This morning I attend a keynote address by Rabbi Sid Schwarz, whom I have known since that PANIM interdenominational rabbinic student retreat I was blessed to attend all those years ago. He's now involved with Clal (the Center for Learning and Leadership, the parent organization of Rabbis Without Borders), and has most recently published Jewish Megatrends: Charting the Course of the American Jewish Future, which makes him a perfect fit for an OHALAH conference themed around He'Atid, the future of Jewish Renewal. His talk is entitled "Where Fools Rush In: Spiritual Leadership for a Changing Jewish Community."
In a recent presentation to CLI, R' Sid offered a metaphor of broadcast and receiving -- that rabbis need to be able to both broadcast and receive. He suggests to us this morning that we might understand Torah as 70 wavelengths on which we might receive truth. Most of us can only broadcast on a few wavelengths and can receive on fewer than that, and that's something we need to work on.
He reminisces briefly about how he wasn't able to hear Reb Zalman's Torah back in his early rabbinic school days, and indeed regarded it as "strange fire" within the Reconstructionist rabbinical college... and because God has a sense of humor, here he is today, in full awareness of the debt he owes to Reb Zalman and to this neo-Hasidic / Jewish Renewal world. He talks about the shift which unfolded in the 20th century -- thanks to R' Mordechai Kaplan, R' Abraham Joshua Heschel, our own Reb Zalman -- between the vertical metaphor of God (God's up there, we're down here) and a horizontal metaphor of God (we and God are interrelating in an I/Thou fashion.)
I came to understand that what I'd seen as dichotomies in the Jewish world were in fact overlapping truths. We all need to work on our antennas so we can access one more wavelength than before so that we can acknowledge that truth has many faces, as does Torah, at least 70 faces.
He uses his work as a historian to try to help him understand not only the past but also the future. He acknowledges that we read in Talmud (Bava Batra) that from the time of the destruction of the Temple of old, prophecy exists only in the hands of children and fools. But notwithstanding that sugya, we have to try to take the risk of understanding not only the past but how we're going to address the future.
In his newest book Jewish Megatrends he talks about the moment we're at today in American Jewish history: a simultaneous decline of legacy Jewish institutions (synagogues, Federations, JCCs, membership organizations -- the "organized Jewish community") and also a golden age. If you look at the legacy Jewish institutions, the current situation looks like a decline; but if you look at the innovation sector of Jewish life, you see amazing pockets of renaissance.
He files these renaissance happenings under the headings of four pillars. The first is chochmah, wisdom. In 50 years, he suggests, the world will be amazed that religious communities ever though of themselves as independent silos, rather than interconnected. Reb Zalman was way ahead of the curve on this! We all need to understand the overlap between our wisdom traditions and every other. The second pillar is tzedek, justice. And the third and fourth pillars are kehillah (intentional spiritual communities) and kedushah (helping Jews live lives of spiritual purpose.)
He asks: what is the nature of the kehillah we need to create? And what kind of spiritual leadership is required to lead such kehillot?