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Reb Zalman Among the Sufis
Transcribed by Reuven Goldfarb
with the assistance of Eliyahu (Khaled) McLean
Excerpt from an audio tape of the Farbrengen with Rabbis Zalman Schachter-Shalomi and Shlomo Carlebach, Z'Tz'L, at the Hillel Foundation, Berkeley, California, co-sponsored by The Aquarian Minyan, March 19, 1994. Rabbi Schachter-Shalomi is speaking.
Used to be, when I would go to Israel, I would run in, go up to Nablus, and there, outside of Nablus, is a place called Balata. Balata was one of those "refugee camps." In Balata there lived Sidi Hassan, Murshid Hassan.
I don't know how many of you were there that Yom Kippur afternoon - can I see some hands up? - when we did zikr with Murshid Hassan. Just as we were praying about going into the sanctuary with the High Priest, he came and led a zikr with us, and we got to as close as one can get to that, at that time.
Now, he passed on. Hardly any Sufis around - only the hard-rock fundamentalists are around, and it's very hard to have dialogue with them. You see, I wish that we would have our counterparts among Palestinians so that we would be able to do like we did at the time in Hevron, years ago, when we went to Hevron and there found the grave of Shibli, one of the Sufi saints. And there was an old Sheikh there, a blind Sheikh, to whom we came, and he asked, when I came and sat in front of him (he sat there telling his beads), and then turned to me - he had felt that I was there - and asked me whether I knew Nur and Mariam. I said, "Aiwa." Yes.
"What do you want?"
I said, "I want to say zikr with you."
And he said, "Then come, on Thursday at 4 o'clock."
We came back, a whole group of us, on Thursday at 4 o'clock to that little shtiebele, the Zawiyah. And there - Abdul Latif was his name - sat on the side. And the Qadi had come, you know, one of the people from the mosque there. He had this red fez with a white thing around [it], and he wanted to find out whether it's kosher for us to say zikr. We are trying to get to talk to each other, but there isn't a translator there. The young Arabs didn't want to admit that they knew Hebrew, so I couldn't give it over to them in Hebrew to translate into Arabic . So they brought the public health official, a doctor, to translate.
He came in, and he hadn't said his afternoon prayers. So he began, "Allahuakbar, Allahu akbar," and, standing at his side, I said the prayers along with him. He finished his prayers, and then comes the hearing. And at the hearing, they say, "What do you want?"
I said, "I'm here to say zikr with you."
"Why don't you go with your own people?"
I said, "I davvened this morning with my own people."
"So why do you want to say zikr with us?"
I said, "Because when I'm outside of the Holy Land, I find my Ikhwan, my brethren - Sufi brethren - to say zikr with them there, and to be in the Holy Land, and not to have a chance to say zikr, with you, is sad. I'd like to be able to say zikr with you."
"Are you a Muslim?"
I say, "La. Ana Mu'min." I'm a believer. I'm not a Muslim, I'm a believer.
And they ask, "What do you believe in?"
And I say, "Ash-hadu." I bear witness. "La illaha ill Allah al-ahad." There is no G-d but G-d, and that G-d is one.
Okay. Not too bad.
"So, do you observe the Shariya?" The Shulchan Aruch, you know? Do you know Shulchan Aruch?
The word[s], "Shuchan Aruch," "a prepared table," [are] also found in the Qur'an, where there is a Sura that's called "Ma'ida," which means "the prepared table," and in that Sura is written what Muslims may and may not eat. Do you hear that? There's a Sura called Shulchan Aruch in the Qur'an!
So they ask me, do I observe the Shariya. I say, "Aiwa." Yes, I do.
"What level of Shariya do you observe?"
I say, "I observe the Shariya of the bani Yitzhak [and] the bani Yakub."
So he says to me, "Then why not follow the Shariya of Islam?"
I say, "Because it is not fitting, it isn't 'Adab,' it's not fitting for a son to go in paths different than his father. So I come from the bani Yitzhak and bani Yakub and not from the bani Ismail, and so I have to follow the Shariya of my parents."
"What about Tariqat?"
So we were talking about the higher levels of the Sufi. I said, "With that, I'm with you at one."
Then somebody gives a kick on the side and says, "Ask him! Ask him! What about rasuliyat?" What has he got to say about Muhammed? Ah, they got me, ah!
So I say, "Ash-hadu." I bear witness. "La illaha il Allah, wa Muhammed rasul Allah." There is no G-d but Allah. Muhammed is his messenger.
So they say to me, "Then you're a Muslim!"
And I say, "La. Ani Yahud." No, I'm a Jew.
"Then how could you say, how could you say such a thing?"
So I said, "Allow me to go back with you in your history. There was Ismail, the son of Ibrahim ha-lililai, Abraham the friend of G-d. Ismail - his children - Ismail still had the Tawhid - the knowledge of the oneness of G-d, but his children fell into the dark ages, into the jahiliya, into the unknowing. And so, they had lost their way to the oneness of G-d. So, Ya rahim, Ya rahman, the merciful, the compassionate, sent out a messenger to the children of Ismail to bring them back to Tawhid - to the oneness . I believe that he was a true messenger."
The Imam said, "I don't want to talk anymore. I want to say zikr with this man!"
And they brought in the drums, and we start to say zikr.
Another time, in Hevron - and I want to talk about that because it hurts so much, you know; another time, in Hevron, there was a group of people that went on a pilgrimage with us. And we came to the tomb, and I said to the people, "Wait a little bit." And I went in to the Sheikh of the tomb. He has a little office there. And I said to him, "May I speak to you for a moment?" He speaks a very good English.
"Yes. What can I do for you?"
I said, "I've come to ask your permission to do our pilgrimage here."
He said, with a bitter heart, he said, "You need my permission?" - pointing to the guys with the Uzis outside.
And I said, "You, and your family, and your ancestors, have been the keepers of this sacred tomb for all these years, and it isn't fitting that I should ignore that."
He got up from behind his desk and gave me a hug, and a kiss on both sides of the cheek, and then took me and the group around Machpelah. What a difference there is in the approach! How important it is not to forget that.
Transcribed by Reuven Goldfarb with the assistance of Eliyahu (Khaled) McLean
Excerpt taken from: htpp://www.rahseit.org/VY_REBBES/rebzalman.html
Tariqah As-Safinah - 1423 / 2002