Crossing the Tight Rope

url 3The slow food movement launched a clever new Ad Campaign to heighten people’s awareness of the use of hormones and anti-biotics in the fattening and immunizing of factory farmed animals: “You eat what your food eats. Make sure its natural.”


The safe sex movement got this awareness going a few decades ago with spreading the idea that when you “sleep” with someone, you are sleeping with everyone they ever slept with.


The cleverness of these campaigns got me thinking. Does this extend to “You learn what your teacher has learned?” and, “You are learning with everyone your teacher has ever learned.”


In class today I recalled a learning I received from my Talmud teacher, Rabbi Joseph Solovietchik, some 30 years ago. As teachers go he was a master. It stemmed from his keen intellect and his compassion for his fellow human beings. My older sister at that time was completing her Social Work degree and she alerted me that Rabbi Soloveitchik was invited to address the faculty and her graduating class. I do not recall the topic of his talk but I have not forgotten the answer he gave to a question posed to him at the end.


It went something like this:


“Rabbi, you have portrayed Judaism as a religion of compassion and tolerance, but is it not Jewish law that if a child marries someone not Jewish the parents are required to sit Shiva (mourning for 7 days) as if the child died?”


I could be wrong about this, but as I listened to this woman ask the question to my teacher I sensed (and my guess is so did he) that her question was from a hurtful personal experience.


When I knew him, my teacher was in his late seventies. My father and grandfather, who had both studied with him, testified to his ferocity as a teacher—I was meeting a much mellowed man. True to the form I knew, Rabbi Soloveitchik answered the woman’s question in a slow and gentle manner.


“Yes, you are correct,” he acknowledged. “The law is that if one’s child intermarries outside the faith the parents rend their garments and sit the mandatory 7 days of shiva. This is a loss as profound as death.” Then he added the following: “Now when the parent(s) get up from shiva the very first thing they need to do is call their child and their new son or daughter in-law and invite them to their house.”


While his answer may not resonate with your own sensibilities (or mine now), it was a profound learning for me at age 19. It was my first formal lesson in holding opposites and learning about the importance of valuing relationship along with dogma. As in Fiddler on the Roof, each of us is a fiddler on our own roofs, often with one foot in one world and one foot in another—balancing our conflicting emotions and thoughts. In our own attempts to cross over the tight rope, it is our teachers (and in turn their teachers) that steady us until we are ready to let the balance pole down and find the learning within ourselves.



Bonnie · January 9, 2014 at 1:56 pm

My daughter who is an expert skier recently joined her home mountain as an instructor and assistant in the race department. Her first call home was “Mom, WE instructors get free coaching! I haven’t been coached in years, I can’t wait.” Gratitude to the teachers of the teachers and their teachers before them.
L’dor V’dor

Barbara · January 10, 2014 at 9:56 am

Indeed! Our teaching does rest on the shoulders of those teachers from whom we have learned. As a teacher, I believe that I construct a bridge of knowledge and awareness, then invite my students to cross that bridge. My “structure” provides ideas and knowledge. The students “crossing the bridge”, cross it and integrate their own newly found information about their experiences; colored with what they already know and what they have learned (when and after they have crossed). As my students “cross the bridge” I have built, I also have and continue to “cross the bridges” of my teachers.

Leave a Reply

Avatar placeholder

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related Posts

Tearing Up

by Dr. David Sanders “Tears are the evidence of our inner life overflowing its boundaries, spilling over into consciousness. Wordless and spontaneous, they release us to the possibility of realignment, reunion, catharsis, intractable resistance short-circuited.”

Time flies.

by Melanie Gruenwald At Kabbalah Experience’s Time and When are you? classes, we explore the concept of time as a construct. We agree we’ll meet at 3:30pm. Three-thirty of what? Mountain Time? Eastern time? It’s

It’s About Time

by Dr. David Sanders It’s about time.  (For the first time, in a long time, I am teaching the course on the Kabbalah of Time. When I revisit a course, I want to update it).

Omer Reflections

by Melanie Gruenwald The period between Passover’s Second Seder and Shavuot is an auspicious time of counting for the Jewish people. We call this seven-week period, ‘Counting the Omer’ Kabbalists have connected this journey to

Languages of Freedom

by Dr. David Sanders It surprises me whenever I ask a couple if they know their “love language” and I am met with a blank stare. It becomes a welcome opportunity for me to enumerate