Archive for 2007

So You Want To Learn Kabbalah

Tuesday, December 25th, 2007

Regarding Kabbalah / Jewish Mysticism, Reb Zalman says:

“All blessings to you in your studies.  As you hear these ideas from time to time, and as you allow yourself to be receptive to the images that they stir up in you, I hope that the words of the Kabbalah will be transparent to you, and that you begin to understand, feel and know depths that you couldn’t previously.”

Many thanks go to Rabbi Marcia Prager for her permission to include drawings from her Siddur called, “A Siddur for Shabbat Morning.” Gabbai Seth Fishman (BLOG Editor)


By Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi

Table of Contents:

Being Receptive
The Universes
Divine Names
B’Tselem Elokim / In God’s image
Ten Sefirot
Looking Inside
A Blessing
As Below, So Above
Reformatting Hierarchical Into Humanistic
Sayings of the Hasidic Masters
Mystery of the Shechinah
Movement and Prayer
When One Must Reprove
Beyond Mind


The Endgame In Job

Thursday, December 20th, 2007

Some thirty-five years ago, Reb Zalman wrote an article called “The Endgame in Job,” in which he gives a brilliant analysis of The Book of Job.  

Karl Jung, in his book, Answer to Job, says that Job’s suffering was necessary and he explains why.  According to Jung, at some point in ancient times, YHVH, as the godhead, was not as useful and relevant as before.   The Book of Job stirs up a question in us that Jung wanted to address:  “Was there some reason, some utility in Job’s experience and suffering?”  Jung’s answer:  “Yes.  Humanity needed to be promoted in the hierarchy of the godhead.  God became incarnate in man.”  Jung would have answered Job that Job’s relationship with YHVH in the story helped make the incarnation happen.

Reb Zalman’s article provides a different, Jewish perspective on this book.  Just as YHVH is eternal, so does the The Book of Job stand the test of time as part of tanach / Jewish scriptures.  Please read Reb Zalman’s wonderful article and feel free to share any thoughts in the comment section at the end.   Gabbai Seth Fishman (BLOG Editor)


(Winnipeg 1972) 

Table of Contents:

The Prologue
The Experiment and its Implication for God
Job’s Punishment for Silence
History and Authorship
Significance of Names in the Book
The Outcome:  Man is the Winner
Myth and Theology
Job, the Mystic’s End-Game
Catharsis of the Book of Job
The Messianic Era


The Olam Haba of Psycho-Halachah

Wednesday, December 12th, 2007

Shalom, u-vracha / Greetings and blessings.

A blogger named Dauer has been very interested in Reb Zalman’s vision for Psycho-Halachah for some time.  This Hanukkah, he and I have blogged on this subject and I want to share this discussion with the rest of you.  We’ve been struggling with an understanding of Psycho-Halachah. 

Psycho-Halachah is a concept that Reb Zalman has written about to describe the process by which Jewish law and practice gets updated by Paradigm Shift.  With the advent of developments in Psychology over the past 150 years, there is a corresponding impact on the way Halachah evolves.  Reb Zalman coined this term, Psycho-Halachah, to describe this impact, as well as the impact of other aspects of Paradigm Shift on the process of halachah.

Dauer wants a clearer picture of how Psycho-Halachah fits in with Halachah.  Is it a new Halachah?  Is it something specifically for a Jewish Renewal denomination, or is its influence greater?  How does it fit in with what we’ve inherited from hazal (our Sages)?

Click here to read our discussion.

For the most comprehensive treatment to date on this subject, please read Reb Zalman’s book, Integral Halachah: Transcending and Including, available from Aleph.

If you would like to participate in this dialogue, please add comments to our dialogue on Dauer’s blog or in the remarks section below.  Blessings, Gabbai Seth Fishman (BLOG Editor)

On Halachah and Jewish Renewal

Wednesday, December 5th, 2007

In each one of the following excerpts, Reb Zalman uses the same analogy:  How a spine grows in endo-skeletal vertebrates.  The analogy is used to illustrate Reb Zalman’s sense of how the essential structures of both Halachah / the way to be a Jew and Jewish Renewal are to be understood.  The essential structures are inside and they stay constant in a basic way while at the same time there is growth and change. 

Respectively, the excerpts are from Reb Zalman’s book, Integral Halachah: Transcending and Including, available from Aleph and an edited transcription of a video you can see by clicking here, posted on Rabbi Ayla Grafstein’s Youtube site.  Please share your comments on either or both excerpts and happy HanukkahGabbai Seth Fishman (BLOG Editor)

From Integral Halachah:

“Here is a wonderful, organic way of looking at the anchors of halachah / observance, what I’d call ‘the non-negotiables,’ ‘the absolutes:’   They are like the bones of an organism.   

“Look at the etymology for the Hebrew word atzmut / essence and atzmiut identity:  They both come from etzem / bone. 

“The essence of halachah is bone-like.  That feels right to me.  I see some present-day halachists as trying to protect themselves around with bones, as if the anchors were exo-skeletal. 

“We have to bring halachah inside so that we live with and have our skeleton on the inside and we have flesh, skin, etc., around it. 

“Deep inside are our absolutes, but around that we have to be able to grow, develop and change, which is like what is known as the chanoch la-na’ar / the education of the child. 

“Imagine that we decide to throw away the Maxwell House Haggadah so it speaks more to the concerns of the adults from our time.  How do we do this in such a way that it still speaks to the children and the adults, in such a way that as events change in the world from year to year it remains constant while it grows at the same time?  How do we give the children their connection and give each person his/her connection according to his/her phase in life so all can tune into it, yet it remains constant and recognizable? This is the genius of the seder, the genius in the way in which we have our edut, in the celebrative ways that we have.


Accidental Oops-es of God?

Wednesday, November 28th, 2007

The following is from “For Arnold Jacob Wolf’s Festschrift” Gabbai Seth Fishman (BLOG Editor)

Reb Zalman says:

“In the early 1960’s, before I had fully realized I was a post-Triumphalist, I wrote a sliding scale concerning participation in other religions and Kashrut / degrees of permittedness from a Jewish perspective.

“For example, it had Sufism on the same level as eating a salad in a non Kosher restaurant served on a glass or paper plate and Satanism on the same level as eating pork on Yom Kippur. Non-iconic forms of Vedanta, Quakerism and Buddhism came out closer to the Kosher side, like a vegetable soup in regular china with non kosher flatware, while high iconic Christianity and Hinduism were more like eating non-kosher beef.  It was a pretty good attempt that still may have some mileage in it for triumphalist restorationists.

“Then and now, I believed in the workings of Divine Providence, in the way Hassidism teach it, Hashgachah pratit / a specific Divine Providence, one that ordains even how a leaf falls.

“So I had to also entertain the idea that this same Divine Providence had produced a Buddha, a Lao Tzu.

“Could I say that just as we consider our own Rebbes to be N’shamot Klaliyot / exalted souls encompassing the souls of many, that these were not the same?  Were they just accidental oops-es of God?


Al Hanissim / For the Miracles

Monday, November 26th, 2007

Based upon the traditional Hanukkah text which gets inserted into the tefillah / the eighteen benedictions and birkat hamazon / Grace After Meals, Reb Zalman has composed the following update, which can be used in its stead:


Happy HanukkahGabbai Seth Fishman (BLOG Editor)

Envisioning Success in Annapolis

Sunday, November 25th, 2007

From Reb Zalman: 

“It seems to me that all of us need to exert our hope and faith for the success of the negotiations in Annapolis this week.  We should hold the image of a Middle East that has healed from its deep wounds.  On both sides the narrative has to be changed radically. 

“The atavistic reinforcement of reptilian brain reactivity cannot be changed by the mere ‘rational’ cortex language, the type of language that will be used during that conference.  

“It is not likely that the shift will happen without a spiritual transparency to the will of God and the healing of the planet. 

“There’s a missing ingredient, not to be found in any discussions of the peace issue from either side.  That ingredient is the recognition of a benefit of having the other as neighbor.

“At the moment, the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank (also, Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Lebanon), do not seem to see any benefit in having the democratic state of Israel as a neighbor in their midst.  And Israel also does not seem to see a benefit of having an Arab/Muslim/Palestinian state as an intrinsic entity either.

“Until this vision is added added, the discussions will lack something crucial, negatively influencing the likelihood of a peaceful outcome. 


Maoz Tzur

Sunday, November 25th, 2007

Please make use of Reb Zalman’s translation of Maoz Tzur which works with the traditional melody while adding a post-triumphalist slant to the original.   Happy HanukkahGabbai Seth Fishman (BLOG Editor)


Chovot Ha-l’vavot / Obligations of the Heart

Monday, November 19th, 2007

From Reb Zalman’s book, Integral Halachah: Transcending and Including, available from Aleph

“Really important in Psycho-Halachic work is to keep in mind Reb Ahrele Roth’s, a”h, 32 mitzvot hat’luyot b’lev / 32 obligations that depend on the heart for fulfillment.  They are mitzvahs one strives to do continually, in every moment. 

“Years ago I would give my friends a little bell to hang in the car as a help in this practice.  Each time they heard the bell when the car went over a bump in the road, the bell was to remind them:  ‘Nu?  Think of one of these mitzvahs.’  E.g., Aha!  I love You G-d!  You are One!  I respect You!  I place my faith and my trust in You!  I ask You to help me live a good life!  I called it the Nu-bell – a pun, like Nu-bell prize.  I would say that if holila v’chas / God forbid I’d have to die in an automobile accident, then I would hear the bell and instead of going out, ‘Oh sh..,’ I’d go out saying, e.g., ‘Echad, Yachid um’yuchad’ / ‘One, only one, altogether one.’

“These are the kinds of affirmations we can make. The whole point is to accommodate one’s mind so that an awareness of G-d is always in the background whatever we’re doing, and to keep these installed in the background.”

Here are the 32 affirmations of Reb Ahrele Roth as it appears in Reb Zalman’s “An English Siddur for Weekday,” available from Aleph.

Reb Ahrele Roth, a”h, wrote a list of 32 mitzvot whose fulfillment is completed in the brain, the heart and the mouth.

A good preparation and a bridge for the shema and its blessings section of the shacharit service as you enter into the world of B’ri’ah is Reb Ahrele Roth’s list of Mitzvot one can do with consciousness alone. 

The Hebrew alphabetical equivalent of 32 is ל”ב, the letters of which spell the Hebrew word, lev / heart.


The Ten-Planner

Thursday, November 8th, 2007

Reb Zalman says:

“I’ve worked on the design of a computer program for problem-solving, or planning, using the tradition of the sefirot / divine attributes as a methodology.  If the software is ever produced, it can be called, the ten-planner.  Here is a description of what it would look like:

“The program would systematically divide a problem into activities using the sefirot as a guide.  It would allocate intervals of time of differing duration for each activity and would do this through asking a series of questions. 

“First, it would ask keter / vision questions:  Keter questions help one to structure the time allocation for the subsequent phases to define where to spend the time.  Keter will create a balanced tree.

Chochmah / Brainstorming would ask:  ‘What do you want?’  The person would say, ‘I want x.’

Binah / Planning would say:  ‘Let’s figure out what x is.  What are all its dimensions?  What are its inputs?  What kind of planning goes into it?  What sort of a budget is needed?’  And Binah‘s answers would lead to computations and allocations.

“Da’at / Awareness would sneak in as quality control:  ‘How will we know we’ve achieved what we set out to achieve?  I, Da’at, am the feed-back loop.  When it doesn’t hit these indicators, I’ll tell you you’ve missed the mark.’

Chesed / Lovingkindness:  ‘What are my resources?  What’s available for spending in terms of time, space, energy, money, etc.?’

Gevurah / Discipline:  ‘What limits must I consider for time, space, energy, money, etc.?’

Tiferet / Balance:  ‘Who’s going to participate?’  (Tiferet has the social dimension.)

Netzach / Effectiveness, Efficiency:  ‘What kind of technology do I need to make it happen.  Who do I need with what expertise?’  (There’s a discussion between netzach and gevurahGevurah says, ‘Don’t forget your budget,’ while netzach wants to spend through the nose, so it will be super-duper good with insurance and everything built in.  Gevurah sends down a budget message, saying, ‘We can’t afford everything you want, netzach.’)

Hod / Impact:  ‘How am I going to get this idea to find space in peoples’ hearts?  How shall I market it?  How shall I package it?’

Yesod / reproducibility:  ‘How can I produce it so that today and tomorrow it can keep going and be nurtured.  I need a sustainable way.’

Malchut / Operations:  ‘Release the plan.  It has to function by itself, without being connected to the system which produced it.’

“The above, illustrates one way that we might try to apply the functions of the Sefirot in the world of Assiyah.”

Please share the ways in which you have integrated sefirot into your life.  Gabbai Seth Fishman, BLOG Editor.