Diversity and Ahavat Yisrael

Last week, I was one of the hundred plus participants at the wonderful Shavuot retreat at Isabella Freedman (Elat Chayyim).  At the closing circle, a question was posed by another attendee: 

  • For those of us who came here from a place of more traditional observance, do you have any advice for how we can integrate what we’ve experienced and learned here with those traditional places of worship?” 

I’ve transcribed Reb Zalman’s response below.  Gabbai Seth Fishman, BLOG Editor

In the booklet called “Gate to the Heart,” I make the following point (cf., Stages of the Path, pp 6-8): 

When a person first gets caught in “Oy! How wonderful it is to be a Jew,” they are in the land of “Milk and Honey.”  This is like the Oral Phase in Freud’s Psychosexual Stages of Development, (NOTE:  Referred to as the Rung of Love in “Gate to the Heart”).  “Oy is it good, geshmak / delicious, it’s beautiful.”  

And after a while, following the Freudian model, the progression has their Judaism moving to the Anal Phase, which is to say, “Now I need to learn some discipline,” (NOTE:  Referred to as the Rung of Power in “Gate to the Heart”).

But if someone doesn’t want to move on, saying, “I don’t want to go for a practice with discipline, I want to go back to the original belief that I had,” then they are like one fixated on the Oral Phase.  And if they get fixated on the Oral Phase, they will go from guru to guru and from system to system and say, “Because I love to be ‘love-bombed’ by the people to whom I come and bring my soul and they love me and I feel good, I will stay here.” And so, they will be going in this kind of incestuous way from one place to another trying to recapture the good feelings of the Oral Phase. 

It can’t work for such a person.  If one wants to proceed, one has to have the discipline in place for one’s Jewish practice.  So the Oral Phase isn’t the end of the story. 

Discipline provides the next step, learning the techniques, the ways to be Jewish. 

Here too, there are some people who get fixated and they never get beyond working on the discipline to the point of seeing the symbols behind it. 

In the Freudian terms, the next level after the Anal Phase is the Phallic Phase, (NOTE:  Referred to as the Rung of Beauty in “Gate to the Heart”).  In this phase one is excited about all the meaning every practice has, all the symbols.  This symbolizes that and another thing symbolizes something else, etc.

One can likewise be stuck in the Phallic Phase, in which case a person gets to be someone who could let Rome burn while he plays his fiddle.  “Look.  It’s so beautiful how it’s burning.  I like the beauty of it.” 

But this one misses the point of the fact that Rome is burning.  So at one point one has to say, “Never mind the beauty.”  There’s something more.   The important thing for this one is the next phase which is the Latency Phase, which is to say, “I care more for the people than for the symbols, (NOTE:  Referred to as the Rung of Community in “Gate to the Heart”).  I have to make sure v’ahavta l’rayacha kamocha / and you shall love your neighbor as yourself,” i.e., one has to make sure that the people will be well taken care of.  It’s not just about the symbols.

Only then does one get to the place where one is in the Genital Phase, (NOTE:  Referred to as the Rung of Union in “Gate to the Heart”).  In this phase, the soul goes to God.  In fact, God is the soul in this one.

Now imagine I come into a shul. I will want to, at first, tune into the davvening

There is a video piece I created in which I showed how various Rebbes are davvening.  I made it because I wanted to feel how it was when the Baal Shem davvened, when the Maggid of Mezrich davvened, when Reb Schneur Zalman davvened, when Reb Levi Yitzchak davvened, when the Kotzker davvened.  And I got into each one of those to get a sense of how each would have been in the body, how one could attune to each one’s kind of davvenen

So in Yerushalayim, I would go and davven with Reb Ahrele Roth’s people or with the Slonimer Rebbe, and wherever I went to davven with different groups, I would first ask myself, “How does this group serve God?  In what ways?”  Then I would try to emulate it. 

If I came in saying, instead, “You guys are doing it wrong; you should do it like I’m doing it,” then before very long, there would be such an inimical atmosphere created by my making waves and what would be the point?  

The reality is that I can learn from everybody. 

When I come to a minyan where real davvening is going on, it’s bound to do something for me too.  It will refresh a certain area in my spiritual life with which I haven’t been involved for a while. 

And sometimes I go to, e.g., the Italian shul in Jerusalem, a beautiful, beautiful shul.  The davvenen is not like in the Chassidic shul, but something is happening there that’s very beautiful. 

There is a certain sense of elegance to the way in which they do it. 

I come into a Yemenite shul and I’m davvening there and they are reading the Torah and every sentence they stop and they do the targum / translation into Aramaic. 

I come to a shul in Seattle, the Bikur Cholim Sefard and I’m a little late and want to catch up and I can’t because of the rhythm which takes me along and I can’t fight it. 

Float along with where they are.  Then, having come with ahavas yisroel / love of Israel, and after their having seen you really get into the davvenen, they will talk to you for a little bit:  “Nu.  Where are you from?”  There’s always a curiosity.  They want to know who you are.  “Yes.  I’m from such and such a place.  And thank you for the davvenen.”  Once they get to feel that they are not wronged by you then a whole other thing can happen.

Please check out Reb Zalman’s Pamphlet, “Gate to the Heart.”  Another excellent resource dealing with the internal work needed to bring Jewish Renewal to Institutions is Reb Ayla Grafstein’s 4-part DVD, “The Space Within”.  Both the pamphlet and the dvd are available from the Aleph Alliance for Jewish Renewal website.

2 Responses to “Diversity and Ahavat Yisrael”

  1. RabbiCaudill Says:

    As always, thank you for this wonderful teaching. I also received such a wonderful reception at Bikur Cholim Sepharad in Seattle. Rabbi Maimon taught me MeAm Lo’ez (he translated from the Ladino text) and first taught me to lay tefillin. He presented me with a tallit that had belonged to his father. I was so very blessed. I view Rabbi Maimon as my “Godfather”.

  2. Gabbai Seth Fishman (Blog Editor) Says:

    In this video: http://kolaleph.org/2014/03/14/video-jewish-mysticism-in-america-today-today-being-june-7-1978/
    Zalman gives the source of the levels as coming from theologian, Karl Stern (I believe this is the right one http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karl_Stern , Gabbai Seth)

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