While I believe that the guru system is largely broken, and the clergy often ineffective and sometimes evil, I do believe travelers on the spiritual path need companions and teachers. Dr. Ellis Rivkin was one of mine. He died a few days ago.
I met Dr. Rivkin in Jerusalem. My wife and I were living in the city fantasizing about starting an English language magazine. I attended a series of lectures on Judaism given by Dr. Rivkin, and by the conclusion of the series I was set on following him to Cincinnati and pursuing rabbinic ordination at Hebrew Union College. Shortly after I arrived Dr. Rivkin hired me (and my friend Robert Barr) as his research assistant, a position I held for four years.
Rivkin was a brilliant and iconoclastic scholar. Raised as an Orthodox Jew he carved his own way in Judaism, promoting his theory of the Unity Principle. In a nutshell, he taught that the Jewish people is shaped by an insight into the radical unity of all things. It was this that lead them to the idea of monotheism and shaped the insights of Marx, Freud, and Einstein. Religion was secondary to the Principle itself. Everything the Jewish mind did it did in service to this archetype, whether consciously or unconsciously.
Dr. Rivkin was more than a scholar. He experienced this Unity all the time, and spoke and demonstrated its practical and mystical implications to me during the many private walks he would invite to take with him. If there is a single professor at HUC to whom I owe my understanding of Judaism it is Dr. Rivkin.