Friday, 30 October 2009

Last of the Mohicans

Next Sunday, 8th November we have a huge treat in store at New London.

Reb Zalman Schachter Shalomi will be speaking 2-4:30pm.

I want to share two peeks into the life and work of our guest.


Reb Zalman’s PhD thesis was written on spiritual counselling in Hasidism, and in particular the interview between Rebbe and Chasid known as the Yehidut. In his book-length treatment of the subject Reb Zalman relays the following story.


Once two children, the sons of R. Shmuel Schneersohn of Lubavitch were playing at the game of rebbe and hasid. R. Zalman Aaron, then seven years old, was playing rebbe, while his younger brother, R. Shalom Dovber, then 5 years old, played hasid. The younger brother girded his loins with a prayer sash and knocked softly at the door, and when asked to enter approached his brother [to ask what he should do having] not recited the blessing after eating an apple. R. Zalman Aaron replied, ‘For the next forty days you are to recite a blessing out of a prayer manual after eating any food.’ ‘You did not do it right’ his younger brother reproached him, ‘How can you say this?’ R. Zalman Aaron argued. ‘I myself watched Daddy through the keyhole when a hasid asked him the same question and I gave you his reply.’ ‘I too watch Daddy,’ R. Shalom Dovber replied, ‘But you don’t do it right. Daddy always sighs before he answers.’ [And so it was] R. Shalom Dovber who later became rebbe, and not his older brother.’


In 1990 Reb Zalman was one of a series of Jewish teachers who were invited to share insights into the nature of exilic survival with the Dalia Lama in Dharamsala. The story of their journey is recorded in the book, The Jew in the Lotus. In one extract the Buddist monks are sharing the extra-ordinarily drawn technical training they and their predecessors have undertaken for centuries. ‘Zalman told them in response, ‘First of all, I’m the last of the Mohicans from our end. I still have memories from before the Holocaust of what spirituality was about and you guys are the last from yours. And you’re looking ahead, you’re getting old, so the urgency to hand over what you have received, without change, to make sure it is authentically absorbed, I can understand in full. But the other side is it still takes too long because our technology outstrips our spiritual and moral development, we need to hurry it up. We can’t take twenty years to do the sutras. We have to break it out for people.’ So Zalman, with characteristic chutzpah suggested that his fellows do some research and development exploring … transpersonal psychology and planetary consciousness.


‘At that point Zalman’s translator told him, ‘We don’t need this stuff, Buddhist practice doesn’t need to be psychological or ecological.’ But Zalman, who’d taught psychology at Temple University disagreed.’ The Monks and the Rabbi disagreed until Zalman remembered and recounted a story of how he once taken a group of people to meet the Lubavitcher Rebbe who when asked what he did responded, ‘“I [won’t] talk about myself, I’ll talk for what my master was for me. He was for me the geologist of the soul. There are great treasures in the soul: there’s faith, there’s love there’s awe, there’s wisdom, all these treasures you can dig – but if you don’t know where to where to dig you dig up mud – Freud – or you dig up stones – Adler. But if you want to get to the gold, which is the awe before God, and the silver, which is the love and the diamonds which are the faith, then you have to find the geologist of the soul who tells you where to dig.” The rebbe added, “but the digging you have to do yourself.”’


So this is our invitation to come and hear Reb Zalman, last of the Mohicans, geologist of the soul and a man who knows the value of a good sigh.


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