December in July

I am on my way to Reb Zalman’s funeral in Boulder this morning. I have not left yet. I am writing this blog, on my way to Reb Zalman’s funeral. I am looking at the many colored tabs inserted into The December Project, his own version of Tuesdays with Morrie, published this year. I am looking for the quote to share, on my way to Reb Zalman’s funeral.

 

Reb Zalman is on his way to Reb Zalman’s funeral. This process started a few years ago. That was the stated purpose of his December Project—a discussion with author Sara Davidson on helping people “not freak out about dying.” Reb Zalman though can’t help being Reb Zalman. The man is a living paradigm shift. In his attempt to “assuage” others freaking out about dying he likely freaked plenty out with the thought of doing what is described in the chapter: Let Go.

 

“Reb Zalman was lying on a table, nearly naked and without front teeth, covered by a white sheet. Four men were washing his body, reciting words from the Song of Songs. It was the tahara ritual performed on a corpse before it is wrapped in shrouds and placed in a simple pine box. Just as a baby is washed when it enters the world, in (traditional) Jewish tradition, the body of a person who has died is washed and purified before it’s buried. But Reb Zalman was alive. It was one month before his eighty-eighth birthday and he wanted to have a practice tahara to experience what it’s like ‘to be a corpse.’

 

I asked what prompted him to take this step which was unheard of in his community. ‘Curiosity-it’s part of my makeup,’ he said. It’s also part of his makeup to break ground and bend rules when he believes it will serve the spirit. Because he is a Kohen, a member of the priestly class, he’s not permitted to touch a dead person, so he never witnessed a tahara. In coming to terms with mortality, he felt it was important to experience the ceremony, ‘so when it happens,’ he said, ‘I may be floating above, watching, and it won’t be new.’”

 

Reb Zalman’s tahara was yesterday. Not the practice run, for this time he was on his way to Reb Zalman’s funeral.

 

With each funeral we are on our way to our own funeral. It is a way we learn to let go.

 

david

 

P.S. The last time I saw and visited with Reb Zalman was on the way to the dedication of Kabbalah Experience in our location at the Goldberger Center. Reb Zalman and his wife Eve generously agreed to come down to Denver to watch the film on his journey with other rabbis to visit the Dalai Lama, share his views and bless our learning Kabbalah. It was a car ride I will never forget. I asked Reb Zalman a question that one asks of someone if one has but one chance to ask. I reserve that discussion for another day—another blog. The blog will resume in mid-August.

 

Unmasking His-Story

I am taking a summeratical. Next week (July 2) will be the last blog until August 20th (the planned resume day). I am taking some time off to finish a book that has been in process for over a year.

 

Summer Kabbalah classes start Monday July 7th with a full line-up of core and specialty classes. Also, please mark your calendars for fall semester to begin September 22, 2014 preceded by our first ever Kabbalah Free Fall Festival—a week of topical classes for the New Year taught by our faculty and free to all who want to come and learn as a community. The festival runs Monday September 15-Wednesday September 17. We will also be offering Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services on Thursday September 25th and Friday and Saturday October 3-4.

 

Now for a blog about a word I had never heard of before this past week: Heteropatriarchy. It is defined as “The dominance of heterosexual males in society.”

 

One of our themes in advanced Kabbalah study is that of collective narratives. The stories that we tell become the stories we live in and out of as individuals and cultures. Gerda Lerner starts her classic book, The Creation of Patriarchy, by expressing the challenge of human his-story; history-making has been told from a male perspective, marginalizing women and thereby establishing patriarchy as the actuality and ideology of mankind.

 

It is hard not to notice two themes that maintain prominence for the last few years, and continue as very active today. The confluences of these themes came into strong relief this week in the threatened excommunication of Mormon Stories’ blogger John Dehlin. He has openly supported Kate Kelly, a Mormon co-religionists, who this past week was excommunicated for her activist role in challenging LDS church doctrine regarding the ordination of women. Dehlin though has gone a bit further and that is why he is being charged with apostasy—a step toward formal excommunication. He writes on the homepage of his Mormon Stories that while many LDS church leaders have good intentions, their historical and current treatment of women as well as racial and sexual minorities is to be protested against. “I believe,” continues Dehlin, “That LGBT men and women should be able to marry whomever they feel the desire to marry, and that sexual relations within these marriages are as legitimate, essential, and sacred as sexual relations between heterosexual couples.”

 

The heteropatriarchy story rejects a redefinition of women’s roles (inside or outside church, mosque or synagogue) and rejects gay marriage. Perhaps as one blogger wrote: Gay men and heterosexual women share some common interests in critiquing heteropatriarchy and another blogger wrote this very telling statement: “When radical Islamists see American women abusing Muslim men, as they did in the Abu Ghraib prison, and when they see news coverage of same-sex couples marrying in U.S. towns, we make our kind of freedom abhorrent—the kind they see as a blot on Allah’s creation. We must preserve traditional marriage in order to protect the United States from those who would use our depravity to destroy us.” (to be clear, I am quoting this blogger to highlight the connection in his mind between women and gays).

 

There is an axis of prejudice that rests on three legs—they are: violence against or marginalization of women, violence and prejudice against LGBT persons and religious fundamentalism. If humanity is to grow ethically and spiritually we must change. There is a vision of the future expressed in Jewish tradition and highlighted in the Kabbalah that the feminine and masculine will come to a rectified balance—and this will manifest on our plane as an end to the marginalization of women (and of course an end to violence against women). What the story of heteropatriarchy informs us is the link between women and gay rights and that is why these themes are prominent at the same time in this century. Perhaps the measure of a society will not only be measured by how it treats its elderly, it will be measured by how it insures that history is no longer a story of the domination of heteropatriarchy.

 

Be in Touch

One day, a master asked her disciples the following question:

 

“Why do people yell at each other when they are angry?”’

 

“We yell because we lose our temper,” said one of them.

 

“But why yell, when the other person is right next to you?” asked the master.

 

“We yell to make sure that the other one hears us, tried another disciple.”

 

None of the received answers satisfied the master.

 

She then offered the following:

 

“Do you know why we yell at each other when we are angry? When people argue about something, their hearts distance one from another. In order to cover that distance they need to yell, so that they can hear each other. The angrier they are, the louder they are because of the even greater distance.

 

What happens when people are in love? They do not yell. They speak in a low voice, gently. Why? Because their hearts are very close and the distance between them is very small. Sometimes their hearts are so close, that they do not speak any more, they just whisper, murmur. And when love is even more intense, they do not even need to whisper any more, it is enough just to look into each other’s eyes and their hearts understand each other.”

 

Last Thursday night we celebrated as a community over 10 years of Kabbalah study. It was a magical evening, , a cool summer breeze, a full moon to the east, the band Zuruna with their lead Catrene Payan accompanied by Hal Aqua singing Hebrew, Arabic and English songs, and the painter Majid Kahhak capturing the moment in vibrant oils on a purple sunset canvas to the west.

 

There was much to be stimulated by, sights, sounds, smells, tastes and at the center of it all the connections of touch. At the end of the evening we auctioned Majid’s painting and the winning bid went to Lloyd Ford. She came up front and spoke a few words about how she felt welcomed in by our community—she wanted to not only hold onto the magic of the evening she wanted to express her thanks for being touched by the warmness and embrace she has experienced over the past three years. Later, she whispered into my ear a remembrance of a personal insight she had in class, an epiphany about the item she had held onto from her childhood.

 

What we learn in Kabbalah Experience is complemented by how we learn—openness to dialogue, input from everyone and how we configure the room for study or a celebration. It would be optimal if we could sit in a circle (working on this) but we create semi-circles, rectangles and squares of trust with the teacher in the middle—the configuration of the seating parallels the process of learning and participation of everyone. When you can see each other and be seen by others there is both vulnerability and opportunity for trust. People who trust each other are more likely to be loving. They are also more likely to yell in an effort to get back into relationship then to be right about their viewpoint. While yelling or soft tones often do make a big difference, the master could convey to her disciples that intention is of importance whether one speaks softly or one yells. While one works on their tone one also needs to pay attention to their intentions. In the words of the Animals (that’s the name of the band) that Hal Aqua and Catrene reprised for us:

 

Oh baby don’t you know I’m human
Have thoughts like any other one
Sometimes I find myself long regretting
Some foolish thing some little simple thing I’ve done
But I’m just a soul whose intentions are good
Oh Lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood
Yes, I’m just a soul whose intentions are good
Oh Lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood.

 

They are Connected

I usually start the process of writing this blog by reflecting on what has “crossed my awareness” this past week. This week I was contacted by three people that I have not spoken to or thought about for decades. One is a man I used to run with early mornings in Philadelphia, one was a fellow graduate student in Philadelphia and one was a person I saw in therapy some 20 years ago.

 

The amazing thing about the internet is that people find you. The fellow graduate student is coming to Denver and thought it would be wonderful to touch base after almost 30 years, the person I saw in therapy had a question about her grandchildren and the fellow runner—I am not sure yet.

 

There were four of us who ran most every morning along the Schuylkill River, we all lived near the University of Pennsylvania campus and were marathon runners. Having been contacted by one of them out of the blue, I googled them all. Had Tom actually gone into politics as he said he would? Indeed he has worked for the State Department for years. What was Rich up to? Business consultant. The best runner of the group, Jim, had pursued a law degree at Cornell and was now an in-house lawyer for a technology company. It was fun to see their faces, much older than my memory snapshot was of them. This revealed though only the basics: they were alive, they were working. Had they fulfilled their aspiration, their dreams? What about relationships and family? Were they still running? How was their health; physical, emotional and spiritual?

 

My experience with “reunions” of this sort is that they are brief moments of reminiscence. It is rare that a relationship of the past (even at times when it was quite significant) is rekindled in the present. I have reflected on this in the past with some sadness but as I get older I have come to realize that there are people in our lives who we cross paths with, perhaps running a few thousand miles with (over 3 years) and then our paths diverge. The relationship fit for that time and place.

 

A few years ago I reached out to someone I had not seen since elementary school. He was one of my good friends growing up and I heard from someone that he had left his law practice to pursue a doctorate in the academic field of Kabbalah. We had one conversation, quite pleasant in which we shared stories about our families, both present and the past. He was kind enough to send me two articles he recently published on Kabbalah. They were academic pieces, well written, as I would have expected of him. And that was that. We were no longer fast friends as we had once been, sleeping over at each other’s house, playing sports and games and doing homework together.

 

We are celebrating tonight 10 years of Kabbalah study—Kabbalah Experience became official in 2006, but I had been teaching since 2003. Hundreds of people have learned Kabbalah over this span of time (we will soon reach a thousand!). It has been our experience that when people stop classes they usually do not return (even when they say they will). This used to sadden me but as I get older I see in this as well the same phenomenon I described regarding relationships in general. We intersect for a time when that fits and then we move on.

 

There are those that “stick” –we call them keepers and that is true for relationships in general and for a community such as Kabbalah Experience. There are classes that are completing their seventh year of study (together) and many others who have been studying for many years together. This past year 3 of the 4 original students from 2003 came back to class, together, joining with other students who have been in class for varying degrees of time. To their credit they did not try to recreate the intimacy of their small initial class—they integrated into a larger class—becoming part of new relationships that are relevant today.

 

Stickiness is a word that is used in the science of marketing. It needs to be differentiated from being stuck (I don’t think there is a word “stuckiness”). As we celebrate 10 years of learning and building a community it is worthwhile to reflect on the value of relationship stickiness and the value of those whose paths have crossed with ours for a moment or a few miles.