I am on my way to Reb Zalman’s funeral in Boulder this morning. I have not left yet. I am writing this blog, on my way to Reb Zalman’s funeral. I am looking at the many colored tabs inserted into The December Project, his own version of Tuesdays with Morrie, published this year. I am looking for the quote to share, on my way to Reb Zalman’s funeral.
Reb Zalman is on his way to Reb Zalman’s funeral. This process started a few years ago. That was the stated purpose of his December Project—a discussion with author Sara Davidson on helping people “not freak out about dying.” Reb Zalman though can’t help being Reb Zalman. The man is a living paradigm shift. In his attempt to “assuage” others freaking out about dying he likely freaked plenty out with the thought of doing what is described in the chapter: Let Go.
“Reb Zalman was lying on a table, nearly naked and without front teeth, covered by a white sheet. Four men were washing his body, reciting words from the Song of Songs. It was the tahara ritual performed on a corpse before it is wrapped in shrouds and placed in a simple pine box. Just as a baby is washed when it enters the world, in (traditional) Jewish tradition, the body of a person who has died is washed and purified before it’s buried. But Reb Zalman was alive. It was one month before his eighty-eighth birthday and he wanted to have a practice tahara to experience what it’s like ‘to be a corpse.’
I asked what prompted him to take this step which was unheard of in his community. ‘Curiosity-it’s part of my makeup,’ he said. It’s also part of his makeup to break ground and bend rules when he believes it will serve the spirit. Because he is a Kohen, a member of the priestly class, he’s not permitted to touch a dead person, so he never witnessed a tahara. In coming to terms with mortality, he felt it was important to experience the ceremony, ‘so when it happens,’ he said, ‘I may be floating above, watching, and it won’t be new.’”
Reb Zalman’s tahara was yesterday. Not the practice run, for this time he was on his way to Reb Zalman’s funeral.
With each funeral we are on our way to our own funeral. It is a way we learn to let go.
P.S. The last time I saw and visited with Reb Zalman was on the way to the dedication of Kabbalah Experience in our location at the Goldberger Center. Reb Zalman and his wife Eve generously agreed to come down to Denver to watch the film on his journey with other rabbis to visit the Dalai Lama, share his views and bless our learning Kabbalah. It was a car ride I will never forget. I asked Reb Zalman a question that one asks of someone if one has but one chance to ask. I reserve that discussion for another day—another blog. The blog will resume in mid-August.