I wanted to add my own little story into the flood of memories, stories and reminiscences that so many have shared in the past few days since Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, z’tl, beloved teacher and rebbe to so many, passed from this world. Probably my fondest memory of Reb Zalman was at a Simchat Torah retreat in 2004 at the old Elat Chayyim in Accord, New York. That was the time that I proposed to my (now) wife, Ilana, and Reb Zalman was there to give us his amazing brakhot. I remember that he blessed us to build a “binyan adei ad” – which translates something like “an eternal structure.” I was overjoyed with this blessing because binyan adei ad is a favorite phrase of the Ishbitzer Rebbe, whose book, Mei HaShiloach, I had been learning regularly for a number of years. When the Ishbitzer uses that phrase he is referring to any act that a person does which accords with the deepest truth, the deepest need, of that particular moment – then that act, and the person doing it, participate in eternity. I love this idea and it resonated as the perfect blessing for a marriage – a lifetime that is made up of the sum of so many little moments, so many opportunities to make the right decision, to open up to the moment – to create a binyan adei ad.
Reb Zalman was a Rebbe who knew how to give the exact right blessings. He created a binyan adei ad, an eternal structure in so many ways. I want to bless us all now that those structures that he brought into the world: Aleph, Pnei Or, Jewish Renewal, by whatever name it goes by, will have that quality of truth, deep resonance with the needs of the present moment, spiritual “rightness” so that they endure, continuing to nourish and re-generate the life and aliveness of the world.
I also want to acknowledge and honor Reb Zalman as the pioneer who courageously stepped out into the void – out of his world of Old-World Hasidut, with nothing but his faith that he was building a bridge as he walked – connecting that rich old world to the new, emerging world of 20th and 21st century America. Reb Zalman knew that in order to navigate the turbulent waters of these times we would need the ancient wisdom of Torah, but he also knew that we would need to re-imagine that wisdom in new ways that resonate with this age of the world. We needed to see the paradigm shift. Along with so many of his followers, I can attest that everything that we do at Organic Torah is built on his recognition and articulation of paradigm shift.
Now that Reb Zalman has left us, we will continue to walk on that bridge he built. May we all be blessed to strengthen it, broaden it, until, speedily in our day, it no longer feels like a narrow, scary bridge, but the knowledge of God will fill the earth, like the water covers the sea.