Dear Chevra, An utterly amazing weekend at the Reb Zalman Memorial in Boulder. All of us, each of us, experienced — grokked! — some transcendent moments. These were mine:
1. We sat transfixed and transformed on Sunday morning as we listened to the breath-taking/ Breath-giving sound of Reb Zalman inviting us to focus on what karma we want to clear, followed by his jazz duet on shofar and flute with Paul Horn at a gathering in India. (Horn died two days before Zalman.)
That recording begins the CD “Sing Shalom!” that The Shalom Center created seven years ago. Zalman gave us the passage as an act of love and support. It is followed by some other extraordinary moments from other Ascended Masters — Pete Seeger singing Rainbow Race for the first time, Debbie Freedman, Rabbi Aryeh Hirschfield.
And other amazing singers who are, thank God, still with us: Peter Yarrow, Linda Hirschhorn, Shefa Gold, David Shneyer, Margot Stein, and many others. Plus me telling the story of learning Freedom songs rooted in the Exodus, from Fannie Lou Hamer during Freedom Summer in 1964, with Reggie & Kim Harris then singing those songs.
You can receive that amazing CD, especially precious to us all now with Zalman’s voice and shofar-music, as a thank-you from The Shalom Center for giving a gift to strengthen our work, as he gave the gift of that passage to strengthen our work. Click to <https://theshalomcenter.org/civicrm/contribute/transact?reset=1&id=1> >
2. We read and learned/ shared the Torah passage from the weekly parashah on how our actions can bring on the life or death of rivers and of rain, with Reb Zalman’s midrashic translation. Then I invited everyone to sit in “the Rebbe’s chair” for an open discussion in which to speak the rebbe-spark within, as Zalman used to have us do. And we did! — reviving, renewing, giving new life to the traditional second paragraph of the Sh’ma. I keep wishing every prayerbook would print that paragraph in bright green letters.
3. We saw an amazing, deeply moving photomontage of Zalman’s life. It included that famous photo of Zalman & the Dalai Lama. Everyone loves that photo because of the twinkle in both their eyes. I love it ALSO because there is Eve —- smiling, both observer and participant. As she was during the memorial gathering. It was a joy to see her, intermittently in tears and in the smile of being surrounded in love — from us to her and from her to us: singing a passionate song to her and our beloved and Beloved. After the ecstasy, the laundry. May Eve’s laundry carry the fresh clean smell of love.
4. Amazing davvening led by a sacred procession of our davveners on Shabbos morning and then Mincha led by Jeff Roth with a “dialogical dyad davvening” aimed at making us fall in love with each other. Which worked.
5. Another sacred procession of story-tellers Saturday evening: Zalman as davvener, musical innovator, Hassid, Shechinah-feminist, tikkun-olam transformer, eco-kosher creator.
6. Art Green, Matthew Fox, and other luminaries invoking Zalman, remembering Zalman, bringing him alive again in our midst through their own eloquence.
7. Early early Sunday morning — Chava Bahle leading a deep and creative Shacharit — not only her face but her whole head glowing, radiant. Reminding us to invoke for Mah Tovu not only Yaakov and Yisrael but also Sarah and Rivka.
About Mah tovu:
When Phyllis & I years ago decided to add “Mah tovu ohalayich Sarah, mishkenotayich Rivka,” it was not only to add biblical women — but with a special outlook on these particular women.
We began with Yaakov & Yisrael. They are the same person. Why does one have an Ohel, a tent, and the other a Mishkan, a Place of God’s Presence? Because the Godwrestle turns the tent into a Mishkan , and only then can Yaakov/ Yisrael reconcile with Esau.
And in the same way, we thought — Sarah & Rivka are not the same person, but they have the same tent. (Torah says explicitly that Yitzchak brought Rivka into his mother’s tent: Gen 24: 67.) What turned that tent from Sarah’s “tent” into Rivka’s Mishkan? Rivka’s outcry seeking (lidrosh) YHWH as she felt the wrestle of Yaakov & Esav within her womb: Keyn lamah, zeh anokhi?!) (Gen. 25:22)
The point: We ourselves turn our ordinary tents into Places of the Presence by turning our ordinary struggles against other human beings into Godwrestles and Outcries that refuse to be imprisoned in What Is to seek instead justice and reconciliation That Could Be.
Bilaam saw and heard all this, including the “Lamah” of Rivka’s outcry — and that is why he called out, “Mah tovu!” “How good is this Mah!”
As Tirzah Firestone pointed out, we were gathering 45 days after Reb Zalman’s death — 45, the gematria for Mem-Hei, for “Mah.”
Our Zalman Memorial gathering was indeed a Mah tovu.
Love & shalom, Arthur
P.S — Please remember, you can receive that amazing CD, with Zalman’s voice and shofar-music, as a thank-you from The Shalom Center for giving a gift to strengthen our work, as he gave the gift of that passage to strengthen our work. Click to <https://theshalomcenter.org/civicrm/contribute/transact?reset=1&id=1> >