Whilst hiking through the foothills of the Rocky Mountains in Boulder, CO with our fellow Jewish outdoor educator Raj on Shabbas, we found a lot of incredible things. We explored the trails with bold enthusiasm and energy to discover the joys of winter hiking, explore tracks in the snow, and sit together at one of Raj’s favorite. The fact that our view of the continental divide was shrouded in thick cloud did little to dampen our excitement in exploring that beautiful land in such great company. Another great discovery on the trek came in realizing that the following morning at 6:30 AM, Reb Zalman would be sharing a very rare morning teaching.
With Reb Zalman as the one of the leading contemporary teachers of progressive, post-denominational, vibrant and joyful Judaism, he has been a highly admired figure in my life for years. To imagine sitting in the chevruta between he, Reb Shlomo Carlebach, and the Lubavitcher Rebbe is almost unthinkable. To sit among the wisdom, heart, passion and experience sitting between those souls would be world-altering in itself. And for us to sit with him to wake up and study together at sunrise in Boulder was simply too much to pass up.
Thus, at 5:30 AM Jonathon and I quietly slid out of our beds to drive an upside down bus through the snow to sit with a leader in the Renewal movement. As we arrived, we entered into a small room where Reb Zalman was speaking gently with a group of no more than 20 people listening attentively and occasionally sharing their wisdom as well. In such a small space, the teaching never escaped from being but a conversation of holy souls. Reb Zalman read through pieces of his English interpretation of the Shacharit morning service, carefully selecting and teaching from poetry woven through him. As someone not entirely proficient in Hebrew, to be guided through a personalized English translation with someone who I deeply admire was more than an honor, it was a powerful blessing.
After stepping gently through the intentions, accuracies and difficulties of the text, we all read it together. There, with the newly emerged sun peeking over the land to our faces, prayer truly felt and sounded as a joyful song. When the hour and a half had ended, we did indeed burst into song together, spurned by none other than Captain Red Beard. We went to speak with Reb Zalman to explain what we were doing with the bus. He had already heard of us, and was glad we were finally there. He gave us his number, and said to call his office and tell them that we were to meet with him that day, before heading to Denver.
We arrived at his house after our last program in Boulder at the Boulder Jewish Day School just after noon. He came to greet us and asked us to sit where we like in the circle. Like a true teacher, he then asked us what we would like to speak about. Over the next 30 minutes we shared from the heart of issues from social change to halachah, eco-kashrut and the emerging Magen Tzedek kosher certification, as well as roles and offerings of both our generation and his into the future. We asked his guidance, and he shared his blessings. We shared great TEVA songs We teach the youth about va’al taschrit, we teach the youth about tzar balei chayim, we teach the youth about no psolet, we teach the youth to keep the Earth clean…But you can’t blame the youth of today, we must learn to choose…. It was a powerful sharing circle in which every one grew together and in so doing, the Jewish people, the Earth and all of Humanity became stronger.
Upon leaving he gathered us together for an incredible blessing for our work. And wouldn’t you know it? They came true before us in miraculous ways, more than we could ever plan or imagine.
May we all find exactly the teachers we need in all the right moments.