Last night I wondered about what to write for this week’s blog. Soon my inner guidance said quite discernibly: “Be receptive.” Within an hour, another inner voice emerged that had previously been only a very faint background whisper: “Write a tribute to Reb Zalman.”
For those of you who don’t know (about) this truly remarkable man, I heartily encourage you to learn about him, starting with a Google search. I simply want to briefly laud him without referring specifically to his countless, widespread contributions and works that far transcend his Judaic influence.
During the spring of 1985, knowing very little about Reb Zalman, I attended a weekend dialogue he had with an articulate Congregationalist minister. Having experienced many spiritual teachers, I was highly impressed by the unusual blend of qualities I witnessed throughout the discussion. I found Reb to be brilliant, eloquent and charismatic, as many acclaimed masters are, yet unduly principled, warm, delightful and humble. At one point, greeting Zalman from two feet away, I was awestruck by what appeared to be a tall, slender candle alit in each of his eyes.
Since that most inspirational initial meeting, I have arranged to attend many formal and informal presentations by the Reb and have been in diverse audiences, large and small, in which Zalman prayed, spoke, sang, chanted, and joked, all reflecting his profound soulfulness. I’ve read many of his books over the years and became well acquainted with several of his protégés, one of whom facilitated a spiritual retreat for me.
Although I was never “called” to officially be a student of Reb Zalman, I have always regarded him as an important spiritual teacher for me, as he has been for thousands of others to varying degrees. My wife shares the same sentiments, probably even stronger.
My sense is that Reb Zalman penetrated virtually everyone who met him in at least a couple of these ways:
- being melted by his genuine warmth, sweetness and unconditional love that were palpable in his countenance alone
- experiencing the gentle heart of a deer combined with the courage of a fierce warrior
- witnessing his uncanny gift for bringing heaven to earth in a starkly simple, practical manner, replete with humor and musical mastery
- reading or hearing his poignant, albeit sometimes rambling, stories and verses
- marveling at his proclivity for eclectic adventure and his numerous grand innovations
- observing his unwavering devotion and quietly torrid love of the Divine, while steering clear of dogma
I last saw this extraordinary man interviewed on Skype (he was too tired that day to travel from Boulder to Denver) four months before his death; he was very lucid and still beaming. Although his body has recently died, I anticipate that Reb Zalman’s laser presence and rich teachings will continue to infuse our world for generations to come.
Bless you, humble master!