The Geologist of the Soul (book by Zalman Shachter-Shalomi)

These are my own gleanings from a beautiful book by Zalman Shachter-Shalomi, The Geologist of the Soul: Talks on Rebbe-craft and Spiritual Leadership (2012, Albion / Andalus, Boulder). I hope they encourage you to buy the book. I have paraphrased in order to clarify my own understanding, but there are also direct quotations from the book. The notes in square brackets are my own thoughts and responses, rather than ideas gleaned from the book itself.

  • Xi – We must do our own work, but a rebbe can tell us ‘where to dig’. Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson (7th Lubavitcher rebbe), in response to the question, ‘What’s a rebbe good for?’: “I can’t speak for myself; but I can tell you about my own Rebbe. For me, my Rebbe was the geologist of the soul. You see, there are so many treasures in the earth. There is gold, there is silver, and there are diamonds. But if you don’t know where to dig, you’ll find only dirt and rocks and mud. The Rebbe can tell you where to dig, and what to dig for, but the digging you must do yourself.”
  • A rebbe is a function, not an identity.
  • [We can usefully ask not ‘who am I?’, but ‘how can I be of service, to others, and, above all, to God?’.]
First talk: Rebbe Training 101
  • 2 to answer a call is to be ‘deployed’
  • 2 authority depends on whether others affirm and sustain the person’s role as an authority. Story of the Kotzker rebbe who told a young man that a dream of his father telling him to be a rebbe is not significant compared to 300 people having a dream that he should be a rebbe.
  • 3 work to control thought, word and deed
  • 4 Zalman attracted by Chasidism’s deep contemplation and yearning for union
  • 5 there is a place for the priestly work for contemplation
  • 6 give people an object as a reminder of their connection and commitment
  • 7 Respond to souls, discern, direct spiritually for transformation
  • 8 Chasid and rebbe are relationship terms in which roles are implied
  • 9 hierarchies are unhealthy and unfair
  • 10 a teacher needs to teach: “More than a calf wants to suck, the cow wants to give milk.” (Talmud, Pesachim 112a)
  • 10 Rebbe is part of an organism of people and roles
  • 13 moments of ecstasy, One-ness and channelling – the mistake is to then become ‘inflated’ and identify with these experiences
  • 13 Rebbe is a role/function, and others must willingly assign rebbe this role
  • 14 Don’t identify, but agree to roles when needed
  • 14 Active listener encourages speaker to continue
  • 14 We ‘pay’ attention as a contribution / payment to the teacher [or to a writer or performer]
  • 15 “How can I teach if you aren’t paying attention?”
  • 15 The teacher is a ‘channel’ for the group’s mind.
  • 15 Goodwill of the listeners / students is crucial. Teacher uses this energy to send back a helpful transmission to the group. “You are giving me energy, and I am giving it back to you with a manifest message, so that it becomes a carrier wave that carries the message. Love is the strongest carrier wave: I experience love from you, and I give that love back to you with a message.”
  • 16 A student’s ‘love response’ is [and should be] a response to the teaching, not the teacher; neither the student or the teacher should get confused about this.
  • 16 A look can be a gift.
  • 18 (In the Christian story) Peter confused philia ‘affection’ with agape Jesus’ unconditional love.
  • 18 Love within our community can unfortunately ignore / exclude those outside the community.
  • 19 Interfaith: share the 7 Noahide laws
  • 19 There will not be rebbes, but people who take up the role when needed as conduits
  • 20 former rebbes were solitary, contemplative tzaddikim; the new type must be connected to people
  • 21 Retelling teaching by Reb Hayyim of Tchernovitz (Be’er Mayim Hayyim) about the four who entered into Pardes: “Ben Azzai died because he wasn’t married and anchored to someone below; Ben Zoma, who was a widower, lost his mind when he saw his wife in Paradise and had to return to Earth; Elisha Ben Abuya was divorced and thus was open to ‘cutting his roots’ in Judaism; Rabbi Akiva was the only one who was happily married and thus able to return from the Pardes in peace. Before making his ‘ascent’, he and his wife Rahel made love; and when he returned they did so again. So it was from that place that he went to the Pardes, and to that place he returned. This, his going and coming were very peaceful, safe and grounded.”
  • 21 Model for others the respect needed for spiritual leaders to fulfil their function for those others
  • 22 Respect towards the teacher cultivates an atmosphere beneficial for teaching that needs to happen.
  • 22 Don’t answer questions of participants [of a talk, workshop, or counselling 1-to-1] until you’re officially in role.
  • 22 If you want deep teaching, you have to support a teacher in their practice, and the development of their connection and focus.
Second talk: The Soul-Cluster of the Rebbe
  • 23 The student should value the rebbe’s commitment
  • 23 the rebbe should not earn more than is right
  • 23 The rebbe’s energies must be ‘protected’ [but not shielded from ethical responsibilities]
  • 24 Sorting out ‘new Judaism’ will be messy, and require ‘nappy changes’ [!]. Infants make mistakes [and making a mistake does not make a person bad]
  • 25 Karass is a ‘soul-cluster’
  • 26 ‘Destiny group’ – we are a nexus for a mixed group of people in our lives
  • 27 A leader / teacher is the ‘admin’ in an internet discussion board
  • 27 We can be in more than one destiny group
  • 29 “How can we approach God if God is a consuming fire unless we are also, in some sense, fire?”
  • [An interfaith encounter at the physical level Assiyah might imply a simultaneous encounter on a higher plane.]
  • 30 Peoples in conflict are soul-clusters in conflict. Go up a level to define / clarify the work that’s needed.
  • 30 “The only way to get it together … is together.”
  • 30 Peoples (not just people) must do spiritual work together.
  • 31 A rebbe can’t take everyone on; there has to be a felt connection.
  • 31 A rebbe / chasid connection may be right, and yet still have tensions.
  • 31 We can mistakenly imagine a connection when there isn’t one.
  • 34 “[rebbe must] see [the chasid] as in the primordial light of Adam Kadmon” ie as a child with spiritual, archetypal potential.
  • 34 Rebbe should sense the person’s situation as their own, and fix it inside him/herself. The rebbe must feel the issue.
  • 36 A rebbe always takes the chasid seriously.
  • 37 “The Ba’al Shem Tov says, Y’sharim darkei Ha’Shem, ‘Straightforward are the ways of God.’ Why does he say ‘ways’, plural? Because, sometimes a way is blocked and you have to go another way! Likewise, in Psalm 23:3, it says, yan’cheini b’ma’aglei tzedek, ‘God leads me in right paths.’ They may be circuitous, because you can’t always go straight, but they are ‘right’.”
  • 37 A b’rachah (blessing) is like rain: it works better when a recipient / soil / seed is ready.
  • 38 God is inclusive of all souls and traditions – give up the triumphalism of your own faith tradition or ideology
Third talk: The Rebbe and Spiritual Typologies
  • 42 Rebbe mustn’t generalise, but be mindful of Chasid’s special circumstances
  • 42 Pay less attention to what is ‘good’, and more to what is ‘useful’ [in the Buddhist spirit of relieving suffering and causes of suffering?]
  • 42 Strategise the steps for an individual
  • 43 Differentiate essence traits from surface traits
  • 43 Huxley (‘The Perennial Philosophy’): cerebrotone (thinker), somatotone (doer), viscerotone (experiencer). A chasid could be any of these; build on whichever they are, and also teach them to develop the other two aspects. Also consider others in all 3 dimensions.
  • 43 Jews are doers, somatones. Emunah ‘faithfulness’ is close to imunim ‘practice’
  • 46 Zalman’s father more impressed by someone being a shammes (the candle that is useful, because it lights the others), than by someone who is a Chanukah light (just likes to shine)
  • 46 Consider a chasid’s strengths and vulnerabilities
  • 48 Grouping with opposites makes a stronger team
  • 50 Moses’ wisdom was limited to his own time. Elijah never died, so understands us now, giving answers for our time [i.e. answers change]
  • 52 Differentiate generalisers and specialisers
  • 52/55 Chasidic styles – CHaBaD is weighted intellectually: chochmah wisdom, binah understanding, da’at knowledge. CHaGaT is weighted emotionally: chesed loving-kindness, gevurah rigour, tiferet beauty. NeHY is weighted towards action: netzach victory, hod glory, yesod foundation.
  • 53 A tzaddik is rewarded for the ripple effect of goodness; a thief is punished only for the act. [Really?]
  • 54 “God tastes our sin and says, ‘Feh!’ And thinks it is punishment enough.”
  • 55 Find the path that will help the client progress. (It may not be the path you would choose for yourself.)
  • 56 Hillel’s student learned because he had also been disciplined by Shammai first. Both styles of teacher are necessary – the liberal and the strict.
  • 57 Arthur Waskow “If we want the Messiah to come, we have to live as if the Messiah has already come.” [That raises questions … Do we live in gratitude and joy (to which the answer must be yes), or do we live in discipline and service with the knowledge that everything we do is known and evaluated (to which the answer must be yes).]
Fourth talk: The Rebbe’s Assessment of the Chasid’s Spiritual Situation
  • [standing when the rebbe enters is an act of recognition and honouring – and of assigning the role of rebbe to the other, and chasid to oneself]
  • 60 Counsel someone on the basis of where they are in their moral development:

Level 1 (Pre-Conventional)

1. Obedience and punishment orientation (How can I avoid punishment?)
2. Self-interest orientation (What is in it for me?)

Level 2 (Conventional)

3. Interpersonal accord and conformity (social norms, and the good boy/girl attitude)
4. Authority / social order orientation (law and order morality)

Level 3 (Post-Conventional)

5. Social contract orientation
6. Universal ethical principles (principled conscience)

James W. Fowler’s Stages of Faith Development

Stage 0 (Primal or Undifferentiated Faith): Birth to 2 years, characterised by early experiences of comfort, safety and security vs. discomfort, neglect and abuse.

Stage 1 (Intuitive-Projective Faith): 3-7, characterised by the psyche’s unprotected exposure to the Unconscious.

Stage 2 (Mythic-Literal Faith): Mostly schoolchildren, characterised by a strong belief in the justice and reciprocity of the universe; deities are almost always anthropomorphic.

Stage 3 (Synthetic-Conventional Faith): Adolescence to adulthood, characterised by conformity to religious authority and the development of personal identity. Conflicts with one’s beliefs are ignored due to a threatening fear of inconsistencies.

Stage 4 (Individuative-Reflective Faith): Usually mid-20s to late 30s, characterised by angst and struggle. The individual takes personal responsibility for his or her beliefs and feelings. As one reflects on one’s beliefs, there is an openness to new complexity, but this also increases the awareness of current conflicts.

Stage 5 (Conjunctive Faith): Associated with mid-life crisis, acknowledging paradox and transcendence conveying the reality behind the symbols of inherited systems. The individual resolves the conflicts of previous stages with a complex understanding of a multi-dimensional, interdependent ‘truth’ that cannot be explained by any particular reason.

Stage 6 (Universalising Faith): Characterised by treating others with love, compassion and justice in recognition of their shared membership in a universal community.

  • 63 Counsel someone on the basis of where they are in their level of faith
  • 64 Motive for a given mitzvah matures with more life experience and spiritual growth
  • 64 To make meaningful changes (e.g. to liturgy), first understand its deep structure
  • 65 ‘Floodgate theory’ – fear that ‘if you change one thing, everything is going to fall apart’ [‘catastrophic fear’]
  • 65 Faith in parents à faith in social body or tradition à faith in God
  • 65 “Only at the highest or deepest level of faith development can we say, ‘Yes, though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.’ (Job 13:15) Or still better, as the tradition says of Jacob, ‘You have promised to be with him in the fire and the water.’ (Isa 43:2) It doesn’t say, ‘God will rescue him from the fire and water,’ but God will be with him in the burning and drowning.” [Mark 9:24 “I believe; help thou mine unbelief.”]
  • 69 “We cannot simply impose things on others.”
  • 73 [Opposition can be a measure or success.]
  • 75 pashuteh Yid – a ‘simple Jew’ has deep goodness and Jewish commitment, but their Jewish knowledge is patchy
  • 75 Must do much more to help less knowledgeable or less connected Jews achieve more knowledge and connection; validate them, help them integrate Jewish and non-Jewish spiritual outlooks; make Judaism possible in their busy lives
  • 76       A rebbe should become emotionally involved
  • 76 A rebbe doesn’t replace medicine or psychotherapy
  • 78 Tish – the Shabbat ‘table’ – as study time is crucial to Jewish life; we should reintroduce and encourage it
  • 78 Do chevruta – partnership study time [Jewish ‘study buddy’]
  • 78 learning Torah as an adult can be uncluttered by childhood distortions
  • 79 Atzilut is a plane of total good, B’riah is the theory of total good, Yetzirah wrestles with good and evil, Assiyah contains lots of evil.
  • 80 “if you want to say there is no dualism, no God and Satan duality, then you have to pay the penalty and make room for evil in God”
  • 80 Nachman of Bratslav interprets ‘Abraham knew You from youth’ not as Abraham’s youth, but God’s youth. In other words, God matures, evolves. [New metaphors can help dislodge fixed ideas of God, but not become new fixed ideas.]
  • 81 The Sh’ma is a Jewish metaphor for goodness.
  • 81 The Ultimate Reality is always beyond any metaphor.
Fifth talk: The Rebbe’s Compassion and Prayer-work
  • 85 A rebbe needs to have explored different levels, and to have integrated them.
  • 85 You have to have had the experience the client has had. [Juxtaposing your own experience and perspective can help shift the client’s.]
  • 86 Bodhisattva decides to sacrifice personal nirvana in order to stay to help others.
  • 87 Our soul decides to be born even knowing all the pain the embodied self will have.
  • 87 We pray to the Compassionate Soul of God who understands all pain through experiencing it.
  • 87 Prayer appears to have an effect in the physical world, but more so when we pray with ‘Thy will be done’. [… because to pray in that selfless way requires me to operate from my Bigger Self, soul and Higher Self, which is less needy, egoic, controlling, and sees life more through God’s eyes.]
  • 89 Always give money away when praying for someone.
  • 90 If you care enough, you’ll do something.
  • 90 Reb Pinhas of Koretz: God is the totality of souls. Therefore, a) each of us makes a difference, including with our prayer, b) each of us represents the totality, so what I do or pray affects the whole, c) which means that my praying for you makes a difference for both of us.
  • 91 the river of life pulls us along, but we can steer a bit
  • 92 Prayer can influence but not define an outcome.
  • 93 Prayer is not so much “overcoming God’s reluctance, but taking hold of God’s willingness”. (Attributed to both Bishop Phillips Brooks and Martin Luther.)
  • 93 Having a strong positive vision, and emotional confidence in a good outcome affects the outcome. Story: child who persuades his grandfather rebbe to pray for another child’s recovery because that child (who was actually very unwell) was almost well and just needed a little more help. Story: rebbe doesn’t fast but eats chicken when rain needed, to show God what the rain is for, and says people should bring their umbrellas is they have conviction their prayer for rain will make a difference.
  • 94 Y’hi ratzon ‘may it be Your will’ – the spirit of this is that a child who so wants something, and expresses this with delight, persuades the parent to want it too.
  • 95 The ego may keep us talking beyond our level of knowledge or intuition
  • 96 The rebbe must ‘clear’ themselves and ‘recycle’ before seeing the next person they are to help.
Sixth talk: The Rebbe’s Tool-box for Intercession
  • 97 Ana b’koach prayer – for boosting prayer power; ‘undo our tangles’; union of human and God (sexual metaphor)
  • 100 Give money as a continual practice of gratitude [and trust that we will receive what we need?]
  • 101 Name your parents and their lineage in prayer [like in the Avot of the amidah, or African shamanic invocation] [connects to the chain of life]. “In the Jewish tradition, we ask for the name of the person and the name of their mother, as it says in the Psalms: Ani avdecha ben amatecha: pitachta l’mosserai, ‘I am Your servant, the son of Your maidservant; open those things that close me in.” (Ps 116:16) It is really important to say, ‘I am praying for Your servant, the son of Your maidservant,’ to use their names if you know them.”
  • 102 Use a powerful nigun from another prayer as a way of enlisting that prayer’s support and magnifying the effect
  • 103 See a person’s n’shamah in its original light and bring down goodness from there for them.
  • 103 Assiyah can be too cloudy for help; so go up and work at a higher level.
  • 103 Atzilut: See the person in their original perfection
  • 103 B’riah: Make a case for someone needing to be well for tasks they must fulfil. Don’t paint God a picture of a perfect person, but someone who needs to recover because they have more to do, correct or learn.
  • 104 Yetzirah See the person through the eyes of love.
  • 104 Assiyah See the person as well.
  • 105 Technology of working through 7 sefirot to create a balanced plan for someone’s recovery and change for the future. 105-7: Chesed care for the person, gevurah make the change, tiferet hold in sensitive compassion, netzach sense the right conditions and course of action needed, hod gracefully establish beautiful conditions for healing, yesod sensuality play and life energy, malchut good grounded outcome of resolution flow wellness.
  • 105 Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson “only a fool waits to die before beginning their next incarnation!” [immediately at the of ne’ilah, the last service of Yom Kippur, we recommence the task of t’shuvah.]
  • 105 Give a new name as a symbol of new possibilities in life.
  • 107 Give Tzedakah (this could include time, rather than money)
  • 107 Breath into the sefirah that is stuck.
  • 108 Let go of your ego and any need to be implicated or acknowledged in a good outcome – that’s what makes it more likely to work.
  • 108 a) Emergency prayer b) Ana b’koach to help boost immediate help for need. C) Psalm 119 using the verses whose initial letters spell the person’s name. d) four worlds and sefirot
  • 109 The person being helped can say amen to the rebbe’s intercessions.
  • 109 Can intercede for a soul-cluster of people.
  • 110 To become an intercessor, practise daily. Keep ‘checking in’ for what is needed. Keep it simple, non-egoic, non-dramatic. Ask the person’s n’shamah to pray with you ‘for the highest good of the soul’. Insist: be a mouthpiece for that part of God that wants the healing.
  • 111 “There is a kabbalistic statement which says Ein ha’dinin nimtakin ela’ b’shorsham, ‘Harsh decrees cannot be sweetened (shifted) unless you go to the root.’ Praying for a person’s soul is going to the root.”
  • 112 Trust that there may be a ‘truth’ in your insight about a person even if the ‘fact’ isn’t right.
  • 112 Your insight may be that the greater good is served by a person’s trouble. In such a case, suggest to God to find another way.
  • 112 Transform yetzer hara by dedicating ego’s energy to healing and efficacy of prayer.
  • 113 Hold up a person’s potential for good.
  • 113 Atzilut I accept all is God, and all is good. At lower levels, coax God by saying, “it would be nice if …”
  • 113 There’s also a place for tears and pleading. (Remember chesed and yetzirah.]
  • 114 Negotiations with God must be clever and deeply sincere, with holy purpose.
  • 115 The practitioner’s outlook has influence on the outcome for someone.
  • 115 Sadagerer Rebbe: wouldn’t pray for lifting of the problem, because he saw the spiritual gift in the problem.
  • 115 Method: 1) Hold the person in mind and heart. 2) Connect in atzilut to their perfection. 3) See their full potential in b’riah. 4) Negotiation work of chesed through to hod. 5) Yesod energy of life. 6) Let go of expectations or control. “Ribbono shel olam, it’s now in Your care.” [Let go, let God]
Seventh talk: A Dialogue on the Vocation of Being a Rebbe
  • 117 Rebbe finds resonance of Chasidism in themselves, so the rebbe works with a particular soul-cluster
  • 118 Rebbe / chasid is a contract of intimacy, unstructured flow of information between them
  • 119 A rabbi used to be just a legal authority. Nowadays, they teach, daven, advise, but they are a leader external to the community. A rebbe is an internal leader, for intimate guidance.
  • 120 Netanel: A rebbe is a master of attunement, and master of information. 121 The rebbe’s goal is to be a chasid, and model how to be a chasid.
  • 121 A rebbe can be a chasid to a dead rebbe.
  • 121 A rebbe is a light bulb, with God as the power source.
  • 122 Let go of any desire to be, or be seen as, a spiritual leader.
  • 122 Being a chasid, a disciple, trains us in rebbe-hood.
  • 123 Rebbe-hood is bestowed by one’s rebbe [and / or God?] and by one’s chasidim.
  • 124 A rebbe models service and humility.
  • 125 A rebbe is supervised by their own rebbe, and receives feedback with a Chasidic peer group.
  • 126 Spiritual loners don’t always have respect for feedback.
  • 126 Some spiritual loners are very good, but talk too much, and don’t listen enough.
  • 127 Only advise if you feel the burden of responsibility when you listen.
  • 128 Besht needed his chasidim to be his supporting scaffold, so he could access and bring God down.
  • 129 Rebbe needs support staff.
  • 129 Rebbe needs people who will take the work forward.
Appendix: Training the Rebbes of the Future
  1. An experience of kinship with other beings on the planet – that is, a sense of compassion transcending the bounds of ego, time and place.
  2. An inner awakening, in which one encounters the realm of the transcendent, however fleeting or incomplete that sacred moment may be.
  3. A thorough understanding – and working-through – of one’s own emotional imbalances. In this way, one will be less likely to project his or her problems onto those seeking advice.
  4. A firm grounding in one’s body awareness, so that one is comfortable – neither anxious nor obsessed – about dealing with the sensual world.
  5. A comprehensive philosophical-intellectual training, enabling one to grasp a variety of reality maps of consciousness, not just the everyday reality of human existence.
  6. A well-developed sense of intuition, so that one knows when to discard rote principles and generalisations and rely instead on personal hunches.
  7. An active participation in a community or network, so that one can engage in honest soul-searching with others as friendly critics and guides.

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