The Unity of Above and Below

July 7th, 2019

In honor of our teacher, R. Zalman Schachter-Shalom, ztz’l, on the occasion of his fifth Yahrzeit which begins at sunset tonight, 5 Tammuz, July 7, 2019, I offer this translation of Tikkunei Zohar 132a. May the memory of R. Zalman forever be a blessing! Gabbai Seth Fishman (Original text may be found clicking here)

My son: A merit for the one who does these commandments, commandments that depend on these organs, a merit comes to whoever enacts the unification of the blessed Holy One with His Shekhinah in this world. Then, the blessed Holy One couples with Her, with His Consort, in that world. And whoever comes near to bring an offering for Him [and] for His Shekhinah, the blessed Holy One comes near to Her, to His Consort. And whoever makes for Him a sanctuary, as scripture states, (Exodus 25:8) “And they shall make Me a sanctuary,” the blessed Holy One makes for him in that world a house to dwell (for him) there which is the holy of holies. And whoever makes Him a Sukkah, the blessed Holy One forms shade over him in that world, and protects him from all destructive angels when emerging from this world and going to that world. Whoever blesses the blessed Holy One, and sanctifies him in his prayer in this world, the blessed Holy One blesses him in that world, and sanctifies him. And no sanctifications if less than ten. And similarly, thus, the blessed Holy One makes for him ten wedding canopies in Gan Eden.

Entire text below:

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Wrappings for God

April 7th, 2019

Reb Zalman, a’h was asked: “When you come before God. I wonder, what is that ‘God’ to you? Who is this that you come before? And what is that like?”

Here’s his reply:

Ok. It’s such a good question!

And I want to say that at another time I was describing how William James, the great psychologist who wrote about varieties of religious experience, one day made his way and came to a town in New England and, he asked one of the wardens of the church, “Who is God for you? What do you place yourself in front of?”

He answered: “An oblong blur.”

Now he was talking to a New England transcendentalist who was very much afraid to say anything of shape because that’s a “no-no.”

The mistake is that the head has to know there’s no shape. But the heart has to have a root-metaphor.

I can be in a monistic place in my head but I can’t be in a monistic place in my heart. In my heart I have to have the other whom I love. That’s where I’m in the I/Thou relationship.

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Levels of T’shuvah

September 16th, 2018

A teaching from Reb Zalman, z’l, as Yom Kippur comes this Tuesday night. It is taken from a wonderful pamphlet called Yom Kippur Kattan and the Cycles of T’shuvah (pp. 22-23) which can be found and purchased through the ALEPH Canada Web Site clicking here. The pamphlet is based on a lecture Reb Zalman gave recorded April 1999 and edited by Rabbi Daniel Siegel.
Blessings to all for a meaningful fast and g’mar chatima tova!

~~~

Imagine I’m going shopping in a mall. In the middle of the shopping, I get this feeling I have to do t’shuvah. The likelihood is it’s not going to be a lot of deep stuff that’s going to happen but it’s going to be like an action directive: “Zalman, that you don’t do.”

That’s like doing t’shuvah on the level of nefesh.

Let’s say I go somewhere on Thursday night and I still am embarrassed about that stupid remark I made to that person that hurt that person. I apologized for it, but really I’ll be making the same stupid mistake again if I don’t really check it out: was I trying to be clever? Was s/he the person I was talking to or was I talking to an imaginary other in my mind at that time when I said that?

This is the kind of level of t’shuvah that you would do on Thursday night

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For Rosh Hashanah

September 2nd, 2018

From Yishmru Daat, page 102, (Hebrew text here), this is a paraphrase and translation of Reb Zalman’s text:

This day is the anniversary of the start of God’s handiwork” (i.e. the creation of the universe), “a remembrance of the first day.” (The above is a text from the Rosh Hashanah Mussaf prayer called Zichronot / Remembrances.)

Since our time is one of Paradigm Shift-ing, i.e., radical change is happening on our planet and in our religion on a scale as powerful as the time of Reb Yochanan Ben Zakai, the time when the second Temple was destroyed, we can no longer only rely on our ancestors who sent deep wisdom our way in the liturgy and traditions of the holiday of Rosh Hashanah. In addition to this, each of us must accept upon ourselves that we will be the agents for change. We each bring divine sparks. We are empowered to “roll up our sleeves” and take action to bring about the change and establish “God’s kingdom.”

This is Rosh Hashanah‘s theme said in the prayers with this language:

“Dear God: Reign over the whole world in Your dignity.”

This text may be interpreted differently by different people. But despite our differences, every way of understanding brings an important piece of the puzzle.

When we hear the Shofar we may be thinking, “Papa, Papa, I’m not perfect, have mercy on me for my inadequacies!” Nonetheless, we can’t just rely on help from On High as a powerless one passively waits for a response. You are empowered to tap into a yearning for a better world through establishing a connection with the Source of blessing and to send your yearning upward. We are in an intimate relationship with Hashem. At this time, we should take the first step in that relationship to improve its quality and closeness.

At the time of Rosh Hashanah, we affirm our intention to work on this relationship, and to remain committed to it. Toward this end, here are three themes of the day:

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For Leonard Bernstein’s 100th Birthday

August 26th, 2018

As yesterday would have been the 100th birthday of the great Leonard Bernstein (a’h), I am sharing this link to his December 1989 performance of Candide:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cMIzHnyuiNY

Bernstein was a “Hasid” in the sense that he helped many of us through his art and his genius and his struggles with Emunah / Faith. Please read his opening remarks, transcribed below, from this wonderful performance:

Surprise!

My dear friends, I hear you thinking, “Here comes the old professor to lecture us again!” But I promise to be brief and only [speak] by way of introduction.

The reason I feel I should say a few words… , that I ought to say something, is that for more than thirty years, (thirty-five years to be exact), people have asked me, “Why Candide; whither and whence Candide?” And I thought I might answer a little more clearly by speaking not only as the composer of this work, but as an every-day observer of history – like anyone here – and particularly of that period of history known as “The Age of Enlightenment”, roughly the eighteenth century, which was the century in which Voltaire lived, wrote, and in which he had extraordinary influence.

His masterpiece was a tough, skinny little novella, called “Candide” which inspired the playwright Lilian Helman and me to have a bash at it musically.

Voltaire’s book was actually entitled, “Candide or Optimism,” it being a viciously satirical attack on a prevalent philosophical system known as “Optimism” which was based on the rather indigestible writings of a certain Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz and popularized by our own beloved Alexander Pope.

For example, in this great line from his “Essay on Man”:

“One truth is clear, Whatever is, is right.”

Now according to Leibniz, whose ideas Pope was lyricizing, if we believe in a Creator, then He must be a GOOD Creator, and the greatest of all possible Creators and therefore could have created only the best of all possible worlds; in other words, everything that is, is right.

Granted that in this world the innocent are mindlessly slaughtered and that crime mostly goes unpunished, and that there is disease and death and poverty but, if we could only see the whole picture, the divine, universal plan, then we would understand that whatever happens is for the best!

Thus spake Leibniz.

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Moshiach Zeit, Moving from Moshe to Shlomo Hamelekh

July 29th, 2018
  • Reb Zalman’s original Hebrew is here (Excerpt, Yishmru Daat, pp 74-75.) [NOTE English translation below. Both translations by Gabbai Seth Fishman, rebzgabbai@verizon.net].

The Mei HaShiloach text Reb Zalman references is here

Reb Zalman’s text:

And in truth, Moshe Rabbeinu (a’h) taught us until the coming of the Moshiach in an aspect of Sefer Devarim the torah’s principles. And according to the Mei HaShiloach (z’l) (cf Sefer Mei Hashiloach part 1, Masechet Menachot page 53) he says that for the present age the practice is according to Moshe Rabbeinu (Deuteronomy 17:11) “you shall not divert” (ibid 13:1) “You shall neither add to it, nor subtract from it,” but in the days of the Moshiach the practice will be according to Shlomo HaMelech according to the details of reality in an aspect of (Ecclesiastes 3:1) “Everything has an appointed season, and there is a time for every matter.”

Mei HaShiloach (from Mei HaShiloach I Menachos 53)

Gemara:
The rabbinic students said to R’ Preida: “R’ Ezra, the grandson of R’ Avtolas, who is a tenth-generation descendant of R’ Elazar ben Azaryah, who was a tenth-generation descendant of Ezra the Scribe, is standing at the door.” R’ Preida said to them: “What is all this? Why do you give his lineage? … If he is a scholar and of distinguished ancestry fine. But if he is of distinguished ancestry and is not a scholar, [may fire consume him!]” They answered him: “He is a scholar.” [R’ Preida] said to them: “Let him enter and come before us.” When R’ Ezra entered [R’Preida] saw that his mind was unsettled. [R’ Preida] therefore began saying,

[NOTE: Translated in accord with the Izhbitzer’s explanation below]:

“‘I said to God,” etc., ‘My good is in other than you.'”

[NOTE: The above is from the Gemara. The Izhbitzer’s commentary begins here:]

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Publications, etc., by Reb Zalman (a’h)

July 10th, 2018

Rabbi Daniel Siegel sends the following: The ALEPH Canada Web Site, https://www.alephcanada.ca/catalogue, offers Reb Zalman’s books, CD’s and DVD’s as digital downloads. Prices are in Canadian dollars. Other items listed below are offered by Amazon.

Here is the current listing (updated 7/10/2018):

* Credo of a Modern Kabbalist (with Daniel Siegel) ($18)

* An English Siddur for Weekdays (temporarily unavailable)

* First Steps to a New Jewish Spirit (with Donald Gropman) (available from Amazon)

* Gate to the Heart: An Evolving Process (edited by Robert Esformes) (available from Amazon)

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Reb Zalman’s “Hilulah”

June 17th, 2018

Tonight will be Reb Zalman’s 4th Yahrzeit, “ברביעי֙ בחמשה לחדש” / Fifth of Tammuz.

It was two years ago, July 13, 2016, a few days after his 2nd Yahrzeit that year, and we gathered at the Aleph Kallah in Fort Collins and heard these amazing sharings. Deep thanks to Rabbi Tirzah and Rabbi Marc for their holy work.

Feel free to add your comments below. Gabbai Seth Fishman

~~~

Rabbi Tirzah Firestone:

Everybody! As we start, I invite you to take a big breath! Let’s take a moment to come back home into ourselves and wind down from the day. Take a deep breath. Ahhh!

Bruchim habaim.

I want to mention the extraordinary good news that our beloved friend, brother, colleague and teacher, Rabbi Marc Soloway is with us despite his recent loss. Reb Marc just got up from shiva for his father and he returned from London yesterday afternoon.

Marc is in a tender place; and all of us are tender too, as we recall and share the events around the miraculous occurrences and last days related to Reb Zalman’s departure from this world into the next, his hilulah.

Rabbi Marc and I had the unimaginable honor of laying our Rebbe to rest!

In the midst of leading the levaya, a chant came to me and it was pushing, really dofek, it was pushing, “Sing me! Sing me!” We’ll start with that now. I felt it came from Reb Zalman, that he wanted this passuk from the sixteenth perek of Tehillim sung.

I’d like to begin with a brief teaching on the term “Hilulah” which is, after all, the theme of this Kallah. As has been explained at all the orientations, it means, “celebration” in Hebrew, “festivities” normally surrounding a wedding.

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A Lifebelt for Doubt in Faith

September 24th, 2017

Excerpts taken from interview with Reb Zalman z’l by Daniel Epstein. You can see the whole interview by clicking here. (The video appears as part of a YouTube Channel called, “Portraits in Faith“) [NOTE: Edited by Seth Fishman]

D: What is your earliest memory of faith or this idea that there is a God?

Reb Zalman: This is so hard to get to because there is a level in which it is so deep. I am reminded of the well-known story of the child who is around two years old when they brought home his newborn brother. And the parents overhear in the intercom as he is saying, “Please tell me about God. I’m beginning to forget!”

So this is a very deep thing because whenever you get to trying to describe a place of deep insight… There used to be a television program with a big wheel that’s a door and you entered into another world through it, [“the Time Tunnel”], and I could sort of see the center of the Mandala through which I have to walk [to access this place], and there are memories that are not quite up in sharp relief.

So I can’t tell you about that earliest memory because that’s what stumped me. But if you say an early memory:

  • To be with my Papa under the Tallis when he is davening and he would sort of hug me – that was such a moment, a recognition that the universe is a good universe; that I’m at home.
  • Seeing my mother light candles as a child; knowing that she was talking to someone who really was there – that was an important thing; it made me feel that I could also talk to God.

And sometimes, when my aunt didn’t let me play with my cousin, I would get back on the staircase and talk to God saying how unfair it is; but it was a very real thing.

As a child I would walk by a little side-chapel in a big church and the ladies would be lighting candles and standing like my Mama did on Shabbos. And Papa would take me to shul with the men. So I had this notion that women were Catholic and men were Jewish.

This is childish but there was something very special about that, that when people are praying, this thing, i.e. to be able to talk to God, is important.

Once I looked under the tallis when Papa had just finished leading a Rosh HashannahYom Kippur service and I saw tears in his eyes and said:

Papa warum weinst du” / why are you crying?

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Shema Yisrael: Hashem Elokeinu Hashem Echad

July 4th, 2017

Excerpt from CD recorded at Makom Ohr Shalom called “Reb Zalman Prays” © 2008 ShareWonder Media, transcribed and edited by Gabbai Seth Fishman.

Reb Zalman, a’h:

One of the things that makes parenting a joy is to put children to bed at night and they don’t want to fall asleep. At that time they come up with wonderful questions to engage you in such a way that you can’t say no. For instance, five-year-old Yotam asked me:

Abba, what happens to people when they die?”

“What do YOU think,” I asked and he says:

“Well we sort of have  two lives: There’s an awake life and a dream life. And I think the awake life stops and the dream life continues.”

And how wonderful an answer that was.

And Shalvi one time said:

Abba, when you’re asleep you can wake up. When you’re awake can you wake up even more?”

These are the kinds of questions that come when you sit next to a child on the bed and you sing:

B’shem Hashem B’shem Hashem Elokei Yisrael. And then you say the Shema with them.

Or imagine a different scene: You are visiting someone in hospice.

This past erev Rosh HaShannah, one of our friends, who had been suffering from ALS, died. We had visited her in hospice and, we sang to her. And then, we said the Shema with her; that was a very important thing.

So the Shema is when you start out. And the Shema is when you leave. There’s something remarkable about this.

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