Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi
Boulder, Colorado, USA
What is an underlying question that gives form to your work or interest in this field?
How can we, in groups and ensembles, work on subtle planes
- to help untie entanglements that reveal themselves on the gross or
manifest level of the planet?
Individuals cannot help but remain in the place of their
own inclinations, attitudes and bias. In the past we have been working
in groups under the leadership of one leader, one monarch, a single
ruler. All others, went into a mode of submission. It is our habit to
either take a position of dominance or a position of submission. Partnering
is much more difficult. Yet it produces results in which "two are
better than one - and a thread of three will not so easily be torn apart"
Music provides us with another model. Here, an
ensembles works together to produce a harmonious, coherent and rhythmic
sound. Polyphony is created when there is a blending of the various
voices. The task to work on subtle planes requires ensemble work. Some
of us will have to create the opening and hold it for us. Others will
have to enter and examine the entanglements. Others will have to gently
untangled them and reconnect them to more harmonious and life-affirming
What is your personal experience of collective
wisdom in groups?
In our tradition we use a quorum, that is ten people
who represent the structure of the tree of life, the Sefirot. In this
way we can be sure that all the essential attributes, aspects, dimensions
of awareness are included. I often, when working with groups, asked
them to make a circle and arranged themselves according to their birth
dates. In this way the circle then becomes a living zodiac. It is amazing
what shifts take place when we see how those who have opinions other
than our own represent not opposition but complementarity. While this
may not be leading to complete consensus, it nevertheless leads to a
shared vision. Decisions made in that the way tend to be more inclusive
What is it about the work in this field that excites
you and connects you to your own deepest self?
My interests in the universality of spiritual truths
have led me to study and dialogue with Catholic monks, Native American
elders, Buddhist teachers, including the Dalai Lama, Sufi masters and
humanistic and transpersonal psychologists seeking all the while a synthesis.
As a rabbi and teacher of Jewish spiritual renewal, I
have spent my life seeking to present the central teachings of Hassidism
and Kabbalah in a contemporary and accessible manner. Through prayer
and meditation, movement and song, storytelling and philosophical discourse,
my intention has been to awaken and inspire the process which connects
the individual to the living planet and the living God.
In the deepest sense, I am aware that at the core of
my being, I'm nothing but a snippet of the divine hologram. So in my
deepest self there is a concern for those who inhabit the larger hologram.
Please provide a brief storyline or snapshot of
what brought you to this work.
I was born in Poland in 1924 and raised in Vienna where
I was simultaneously immersed in both traditional Judaism and secular
modernism by attending a yeshivah and a leftist-Zionist high school.
After fleeing from Nazi advance and imprisonment by the Vichy-French
government, my flight from war-torn Europe finally led me to New York
City when I was 17. There I entered the Lubavitch Yeshiva where I was
ordained in 1947. I subsequently received an M.A. in the Psychology
of Religion (Boston University, 1956) and a Doctor of Hebrew Letters
(Hebrew Union College, 1968).
For 20 years I was Professor of Religion and Head of
the Department of Near Eastern and Judaic Studies at the University
of Manitoba, Canada. In 1975 I became Professor of Religion in Jewish
Mysticism and Psychology of Religion at Temple University in Philadelphia
where I am currently Professor Emeritus. In 1995 I was called to the
world Wisdom Chair at Naropa University and later joined the faculty
in the Department of Religion. This year I retired from the faculty
and am now also emeritus at Naropa University.
I have also been a congregational Rabbi, a Hebrew school
principal, a Hillel Foundation director, and a resource consultant and
spiritual guide for individuals and for Jewish communities throughout
North and South America, Europe and Israel.
My own experience of aging and eldering compelled me
to found the Spiritual Eldering Institute in 1989, encouraged and assisted
by professionals and colleagues in the field of aging. I have since
developed and taught workshops to many thousands of individuals seeking
to expand their awareness to match our extended life span.
I have published a large number of articles and
monographs and have translated many Hassidic and Kabbalistic texts.
My latest books are titled From Age-ing To Sage-ing (Warner, 1995) and
Wrapped in a Holy Flame , (Jossey Bass, 2003).
How would you like to be available to others in
At this time in my life, I refer most requests to my
students, rabbis and spiritual leaders, spiritual directors, elder care
workers and liturgists. I have the greatest respect for their work as
they are the emerging leaders in our sector of the work. These people
I see from time to time and at crucial times I come out of my retirement.
Currently I am working on unfinished books, archives and recordings.
My most concentrated focus is on the work for healing of the planet
on the subtle level.
Links to this site or others:
Aleph: Alliance for Jewish