The Holiest of the Holiest
A meeting with Adin Steinsaltz
Article by Lars Muhl
In 2007, I had a vision of the sacred mountain Montségur in the Pyrenees. In the vision, I am in Jerusalem. It's under doomsday and the city is shrouded in a white cloud. Out of the cloud suddenly steps an old, thin, white-haired rabbi. He hands a large white book to me as he says,
Now it's time for us to open this one.
Since my earliest childhood, I have been fascinated by the fate and history of the Jews. Not least the Holocaust. In 1988, I became interested in the Aramaic language, from which Arabic and Hebrew originated. This study led directly into studies of Kabbalah, the mysterious tradition of the Jews. Anyone who knows just a little bit about Kabbala knows that at the beginning of the study one feels that the tradition is nothing but a veil on veils, repetitions and banalities, which, one finds out later, only has the function of sorting out the junk students from the serious. It is the case that every time a Kabbalah school has gone too far in its revelations of the secrets, a new one immediately emerges, the intention of which is to restore adequate protection against students who are believed not yet worthy to enter the innermost room.
Through my studies, I found that there were too many repetitions, too many veils, and too many dogmas that were rooted in a mindset that was no longer up to date. Thoughts which in recent times had found their way through occult circles in Europe, such as The Golden Dawn etc., but which, I understood later, were a mixture of traditions which had basically nothing to do with the true Kabbalah. I was, for the same reason, about to give up penetrating deeper into the tradition. That perception changed the day I read a little book with the wonderful title: ‘The Thirteen Petalled Rose’ by a rabbi unknown to me, Adin Steinsaltz.
I had not read more than one page in the preface before I realized that here was a Kabbalistic book that differed from all other Kabbalistic books, including the Kabbalistic classics I was familiar with. I read the book in one mouthful and was deeply moved. Who was this Adin Steinsaltz. I got the answer quickly on the internet. Steinsaltz was apparently one of the world's most recognized rabbis. Yes, the New York Times even called him one of the wisest men of the century. Steinsaltz had distinguished himself by being the first in recent times to have translated and commented on the entire Babylonian ‘Talmud’, translated and commented on the Kabbalistic work ‘Tanya’, as well as written numerous books on ethics and life in all its diversity.
During a trip to Israel, my wife, Githa, asked me who I thought the rabbi of my dream was. Without hesitation, I replied, ‘Adin Steinsaltz’, pointing to my copy of ‘The Thirteen-Leaf Rose’. ‘So let’s call him up,’ she replied. ‘It is impossible, you can forget all about it,’ was the repeated advice we received from Githa's Israeli friends. ‘Steinsaltz is not a person, but a concept. He is loved by all who want peace and freedom, but hated by the orthodox, and he is not someone you just get to represent. That would be equivalent to me trying to visit your queen Margrethe in Denmark. No, well, you just can not. 'Now I know Githa well enough to know that this is exactly the kind of answer one should never give her, for it merely animates her further to accomplish the impossible. It took Githa ten minutes to find Steinsaltz in the phone book. It was his wife who picked up the phone. ‘My husband is on the university. You can call him on this number.'
It was with butterflies in my stomach that a little later I dialed the number and waited in something reminiscent of light years. Finally, at long last, the pipe was taken. Two days later I drove into Jerusalem and found 6 Harav Iraki street in the Nahlaot district. It turned out that Steinsaltz had its very own center The Steinsaltz Center. There was a lively traffic of young students in and out of the center. In the hallway I was greeted by a secretary offering water and fruit. "Rabbi Steinsaltz is having a class," he explained. I was as if paralyzed, just sitting and watching the door behind which the concept of Steinsaltz at this moment was pouring out of his wisdom. But before I could look around, a little white-haired man stood in front of me and held out his hand to me.
‘Welcome’, he said in unmistakable Yiddish-English. A little later we were sitting on opposite sides of the huge desk in his office. The smell of pipe smoke was unmistakable. He immediately set about stopping a corn pipe. I noticed that his beard was discolored, exactly at the spot above his mouth where he put the pipe in order while bapping contentedly like a baby sucking on a bottle of milk. ‘What brings you here?’ He asked, his eyes slipping behind a set of strong spectacle lenses. I explained to him about my enthusiasm for his book, about my fascination with Jewish history, about my desire to perhaps find a teacher in him. ‘Are you one of those Madonna Kabbalists, you know, red thread and all that? ' It was clear that this was not a Kabbalistic renewal that Steinsaltz was particularly enthusiastic about. I explained, which was true, that the Americanized version of the Kabbalah was certainly not my cup of tea.
After I had done my errand, we sat in silence and it felt like he was going to spend some time looking at me. Then he said, ‘You must apologize if I cross the line, but I sense that in your own way you are a priest yourself. There is no doubt that you have had several Jewish incarnations before your present. That is why you feel a deep connection to Israel. But there is an important reason why you were not born into the Jewish in your present life. They should not be limited by being affiliated with a particular religion. ‘His words did not surprise me in the least. Only the fact that he spoke quite freely about reincarnation came behind me. ‘Is being affiliated with a particular religion then a limitation’, I asked curiously. This was something different than I had expected. ‘Both and,’ he replied with a broad smile, ‘all religion poses a danger to the development of fundamentalism.
But it is clear that within all religions there are practitioners who are aware of the terrible limitations of fundamentalism, but who nevertheless find the right path within that religion. "Do the Jews have a specific task in the world since the Jews call themselves the chosen people of God?" "Yes, they have. All peoples and all religions have a specific task. The Jews were destined to be the religious ceremony masters of mankind. It was not only the Jews who received God's commandments through Moses on Mount Sinai. It was all the peoples of the world. Unfortunately, the Jews have misunderstood their task. That is why the Jewish people have had to go through so much hardship. That is what we are trying to remedy here at the center, we want to make the new generations of Jews understandable, in which their true task lies. ‘‘ What does the ceremonial consist of? ’‘ It all has something to do with faith. No one believes in anything more. Yes, on money, on interest rates, on materialism.
There's nothing new in that. Let me tell you a funny story. It is about one of your own countrymen, Niels Bohr, one of the greatest physicists of the century. One day he got visit of a student who, to his astonishment, found that the great scientist had a horseshoe hanging over his door. At one point in their conversation, the student asked, ‘Excuse me, Professor Bohr, but you do not believe in superstition like horseshoes, do you?’ To which Bohr replied, ‘No, you are a really smart young man’. The student was confused. Bohr continued: "But I have heard that it should work anyway, whether one believes in it or not." It was clear that it amused Steinsaltz to tell the story, even though he had probably told it countless times. ‘You see, it is only the greatest scientists and priests cropped, to have the courage to possess such a kind of openness. Everything moves. Continually. We can just keep up. We do not invent anything. We can only observe. We can receive. And at best transform. Attention is a prayer in itself. If we cannot see through the veil of the world, we remain blind. And if we stop trying, we will die. '
He stared intensely at me, as if to read the effect of the words on me. Then he continued: ‘It is exactly as with the Temple, which many Jews expect soon to be rebuilt on Mount Moriah. The Jews want their sanctuary back. They have forgotten that the Holy of Holies can never pass away. It will forever be where it was once established. Not necessarily as a physical measure, but the physical is also only a pale shadow of the spiritual manifestation. The holiest is above the worldly and the mundane. No edifice can change that. The overall design of the temple, in all its details from the outer courtyard to the ritual objects and vessels, constitutes a form of projection of the higher worlds into our world. Every part of the Temple can, from a particular point of view, be experienced as being homogeneous with a wide range of non-physical worlds. Or put another way, the Temple is a symbolic model of the Chariot of Fire; and the Holy of Holies is the place where the divine manifestation is revealed, indeed, it is the very point of contact or center of the various worlds and the link between one plane of existence and another. The Holy of Holies therefore constitutes one specific and divine point in our world and in other worlds, at the same time. In doing so, it is solely subject to the laws outside of time and space. There was no one, except the high priest, who was allowed to enter this place, and that only on the Day of Atonement. So no matter where the place of the Temple's behavior is, it's the place, forever, where divine connection can be made, whether the physical building stands there or not. ' mysterious opening to the higher worlds he had just mentioned. ‘But, I have never fully understood the meaning of the Jews claiming to be a God-chosen people’, I interjected.
‘The Jews are certainly a chosen people, but so are all other peoples. The problem is simply that the Jews have completely forgotten the task they were chosen to perform. Remember what the prophet Isaiah wrote: 'My house will be a place of worship for the peoples of the world.' As I said, the 12 tribes of Israel actually represent all the peoples of the Earth. However, it is the Jews who were chosen to be priests and masters of ceremonies in the temple that they hope to one day be able to build on Mount Moriah. A temple for all religions, for believers and non-believers alike. ' One thing was for sure, Adin Steinsaltz was no ordinary Orthodox rabbi. I doubt, however, that his thoughts enjoy support anywhere in Jewish society. But in my ears his words sounded like myrrh.
‘You also write about angels in your book.’ ‘Yes, angels are an integral part of our world. It is because in your part of the world one ignores the presence of angels that certain parts of Christianity today offer its congregation a hollow religion. Christians have forgotten, or are unaware, that Yeshua was a rabbi of Judea, and as such he was, of course, familiar with the reality of angels. The fact that most Jews do not consider Yeshua to be their messiah does not mean that he was not a transforming force, for he was. But he was, in our opinion, not the only one. ' I could not really tell if it bothered Steinsaltz to talk about Jesus. I changed the subject. ‘How did‘ The Thirteen-Leaf Rose ’come about?’ ‘I am not proud to say that, but it was almost channeled. The fabric came down, so to speak, from above. I recorded the entire text on my dictaphone, at once. Later, it was written off directly, with virtually no subsequent corrections or additions. Only in recent years has a supplementary chapter been added. ‘The Thirteen-Leaf Rose’ is a very special book. It seems to find more non-Jews than Jews. It obviously has its own magic that moves people in a completely different way than my other books. That is hard to explain. For once, I do not know what to say. ' Finally, I asked him, "What do you value most in your work?"
He changed the pipe and started to stop it while pondering my question. Then he said, ‘I have always been preoccupied with the sacred moment. To see it expand and encompass everything. Once I went for highlight experiences, but in that way I overlooked all the small, insignificant moments in between, which are basically the most important because they are the prerequisite for the first. There was once a 12-year-old boy who approached me for advice. I do not remember what I told him. Not a single word. I can barely remember what the boy looked like or where the meeting took place. Many years later, this person approached me. He had meanwhile grown up, and told me that my advice had saved his life. But to this day, I still do not know what kind of advice I gave him. But, I now understand that the very moment when, with the help of providence, I was at the right time, and obviously making a difference, is perhaps the most important moment in my life. You see, I did not attach much importance to it at the time. Over the years, I have begun to understand how everything is connected and creates unity. But it requires all our attention and all our forbearance, not least with ourselves, to understand how far-reaching such a realization is. 'He smiled,
Now you may understand why I am not always popular with the very orthodox Jews of Israel?" Rabbi Steinsaltz followed me to the door where we said goodbye. The two and a half hour audience was over. "Give me a call next time you visit Jerusalem.
Text translated from Danish.