Heart of Fire: Dvar Smicha at ALEPH:Alliance for Jewish Renewal rabbinic ordination
20 Tevet 5778 | January 7, 2018
Full text below.
The book of Exodus, Shmot, which we just began reading, literally means “Names,” reminding us that rooting in lineage is a critical path to freedom. I feel deeply blessed to be rooted in the lineage begun by Rabbi Yisroel Ben Eliezer, the Baal Shem Tov, and brought forward by Rabbi Zalman Shacter Shlaomi z’l.
Thank you to all my teachers for keeping this lineage alive and passing it to us with such love and wisdom. Thank you Reb Zalman, for building us a Technicolor bridge from the old world, pushing the boundaries of consciousness, forging sibling-hood across religions, and reminding us of the main thing — keeping our hearts at the center of all we do.
Reb Zalman teaches us humility, for Jewish Renewal is nothing new. Jewish Renewal is a persistent reawakening of the heart for much needed times. Our people have been doing Jewish renewal throughout our history. We renewed our spiritual lives in transitioning from nomadic life to having a spiritual center in Jerusalem, and again under the Roman occupation of the 1stC BCE., again during the middle ages, and again in 18thC with the Baal Shem Tov. Reb Zalman teaches that we are now in the midst of a new awakening — a Fourth turning of Hasidic Judaism.
Moses’ encounter with the burning bush provides a core instruction for this turning.
“An angel of God appeared to him in a flame of fire within a bush.” Rashi refines this to mean in “the heart of the fire,” which the Baal Shem Tov later adopted as his core Torah: discovering the highest power in the pure heart of simple people. It was this Torah of the heart that R. Shneur Zalman of Liadi used to win over the mitnagdim, the early opponents of Hasidism.
Lavat esh, this “heart of fire,” gives Moses the strength to prevail in the face of Pharaoh’s hardened heart, “A heart of darkness” you might say. And does it not feel that we face a heart of darkness today, on all fronts — political, ecological, economic, social?
The Baal Shem Tov teaches that dark and light, good and bad, all seeming opposites exist together within God, in a relative equilibrium with each other. Our task is not to eliminate darkness, but to embrace it while keeping the light just a bit ahead in the balance sheet. Given the darkness we face today, we must summon a tremendous light just as our ancestors did in their times.
We learn that Baal Shem Tov often used fire to cultivate light and offer healing.
In our work to awaken Judaism’s earth-based traditions through Wilderness Torah, fire – as teacher, healer, and convener is becoming a central ally once again.
I have learned that:
- Sitting with fire invites us to sit in a circle, and as Reb Zalman teaches, in the new paradigm there will be not one Rebbe, but councils of leaders who share their gifts as needed.
- Sitting with fire invites us to encounter the raw, transformative power of nature, and as Reb Zalman taught, there’s nothing more important now than developing a deep relationship to, and protecting our mother earth.
- Finally, sitting with fire invites us to be vulnerable, discover and share our deepest truth, pray our deepest prayer, and transmute pain and grief so that we may be clear vessels to bring our light.
The Ner Tamid, the eternal flame, is one of Judaism’s most unifying symbols.
I am committed to working with the ALEPH community, Klal Yisrael, indigenous peoples, and all our relatives from traditions the world over, to awaken our literal ner tamid – our fires of healing and peace. May our combined flame support all humanity to celebrate and preserve our respect for each other, embrace our Oneness within God, and our loving, healing indigenous relationship to our Mother, the earth.