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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" (Eccl. 4).

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 directions.

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 and balanced.

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 this field?

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 Renewal

The Spiritual Eldering Institute

Naropa University


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