This past year I was privileged to develop and teach a new year-long class with Lili Zohar—designed for third year students-we call it Holding Opposites. It has received mixed reviews—for some it is the “best Kabbalah learning so far” and for some it is “not so easy to follow.” Even the feedback for this class requires holding opposites.
Holding opposites is a state of awareness that we develop and implement continuously and it includes paradox. We talk in class about the expansion of our “containers”–as in the ability to hold more but when we use the words expansion we also mean the ability to be a container for both expansion and contraction. An “expanded” container holds opposites—it holds expansion and contraction—not one or the other– it holds both.
This past weekend Rabbi Mordechai Twerski was the Rebbe in Residence for the orthodox Jewish community of East Denver. A Hasidic Rebbe is more than a scholar (in residence) and for Rabbi Twerski, Denver was his residence for most of his life. It was a homecoming. But you never come back—because you are not the same as when you left. I had not seen him for quite some time. He left Denver a dozen years ago for the Jewish centric world of Brooklyn, N.Y. and with his leaving the community he had built here in Denver—called TRI—dissolved.
Melodies that are composed in Hassidic circles are called niggunim. Rabbi Twerski has many niggunim that became signatures of Shabbat and High Holiday services at TRI. Those tunes were known to all who attended the synagogue. There is a special significance to the third and final meal of Shabbat which is partaken close to the end of Shabbat. At TRI a small group of us would go down into the dimly lit basement and sing niggunim that reflected the intimacy of being in the presence of the Rebbe and the fading light of Shabbat. When Rabbi Twerski and I embraced—a hug is his handshake—I sang in his ear a tune that I had not sung for all the years since he left Denver. The melody and words came to me as I walked to synagogue this past Shabbat—as the light of Shabbat was fading.
When the singing began Rabbi Twerski chose a different melody to accompany the words of that song—it was a new melody for me—one he had created in Brooklyn no doubt. At song’s end the Rebbe paused and switched—to the melody I had quietly sung into his ear and I was transported. “Holy is the Sabbath Queen bringing blessings into your home” sung over and over until the melody fades into itself—like the setting sun.
I have never been a very good follower—that is one opposite I can still develop more alongside my leader role. I learned to develop the ‘follower’ quality with Rabbi Twerski—he was the leader and I was among his many followers. This past Saturday, as I followed the melody he sang, I was intimate with the immediacy of holding opposites. The years, distance and the context were different. There was the melody but the flame that had connected us (we learned with each other every morning for seven years) was cold. It is an opposite that I held—present to both the warm and cold–as the melody and I faded into the darkness on the way home.