Thursday, January 18, 2007

The Threshold of Soul

In an interview at the Jerusalem Post, Velvel Greene, retired former NASA scientist and professor at Ben Gurion describes the effect of his first meeting with the Lubavitcher Rebbe, before he became religious. It's a transformative moment, a moment of religious epiphany.
His first sight of the Rebbe was at a 'Farbrengen,' a lively hassidic event where the Rebbe would speak. "I was in New York on business and Rabbi Feller called to say a Farbrengen would be held at Chabad headquarters. He said I should go, so I did. The Rebbe spoke in Yiddish, so I understood the words, but I didn't have enough Jewish knowledge to comprehend most of it. The whole event amazed me: There was the Rebbe - educated in math and science himself - who spoke of the 'soul' as something real, not just an idea. And listening to his every word were a thousand Chassidim, working guys, just like me. But for them, everything the Rebbe said had critical importance for their lives today."

As the Rebbe spoke, Greene recalled a Bialik poem he'd memorized as a child. "In one of his poems, Bialik wrote about standing on the threshold of existence, looking into the depth of the Jewish soul. That's what I did at that Farbrengen. It was my epiphany."
It's an interesting term in this context, threshold. And key to the mystical experience of coming closer to God. With the Rebbe providing the portal for him to look through to the other side.

In ancient Hekhalot mysticism, there were seven thresholds to pass through in the experience of drawing near to God. Each level represented an ascent in closeness.

As for this image of the Rebbe, I'm reminded of the passage in Hagigah 15a the beginning of which is cited in reference to Rabbi Akiva to describe his ascent above: "Draw me, we will run after thee: the king hath brought me into his chambers: we will be glad and rejoice in thee, we will remember thy love more than wine: the upright love thee." (Song of Songs 1:4)

One imagines that Rabbi Akiva presented a similar clarity and depth of soul for his followers that is here transcribed in this moment of epiphanic transformation.

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