Parabola is a quarterly journal whose editorial staff often look for opportunities to interview Rabbi Steinsaltz or publish essays by him. Here is an excerpt from a recent issue:
Rabbi Steinsaltz said:
“I had a friend. He was older than me, but for a time I became his teacher.
He was on a long path to religion and it was for him a way of suffering.
At one point, I told him about ‘procession caterpillars.’ They go in a line, one after the other. You see a whole line of caterpillars, each touching the other, and they are going in a procession.
They are perhaps searching for food, or whatever. Biologists experimented with them and one experiment had almost political implications.
One caterpillar leads.
The others follow.
Why is the leader a leader?
What made him into being a leader?
And they found out that the leader is a leader because each has the instinctive feeling to follow the tail of another caterpillar.
Now, there was one caterpillar who didn’t find a tail, so he became the leader. By default.
So that’s the leader! The one that didn’t find a tail.
In order to prove it, they did something which is in a way unkind. They arranged them to form a circle, the first caterpillar touching the last.
They work by instinct, and so they walk in a circle. And they go like this until they die. Always in the same circle.
I said to my friend that sometimes people go in this kind of circle in their spiritual life and the only way to solve it is to cut it. You have to cut the caterpillar-like circle by will, and then you may go in any direction.
The circle means death, moving but staying in the same place. There are people who lead that sort of life for years, and I’m not speaking about material ways of life, but spiritual as well.
A person has all kinds of driving impulses, but no solution. You come to the same questions, the same answers, and so you move in a circle. You don’t move anywhere.”
From “Educating Desire”, Parabola, Summer 2006 issue, May 2006