After many years of great poverty, which did not shake his faith in the loving-kindness of his Creator, Rabbi Eisik, son of Rabbi Yekel dreamed someone bade him look for a treasure in Prague, under the bridge which leads to the king’s palace. When the dream recurred a third time, Rabbi Eisik understood that he should follow its advice. And so he prepared for his journey and set out for the capital city. But, upon arriving, he discovered that the bridge was guarded day and night and he did not dare start digging. Nevertheless, he went to the bridge every morning and kept walking around it till evening.
Finally the captain of the guard, who had been watching him, asked in a kindly way whether he was looking for something or waiting for someone. Rabbi Eisik told him of the dream which had brought him here from a faraway country.
The captain laughed: “And so to please the dream you wore out your shoes to come here! Silly fellow! If I had faith in dreams I would be in Cracow right now, digging for treasure under the stove in the house of a Jew—Eisik, son of Yekel. That was the name in my dream! Eisik, son of Yekel! I can just imagine what it would be like. I’d have to try every other house since half of the Jews are named Eisik and the other half Yekel!” He laughed again.
Rabbi Eisik bowed, traveled home, dug up the treasure from under his stove, and built a house of prayer.
People are surprised to discover that a wealth of wisdom and practical spiritual guidance exists within Judaism. It’s esoteric doctrine has stayed so hidden that even Jews know nothing of the powerful teachings that are the wellsprings of their tradition.
This gap of ignorance has persisted for centuries. Yet now, in one radical “moment,” [Sarah Yehudit] Susan Schneider has bridged all this by founding a correspondence school called, A STILL SMALL VOICE, which makes the full depth of Judaic wisdom accessible to all. Her innovation is twofold. This is the first time in Jewish history that a woman has published original writings, citing kabbalistic sources, and also has received orthodox rabbinic support for her work.
Schneider spans worlds. Her own roots are new age—Boulder, Colorado and Taos, New Mexico—and these early formative experiences stay with her even now, though her life has turned many corners since.
Schneider had no interest in studying Judaism in her university days. With a degree in molecular biology she started working as a Laboratory Researcher for Celestial Seasonings in Boulder. Her priorities were political and she was an active and founding member of the feminist/socialist theater collective there. It was the early seventies and the new age was just rolling into the Rockies. “Even the word, ‘spirituality’ was a paradigm shift for me, but something about it spoke to my heart.”
Schneider started looking around to see what of that world she related to and was drawn to the imagery of Tarot. “Its vocabulary of symbols cut to the core.” Schneider learned of a correspondence school in Tarot study based on Jewish mysticism, where each of the twenty-two picture cards contained a letter of the Hebrew alphabet. It was a thirteen year program if one did a lesson a week. They did not teach Tarot as an oracle, but as a meditation. The idea was to concentrate on the card’s image. This brought one into conscious relationship with that part of your psyche and that part of the universe represented by its Hebrew letter.
The school was not Jewish, but traced its Tarot tradition to an eclectic circle of mystics (including Jewish kabbalists) that had gathered in Fex, Morocco in the early thirteenth century. This mystic brotherhood devised the Tarot as a book of symbols (instead of words) and they chose to employ the Kabbalistic structure of reality as its master filing system. Consequently the Tarot has 22 letters corresponding to the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Four suits corresponding to the four worlds (asiya, yetzira, briah, and atzilut). Ten number cards in each suit corresponding to the ten sefirot in each world. A king, queen, knight and page of each world corresponding to the Tetragrammaton (four-letter name of G-d in each world).
“Tarot meditation cracked me open to a spiritual sense of the world. My interests and priorities shifted slowly but radically toward the metaphysical side of life. My search soon became a passion.”
It was then, for the first time, that Schneider became curious about her Jewish roots. Her family belonged to a Reform congregation but she hadn’t been drawn to religion in those early days. “Suddenly it was like, Wow! This Tarot study is so deep and it is all based on Judaism!” The more she studied the more curious she became about how Judaism related to its mysticism. She wanted to find more about it but didn’t know how to begin.
In the meantime her practice deepened. Her study and meditation became a full time involvement. Her Tarot work stayed at the core but she was eclectic in her reading and experimentation. Her home became a library of esoterica. Initiated by an Indian medicine women into the pipe ceremony she also incorporated this into her daily regimen of yoga, meditation, prayer, and study.
Eventually she moved to Taos, New Mexico which had become a gathering place for what she calls, “urban refugees” who wanted to simplify their lives and direct their energies toward more spiritual and creative pursuits.
A rabbi came through, the first she had seen since Sunday school (age 12). She asked him all the questions that had been accumulating over these six years of intensive “kabbalistic” study and meditation in conjunction with the correspondence school. “You obviously have a passion for this stuff,” he said. “Why don’t you go to Israel and study full time. There are schools there for people like you.” He got her a scholarship and she went.
“Judaism as a religion did not interest me at all. I didn’t even take it seriously enough to reject it.” Schneider wanted to learn Hebrew in order to study kabbalistic texts in their original language. That was her purpose in coming. She expected to stay for a year and a half.
Schneider arrived at Neve Yerushalayim, a school (yeshiva) that provides full time !earning for women with no Jewish education. “After sitting in classes for a relatively short while, I was shocked to discover that Judaism was a spiritual path. It was more potent and penetrating than anything I had encountered before. It was going to get beneath ego in a way that nothing else had.”
This was, 1981, eleven years ago. Schneider has been studying and teaching classic and mystical Judaism, full time ever since. Her day begins with 3’/2 hours of study, yoga, prayer and meditation. Then she works one-on-one, with students who want to encounter holy text in a deeply personal and experiential way. Schneider feels that private learning maximizes the transformative potential of textual study. And when she is not teaching she is writing.
Inspired by the correspondence school that initiated her own spiritual search, she wanted to make the Jewish path available to all who might benefit from it. “It is a gold mine of deep and practical wisdom.” For three and a half thousand years Judaism has addressed the questions of existence and honed its advice to a sharpened edge. This ancient tradition has clearly stood the test of time. It is as relevant in the post modern world as it was to the generation of Moses.
She chose to publish the material as a correspondence course (instead of a book) because it is a more intimate medium of instruction. The material is metered so one can’t skim ahead, it comes into one’s home, and creates a kind of dialogue through weekly contact. Most lessons have a practical exercise to aid integration of the teaching. Unlike books, a correspondence program guides its students along a course of extended growth with guidance that builds month after month, year after year.
Drawing from a tradition that has passed from mouth to ear, teacher to student, from Sinai to the present, A Still Small Voice offers practical instruction on how to apply classic Judaism as a tool for personal growth and deepening relationship with G-d. It presents these teachings in a contemporary idiom that speaks to the questions and interests of the modern world.
A year and a half of weekly lessons is currently available in three sequential courses called, Prayer and Destiny, The Enlightened Body, and Synchrony. Schneider is presently at work on the next year long course entitled, Time Trekking. Each lesson weaves together the extremes of depth and practicality. She presents extremely complex ideas yet grounds them in story and practice.
In Prayer and Destiny Schneider probes the mystery of “will” which Kaballa considers the primal root of soul. The essential measure of spiritual progress is the refinement of “will.” Prayer, in its purest sense, is a perfect tool for this work.
We are taught that Adam and Eve’s eating of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil shattered reality into millions of pieces. These fragments became scattered throughout time and space, throughout history and the cosmos. Creation is a broken vessel which must be repaired. History chronicles our painstaking work of finding each piece brushing it off, smoothing the edges and soldering it back into place. Each soul is a shard, and each life advances the cosmic repair and integration … The implications are profound. It means that at the depth of our being is something that is not quite right. A tension…a lack that must be fulfilled…a sense of unfinished business. The fact that our soul is a shard which requires fixing is experienced from within as a vague sense of discomfort and existential dis-ease. This is by design. It is not a weakness, nor is it cause for embarrassment. We are in this world to grow and perfect ourselves. The mechanism which propels us forward is this point of lack and our longing for its completion.