We've long been fans of Rabbi Rami Shapiro's translations and commentaries. He was one of the first teachers we chose for the Living Spiritual Teachers Project, and his books consistently make our lists for the Most Spiritual Books of the Year. So we were delighted when he agreed to do an e-course for us: Wisdom of the Rebbes with Rabbi Rami.
After the e-course was all set, we realized that we didn't know a lot about the wisdom teachers from centuries ago he was going to introduce us to, why we should get to know them, and why it was important that their sayings and stories be studied in our times. So we asked him:
Why should people of all traditions and no tradition study the wisdom of the Jewish rebbes?
Rabbi Rami: There are two kinds of wisdom: conventional and crazy. Conventional wisdom supports the system within which it dwells. Crazy wisdom rips the foundation from all systems and leaves you to navigate the freedom that is God’s love. The teachings we will explore in this e-course are for the lovers of crazy.
How do they speak to our times?
Rabbi Rami: Ours is a time in desperate need of crazy wisdom. As religious and ethnic groups circle their wagons against one another, as people prepare to pit their gods in pitched battle against each other, we need to hear the God-intoxicated teachings of those who see the madness of the conventional and offer us the sanity of the crzy.
Why do you continue to be drawn to them?
Rabbi Rami: The rebbes I read and the way I read them continually pull the religious rug out from under me. I incline toward comfort and stability, but spirituality at its best is discomfiting and wild. Reality isn’t stable; tomorrow isn’t stable; life isn’t comforting. Authentic spirituality — the crazy wisdom of rebbes and roshis and poets and saints who dare to step out the box of conventional religion and live without a net — helps us navigate the wildness of life with grace, humor, and love. This is why I am continually engaged with them.
You are active in interfaith and interspiritual circles; what does this ancient wisdom offer people of all traditions and no tradition?
Clarity and a means to achieve clarity. This is not a course about Judaism in general or Hasidism in particular. This is an invitation to sit at the feet of some great teachers, to hear their teachings, and to make them your own through daily exercises. Anyone from any tradition and none can benefit from the wisdom of the rebbes, and my hope is that participants will share their own crazy wisdom teachings with one another and with me in our Practice Circle.