A BIG PICTURE WINDOW AND
A GOOD CUP OF COFFEE
traveler's "spiritual teacher"
undeniably insane. The followers couldn't hang on together any
more, so they dispersed.
traveler had anyway begun to move in another direction
before the final break up came. He had met a Rabbi who had lived
with sickness for many years; who had been eleven times on the brink of
death - with part of him sometimes even over the brink - during a
sixteen-year period, before recovering.
didn't know the Rabbi in his sickness, but in his
health. He saw the most alive person he had ever met. The
Rabbi seemed to him to be a living pulse, one who never stopped beating
for a moment. Born a Jew, the traveler had gone far afield
without ever getting close to the pulse of anything he had found in his
journeys. This pulse beat was one that finally he could recognize.
had to know what the connection was between all that
the Rabbi had experienced previously and the way he was now. Here
was a true spiritual leader who had been taken to the brink, and almost
over it, and our traveler felt there was some very big secret
there. He certainly didn't want to find out by going to the same
point that the Rabbi had gone in those painful years - although he felt
at times that if it would take that, he would do it.
he felt that by close observation alone, he would
understand what the secret was, and answer one of his Big Questions: After you think you've given up
everything, what do you still have left, and what is there yet to
Rabbi was many things and each one seemed to be first
and foremost. Among these, he was a Hassidic Rebbi, the son and
grandson of giants of the spirit. Our traveler learned to put on
tefilin, to keep Shabbos, to eat kosher food only, and began to sense
that there was a link between all this and the Big Question he had in
his mind. He struggled with learning a new language and the new
world that came along with it-a language and a world deeply different
from those he had known. All the time he was observing. He
watched the Rabbi; he listened to him; and he searched for, and found,
the keys to talk with him. When he found these, he was as excited
as the first man must have been when he discovered fire.
would stand often and look out the big picture window
in the living room and he would ask the Rabbi about the sky or about
the earth, or about sanity or insanity, or adulteration, or friendship,
or cynicism, or pessimism, or optimism, or hate, or need, or desire, or
Cadillacs, or lawyers, or doctors, or cults, or pain and why it hurts,
or happiness, or revolution, or religion...
sometimes they would just stand and look out the
picture window, silently, sadly, sharing the moments as cars and people
he never heard an answer to his questions that was
close to anything he had ever heard before.
"Rabbi, I don't know which way to go."
"Listen my friend. You have to know that the place
of a decision is the loneliest place in the world."
"Rabbi, I feel as if I'm stuck."
"What can I tell you, my friend? As bad as it may
seem now, I know that the future seems much more frightening. You
have to build up escape velocity, and then -- go! I can only
tell you that when you are where you are, you're limited. When
where you're going, you're also limited. In between, you're free!""
On one memorable occasion, he suddenly
understood a central point of the Rabbi's
"Rabbi, are you saying that when a
person chooses his freedom, and turns to G-d, he can not only alter the
course of his own life, but all of human history?
"I should hope to say so."
"Rabbi...the tone in your voice when you
say that...the vehemence...Are you a revolutionary?"
"Come here and listen closely my friend..."
The Rabbi leaned
forward in his chair, his eyes glistening with the quiet fire of
conviction. He spoke, this time, in tones so low that they seemed to
hint at some exciting alliance with a universe of possibility.
"You've got that right."
He wanted to know more. He
observed closely. He watched so much that sometimes he felt his
eyes were going to burn a hole through something.
He watched the Rabbi move when he stood up,
when he sat down, when he carried something, when he ate his soup, when
he talked with a teenager, a young college student, a young Orthodox
Jew, a woman, a professor, or a non-Jew; and he especially watched him
when he talked in Yiddish to an old Jew around the dinner table.
This was when he would feel most strongly what it means to be a Jew -
which by this time was what he wanted to be very much.
The Rabbi's unique experiences had drawn him apart,
separated him out, and made him kadosh, holy. He lived far away
from major Jewish populations and seemed to spend a lot of time simply
waiting; even, one sensed, while working or learning. One was
left with the feeling that he was willing to wait for you forever.
the Rabbi didn't have forever...
sickness came back, and when the Rabbi told him what
kind of chemicals were in the bottle connected to his arm, our traveler
panicked and tried to push it away, saying "Ahh...It's nothing!
You'll see!" The Rabbi didn't say anything, but just shook his
head, "No", three times.
next day was Friday, Erev Shabbos. The Rabbi was
still in the hospital, but his house and the shul in the basement were
open as usual. Our traveler turned on the party-sized percolator,
in which the Rabbi always placed only the finest coffee, ground by
himself and brewed through a special method to bring out the finest in
the bean. Much time had been spent with the Rabbi, brewing the
coffee together, and being taught the best method of bringing out the
essence. That Erev Shabbos, the percolator, which had served
faithfully throughout so many Shabboses, shorted out -with big sparks-
when he turned it on. Our traveler somehow knew then that the
Rabbi had known what he was doing when he shook his head "no" in the
hospital the day before. Monday morning, he ran and took the
percolator to be fixed. It was fixed for the next Shabbos, but it
was too late.
* * *
Afterwards, our traveler tried to go back to the big
picture window where he had spent so much time with the Rabbi, but high
weeds grew in the front and distracted his attention. Soon the
house was sold to someone who turned it into several low-rent,
high-turnover apartments. He tried to get a view of the window
from the outside, but the weeds grew higher and now he couldn't see it
only remnant was his Big Question. It had been
sifted through countless filters, and brewed up over and over during
those five years in the Rabbi's presence, and had undergone a
change. If the true essence
is, in fact, quietly sitting at the bottom of everything --pulsating,
waiting--is it too faint to be heard by normal ears? He
wondered if he was willing to listen as closely as he would need to.
had to know. There was only one place. He
traveled on to Jerusalem, looking for another big picture window and a
good cup of coffee.