Last Thursday, I sat with my rebbe high in the mountains overlooking Boulder, CO. He spoke to me of four questions that define our time; four questions that must be asked and answered, albeit humbly and open-endedly, if we are to live up to and out of the promise of the 21st century.
First, where did we come from, that is to say, what is the cosmological story that speaks to us today? Second, what is the ethic that arises from this story? Third, what are the upaya [Reb Zalman used the Buddhist word for “skillful means”), the mitzvot [acts of godliness that awaken us to the nonduality of life in, with, and as God, and my Jewish take on upaya] that allow us to embody that ethic in lived action? And fourth, what is vehicle or carrying that story, that ethic, and those means beyond ourselves into the community of generations?
It occurred to me as I listened that each of these questions spoke to one of the four fall Jewish holy days. Rosh haShanah, the anniversary of creation, is the ideal setting to ask about and tell the story of our cosmos. Yom Kippur, the Day of At-one-ment, is the perfect setting for discerning the ethic arising from that story. Where better to inquire into the mitzvot, the skillful means for living this ethic then Sukkot, our week-long encounter with impermanence and the “wisdom of insecurity” articulated by Ecclesiastes? And Simchat Torah, the omega and alpha point in the journey of Torah, is the perfect setting for exploring how best to build community rooted in story that can carry the wisdom of the cosmos.
When I shared this insight with Reb Zalman his face lighted up and he gave me the greatest gift a rebbe can bestow, “Yes, that is wonderful! Now see what you can to with it.”
I would have been happy had he left off the last sentence. What can I do with it? I have no community of my own. Indeed, I have not celebrated these holy days with others in years. I lead a solitary life, and spend holy days alone in the forest walking and talking with my Mother, who is the Face of God for me today.
Reb Zalman suggested that we collaborate on a book, fleshing out his questions in the context of these holy days, and inviting essays from creative visionaries who are themselves moved to contemplate these questions. Perhaps this is the way it will happen, I don’t know.
What I do know is that my fall holy days will not be the same this year as they were last year. There are now new questions to ponder, and new interior spaces to explore. What more could I ask from my rebbe?