My friend and colleague R' Leila Gal Berner shared this sweet story with me.
R' Zalman tz"l brought so much joy to so many of us, what more fitting way to enter into the month of Adar.
Marbim B'simcha! May Our Joy Increase!
When I was a student at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, I had the honor of spending a fair amount of time learning with Reb Zalman at the P’nai Or house on Emlen Street. During that time, Zalman and I would take walks in the neighborhood. Since Mt. Airy is an old neighborhood, the sidewalks were very uneven and it was always necessary to look down when walking in order not to trip and fall flat on one’s face. Simply strolling was impossible.
One day, walking and gazing down at the sidewalk carefully, Reb Zalman spotted a centipede. Bending down, he gently scooped the centipede up and placed it on his arm. As it undulated up and down Zalman’s arm, my rebbe spoke quietly, “Baruch HaShem, Leila leybn, that we can gain such wisdom from this little creature! Look at its many legs. You know, we are like the centipede. We each walk on hundreds of feet and it is only somewhere in our lives that we discover our genuine two feet. All the others feel inauthentic, unreal, like marshmallows, like pillows. We don’t really feel anything beneath our feet and we aren’t really connected to the vitality of the earth beneath them. But when we discover our ‘real’ feet, we begin to feel deeply connected to holy ground, just as Moshe Rabbeinu felt before the burning bush. With our real feet, we feel heat and cold, and pain. We feel softness and harshness, and sharpness — we feel Life! Make sure, Leila leybn, that you find your authentic feet and walk honestly and humbly on them.
Years later, I reminded Reb Zalman of his words about the centipede. My rebbe smiled and simply asked me, “So, nu, have you found your feet yet?” When I answered that I thought so, he laughed and said, “Baruch HaShem.”
Thank you Leila for sharing this with us.
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Mark Novak is a "free-range" rabbi who lives in Washington DC and works, well, just about everywhere. In 2012 he founded Minyan Oneg Shabbat, home to MOSH (Minyan Oneg Shabbat), MindfulMOSH (Jewish mindfulness gathering), and