This week my awareness of the present moment is being challenged by knowing that once you read this Danny Matt will have come and gone. Who knows what tomorrow will bring forth from this disguised mystic wearing what others often only see as the clothing of an academic scholar?
We have had some wonderful quiet moments, Danny and I; the gleam in his eye as he showed me a photocopy of the earliest near complete Zohar manuscript housed at the University of Toronto. This manuscript also bears a historical fascination—it was acquired for Shabbatai Tzvi, the failed Messiah of 1665 and then, by way of many hands, wound up in the hands of Toronto resident Albert Friedberg, a private collector of ancient Jewish manuscripts who donated them to the University of Toronto.
I feel young in Danny’s presence—not because he is my senior by eight years. It is his youthful excitement about a passion we share—the thrill of discovery of a variant text and the realization that the text is not only out there, on the pages of the Zohar–the variant reading is inside each of us.
In one of the seminars today a questioner probed to understand how the scholar-translator is affected by the mysticism of the book? Danny answered that after hours of research on the meaning of an unusual Aramaic word it is wonderful to let the Zohar simply wash over him. He was stating clearly that both activities provide profound joy—there is the work of the scholar and the mystic that unites through the left and right brain and is crowned in what flows infinitely out of the single point of discovery.
Danny shared with us one of my favorite stories I knew about his committing to translate the Zohar—his meeting with Margot Pritzker at the O’Hare Hyatt—he added one detail I had not known before. Margot had decided that the Zohar could use a new translation into English. I would surmise that when Margot decides something she is not to be denied. What I did not know was that Danny had also determined that he was not going to agree to be the translator. He knew it would be a commitment of 15 years, day in and day out and he was convinced he did not have the desire to get that intimate with just one book.
What convinced him to change his mind? Margot. Danny had agreed to the meeting to be courteous. In the midst of explaining how long and arduous a task a translation would be—not wanting to offend Margot, though wanting her to know that it would require her financial support perhaps for decades. To this she replied: “Dr. Matt, if you think you are scaring me, you are not!”
Was Danny scared? I know I would have been to think of the awesome responsibility of taking on such a monumental and important work as translating the Zohar. Sometimes we need to come face to face with our fears and then love takes over. It is now 15 years for Danny Matt—seven volumes done, two more to go. Margot is still not scared. Danny is clearly in love. We are inspired by their emotions.