questions and answer them. Most members of the established leadership had not had these experiences and could not relate to them. The exoteric-ideological stance of the establishment repelled the seekers. Traditional esoteric teachers demanded that the seekers relinquish and deny their sacred encounters outside of the tradition and begin basic observances, first acquire Hebrew and study the basic text and only after they were sure of their loyaly to traditional Torah Hashkafah would offer them a smidgin of our treasures. There is a concept of T'shuvah, repentance, turning, that is from below to above, and this is what the traditional teachers demanded from the seekers. This is also how many of the returnees have made their way back. There is, however, also the concept of the T'shuvah from above. In that thrust one connects first the higher centers of ones being and later, when one is in relationship with God, one implements what one needs from the tradition to round out ones life. There are now countless individuals and families that have taken the second route and many of these are the members of Havurot and connected with Jewish Renewal.

6. I don't want to answer the question as posed. In fact I find it hard to see how anyone who longs to hasten the process of redemption can answer the question as posed, since we know that a prerequisite for the coming of Moshiach is the unity of Klall Yisroel and the phrasing of such a question results in divisiveness. In 1943 I experienced a surge of imminent messianic expectation when the late Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yossef Yitzchak Schneersohn issued his apocalyptic broadsides. Something messianic was indeed happening but it was not "The Moshiach". I honor Lubavitch-Chabad as the wonderful school from which I graduated and learned not only Davvenology and mysticism but also the urge to work in outreach and the training to do something about Jewish Renewal. This book is about the coming to an end of one era and the dawning of the new one , a paradigm shift.

7. Any thinking Jew who reads the New York Times, listens to N.P.R. or watches Carl Sagan's Cosmos or the McNeil - Lehrer report and wants to keep their Jewish life up-to-date, who has gained something from the Jewish Catalog and has looked over the fence to other forms of spirituality. In all likelihod the book will anger both those who think one must not change anything as well as those who want to change everything.

8. It was not my achievement that I have a foot in the past and a foot in the future, it was my given. I was uniquely placed to comprehend and bridge many worlds, both by historical events ad by personal disposition. My real achievement was in that I held fast to them both, often at great personal cost. This put me in a position to understand the complex struggles of the next generation and to teach them from an extraordinary vantage point. So my greatest achievement stretches beyond my person in the students who continue this work. A great variety of students, from Chassidic- Orthodox to secular humanist, have learned from me. I did not impose a mold on my students. They all felt empowered to follow the inclination of their own inner core and expressed what they had received and integrated in various ways. The range from those who identified themselves openly with Jewish Renewal to those who have quietly returned to their conventional congregations and mainstreamed what they learned, often without explicitely attributing the source. Our contributions simply blended in to the acceptable scene like the rainbow colored Tallit I designed. We created the Havurah movement and the Jewish Catalog which was the growing edge in the late 60's and 70's. Later in the 80's B'nai Or - (then called P'nai Or and now - Aleph Alliance), offered retreats, Kallot and institutes as well as Elat Hayyim, a Jewish Center for Healing and Renewal, a work which continues. The Wisdom School, which I conducted with my partner Eve Penner-Ilsen, was an outstanding effort to hot-house the Jewish Spirit with the emerging state of the art of contemporary psycho-technologies. I trained and ordained Jewish Renewal rabbis, initiated of the Eco-Kosher project, provided the stimulus for Shomrey Adamah, (the guardians of the Earth). We reached out to the disaffected and helped them to own their Judaism again. We invited them to bring and share whatever of value they had leaned to enrich our own traditional practice. All these are component parts of my life's work.

A Difference in ApproachBy Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi

Transcribed by Reuven Goldfarb with the assistance of Eliyahu (Khaled) McLean and Rabbi Pam Baugh and clarifying editorial input from Reb Zalman. Revised excerpt from an audio tape of the Farbrengen, an event featuring Rabbis Zalman Schachter-Shalomi and Shlomo Carlebach, Z'Tz'L, co-sponsored by The Aquarian Minyan and the Berkeley Hillel Foundation, March 19, 1994. The following remarks are by Rabbi Schachter-Shalomi.

I. Used to be, when I would go to Israel, I would go up to a place outside of Nablus, called Balata. Balata was one of those "refugee camps." In Balata there lived Sidi Murshid Hassan, of blessed memory--Salah alaihu. Many of you were there that Yom Kippur afternoon [September 15, 1975/5736, Aquarian Minyan, Berkeley] when we did zikr with Murshid Hassan. Just as we were praying the Avodah where the High Priest enters the sanctuary, he came and led a zikr with us, and we, at that time, got as close as one can get to the inner sacred space.Alas, he passed on. Hardly any great and universalist Sufis around among Palestinians--only the hard-rock fundamentalists are around, and it's very hard to have dialogue with them. You see, I wish that we would again have our counterparts among Palestinians so that we would be able to do like we did at the time in Hevron, years ago.... We went to Hevron and there found the grave of Shibli, one of the Sufi saints. And there was an old blind Sheikh there (he sat there telling his beads), and when I came and sat in front of him, he turned to me--he had felt that I was there and asked me whether I knew Nur (Steve Durkee) and Mariam (another spiritual friend). I said, "Aiwa." Yes."What do you want?"I said, "I want to say zikr with you."And he said, "Then come, on Thursday at 4 o'clock."We came back, a whole group of us, on Thursday at 4 o'clock to that little shtiebele, the Zawiyah. And there the Sheikh sat on the side. And the Qadi of the mosque had come. He had this red fez with a white turban wrap around it, and he wanted to find out whether it's kosher for them to say zikr with us. We are trying to get to talk to each other, but there isn't a translator there. The young Arabs didn't want to admit that they knew Hebrew, so I couldn't give it over to them in Hebrew to translate into Arabic. So they brought the public health official, a doctor, to translate.He came in, and he hadn't said his afternoon prayers. So he began, "Allahu akbar, Allahu akbar," and, standing at his side, I said the prayers along with him. He finished his prayers, and then comes the hearing. And at the hearing, they say,"Who sent you?"I respond, "The One, be He Blessed, Who sent our father Ibrahim out of Ur of the Chaldees.""What do you want?"I said, "I'm here to say zikr with you.""Why don't you go with your own people?"I said, "I davvened this morning with my own people.""So why do you want to say zikr with us?"I said, "Because when I'm outside of the Holy Land, I find my Ihwan, my brethren--Sufi brethren--to say zikr with them there, and to be in the Holy Land, and not to have a chance to say zikr, with you, is sad. I'd like to be able to say zikr with you.""Are you a Muslim?"I say, "La. Ana Mu'min." I'm a believer. I'm not a Muslim, I'm a believer.And they ask, "What do you believe in?"And I say, "Ash-hadu." I bear witness. "La illaha ill Allah al-ahad." There is no G-d but G-d, and that G-d is One.Okay. Not too bad."So, do you observe the Shariyat [the Muslim guide to righteous conduct, equivalent to the Halakhah]?" The Shulchan Aruch, you know? Do you know Shulchan Aruch?The term "Shuchan Aruch," "a prepared table," is also found in the Qur'an,where there is a Sura that's called "Ma'ida," which means "the prepared table," and in that Sura is written what Muslims may and may not eat. Do you hear that? There's a Sura called Shulchan Aruch in the Qur'an!So they ask me, "Do you observe the Shariyat?" I say, "Aiwa." Yes, I do."What level of Shariyat do you observe?"I say, "I observe the Shariyat of the banei Ishaq [and] the banei Yaqub." So he says to me, "Then why not follow the Shariyat of Islam?" I say, "Because it is not fitting, it isn't 'Adab,' it's not fitting for a son to go in paths different than his father. So I come from the banei Ishaq and banei Yaqub and not from the banei Ismail, and so I have to follow the Shariyat of my parents.""What about Tariqat?"So we were talking about the higher levels of the Sufi. I said, "With that, I'm with you at one."Then somebody gives a kick on the side and says, "Ask him! Ask him! What about Rasuliyat?" What has he got to say about Muhammed? Ah, they got me, ah!So I say, "Ash-hadu." I bear witness. "La illaha il Allah, wa Muhammed-ar Rasul'Illah." There is no G-d but Allah. Muhammed is His messenger.So they say to me, "Then you're a Muslim!"And I say, "La. Ana Yahud." No, I'm a Jew."Then how could you say, how could you say such a thing?"So I said, "Allow me to go back with you in your history. There was Ismail, he son of Ibrahim Khalil Allah, Abraham the friend of G-d. Ismail still had the Tawhid--the knowledge of the Oneness of G-d--but his children fell into the dark ages, into the jahiliya, into the unknowing. And so, they had lost their way to the Oneness of G-d. So, Ya Rahman, Ya Rahim, the Merciful, the Compassionate, sent out a messenger to the children of Ismail to bring them back to the Tawhid--to the Oneness. I believe that he was a true messenger."The Imam said, "I don't want to talk anymore. I want to say zikr with this man!"And they brought in the drums, and we start to say zikr.

II. Another time, in Hevron--and I want to talk about that because it hurts so much, you know; another time, in Hevron, there was a group of people that went on a pilgrimage with us. And we came to the tomb, and I said to the people, "Wait a little bit." And I went in to the Sheikh of the tomb. He has a little office there. And I said to him, "May I speak to you for a moment?" He speaks a very good English."Yes. What can I do for you?"I said, "I've come to ask your permission to do our pilgrimage here."He said, with a bitter heart, he said, "You need my permission?"--pointing to the guys with the Uzis outside.And I said, "You, and your family, and your ancestors, have been the keepers of this sacred tomb for all these years, and it isn't fitting that I should ignore that."He got up from behind his desk and gave me a hug, and a kiss on both sides of the cheek, and then took me and the group around Machpelah. What a difference there is in the approach! How important it is not to forget that.

III. The story about Shlomo that touches me so much was the time when he was invited to sing in a prison, and out come all the Jewish women prisoners. And he said, "Are these all the prisoners who are here?" They said, "Yes, but there are some Arabs; they don't want to come." And Shlomo went inside and said, "I can't perform, I can't sing if they don't come. Let me invite them myself." And he went to invite them.Comes to one of the cells, there's a woman sitting on the floor, sort of beating her head and crying. He asks, "What's going on?" And they tell him that her son was killed. So Shlomo took off his shoes and sat down outside of her cell, doing like in shiv'ah with her, grieving. A woman, Khaleda, was translating for him to her. She was there in that prison because of a bomb that she had planted. So it was a high security prison.After a while the Arabs all came to the big hall, and they were singing with Shlomo and dancing with him. And he was explaining a Torah based on "L'ma'an lo nayvosh v'lo n'kalaym"--may we not be made to be shamed nor defamed--all of us, if every one of us, if everything about us were known, wouldn't we also be behind bars?And beginning with that he finally got them to sing and to dance, including the wardens, now dancing with the Arab women. Can you see this? So it's a difference in approach, do you understand?

man you are very spiritual-anyway come over and find out the truth not what my wife has been telling you
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