I signed off before the summer on my way to Reb Zalman’s funeral. It was Friday July 4th. The Rabbis speaking at the funeral made mention of it being Independence Day. Reb Zalman was an independent–in thought and action. He was also an interdependent—he had a unique way of bringing people together—in life and in death. As I looked around at those gathered for his funeral many familiar faces shone forth—fellow teachers, fellow students, Rabbis across the spectrum of Jewish life. For a moment on that hill in Boulder the Jewish community was united. We all wanted to share our grief and honor a man that had such a profound impact on our world.
I first met Reb Zalman in 1986 in a suburb of Philadelphia. I was living a few blocks away from Pnai Ohr, his place of study and worship. As life had it we both moved to Colorado a few years later. It was in Boulder that we made a personal connection. On occasion we attended Shabbat services at Aish Kodesh synagogue and shared some Torah thoughts. We had two long discussions—one in the basement office of his home and one in my car (driving to inaugurate Kabbalah Experience). I have memories of each and every encounter and this memory of departing from the cemetery.
I walked backwards, away from the hill, away from the funeral, away from Reb Zalman. She flitted by me in an instant, a doe darting across the field and heading up the hill, toward the funeral, toward Reb Zalman. She was there one moment and gone the next. On her way to wherever she was heading, bound up in the source of life.
Reb Zalman spent a good deal of time contemplating his death. He was preparing for departing his body. He was helping those who loved him prepare for his departure. Life isn’t forever.
I know I am making an assumption but it is not a farfetched one. I assume that Robin Williams also spent a good deal of time contemplating his death. During an interview many years ago with Dick Cavett, Robin was on one of his delicious, frenzied jags and one-lined the following: “And there’s the one guy at the suicide hotline who says to a caller: life isn’t for everybody.”
Robin Williams was also an independent and an interdependent. No one could ever pin him down or typecast him. His comedic style embraced every ethnic humor, he could transform in a split second from one accent or genre to another. And he brought people together.
We will never know the deepest thoughts and feelings Reb Zalman had—even those he shared with us personally and in his writings may not have reflected his inner most thoughts and feelings. We will never know the deepest thoughts and feelings of Robin Williams—even those he shared in quieter moments of an interview or through the people he portrayed in film.
Suicide though is not a condemnation of life or a judgment about its value. Life is so precious because it is not forever and for those of us who are spared the inner suffering of a tortured mind it is a gift. We were blessed by Reb Zalman and Robin Williams presence in our lives –what a gift for us all.
What though has become of our humanity when life is so disrespected by those who deem themselves arbiters of the value of life? We must face this truth:
Guns kill. Humans kill. Ideologies kill.
Change the ideology. Change the human. Change the gun.