We live in wondrous times. We fly through the sky in metal birds. We launch out to space. Scientists use microscopes to look inside tiny blood vessels and find cures for diseases. Fewer children are dying from hunger than ever before. These are all signs and wonders.
But we don’t always see it that way, do we?
Instead, sometimes we think things are getting worse. Antiheroes are rising around the world and it feels as if there’s nothing we can do about it. So everyone’s craving truth, looking for answers, praying for miracles.
It’s always darkest before dawn.
Anyone who knows me knows there was a time when I was in some pretty dark places. I was a bad drug addict. My return to Jewish spirituality? That definitely didn’t begin at my bar mitzvah (I got kicked out of Hebrew school for making trouble). Though I always loved the singing, and I’m thankful I can read Hebrew, after my bar mitzvah I checked out, went my own way. Truth is my return began when I was still messed up.
The year was 1994, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the Rebbe, died. I didn’t know of the Rebbe at the time, but now that I’ve encountered his visionary teachings, I feel the Rebbe was part of the superconscious experience that transformed my life.
One night, it was 3 or 4 in the morning, I had a visitation from my mother who was with a celestial camp. I never really knew my mom, who took her own life when I was 3 1/2. She said: “Peretz,” using my Jewish name, “We are very proud of you.” We spoke about some private things and I asked her whom I could speak with to help her (get free from where she was). She told me, “Your soul knows.” Just before she left she told me to ask my sister for her mah jongg set.
At that point I hadn’t spoken to my sister in a few years. I called her up and told her what happened. “That’s so weird,” she said. “I just got mommy’s mah jongg set in the mail from Auntie?!” My sister knew I was doing drugs, but she couldn’t argue away the tiles.
I didn’t talk much about what happened, but I think about it all the time. Almost meditate on it. Apparently my mom, like so many Jewish women of her generation, loved playing mah jongg. It was her peace, her respite. I had no idea. When she came to me and told me “We are very proud of you,” she gave me something to offer as proof of the soul’s transmigration. To know it is true.
I still had questions. What did she mean when she said “We”? I ask that question every day, but it gives me the sense of a greater, larger presence, at once deeply personal and cosmic. It led me on a search. And then I encountered the Rebbe.
The Rebbe’s teachings help bring about a change of consciousness and a transformation in daily living. They inspire me in my life as an artist. “God wants us to ‘dream’ about what He ‘dreams’ about,” the Rebbe taught. “This is why He shares with us His dream for the Messianic future.”
If it was my mom who came to me and opened my eyes to a world beyond the one we see, it was the Rebbe who helped give my soul its direction. I’ve immersed myself in his teachings. I feel guided by him in work and message, including in my most recent album, Kind Heaven. Perhaps he was a part of that “We.”
The Rebbe died 25 years ago but his teachings are very much for the new future that we must create today. His wisdom can inspire us all to dream God’s dreams, and empower us all with the creative and artistic agency to bring about wonders for ourselves and for all of humanity. It’s time for us all to bring Kind Heaven down to earth.
When the prophet Isaiah spoke about the coming of the Messiah, and a time when trees would yield their fruits the day they were planted, the people listening to him couldn’t comprehend. Well, we can see that time coming on. We have the technology to do that. It’s in our ability to put down our arms and pick up our plowshares and figure out how to feed the world. That’s spiritual farming. The Rebbe was a modern prophet; prophets speak about the future to people who haven’t lived it yet.
The Rebbe, whose anniversary of passing was this July 6, was a mystic, a sage, a great mind, and a leader for all people who cared about the world deeply. He taught that every human being has a divine spark, is inherently good and has a unique purpose in this world. That we all need to reach out to those around us, every race, color and creed, with loving kindness, patience and charity. That’s how we can cross the threshold.
What’s the next step? I study and reflect on the teachings of the Torah every day. It’s a living document to apply to our surroundings. I’m on tour now and I have one of the Rebbe’s books with me, Daily Wisdom. I study in the morning and—after all the craziness I see during the day—at night. We all need to take the time to reflect on our purpose and our indispensable role in God’s world. Working on the intellectual side will lead you to a place where you don’t have to qualify yourself as a good person any more, the study will actually change you.
Twenty-five years after the Rebbe’s death we can look back fondly to the time when he was here, his scholarship, his insight. I know that time and space isn’t how we present it. My mom showed me that. Call it “spooky action at a distance” but it is also reality. We need to garner the Rebbe’s teachings and apply it to the here and now. Reach the time when everyone comes to know God equally.
We’re all God’s children and we have to do this together. Everyone needs to find their place in the orchestra, we’ve all been invited to the party—jubilee.
Like this article? Sign up for our Daily Digest to get Tablet magazine’s new content in your inbox each morning.