Sweetening the Root
Rabbi Lisa Goldstein
The end of the year is often a time for looking back, a kind of collective secular cheshbon hanefesh: an accounting of what has transpired over the year. In addition to the list of top movies and songs, we can take a sober look at what were the big news stories, who passed from this world, where we are as a community, as a culture, as a planet, compared to a year ago.
It is easy to feel discouraged at the state of the world, to want to root up and throw away all the things we don’t like. But the neo-Hasidic tradition offers us a different approach. We are guided towards a process of hamtakat hashoresh, “sweetening the root.”
The phrase comes from a startling image. Imagine a great Tree of Life hanging upside down with the roots in the air. The roots are the source from which blessings flow down, through the trunk of the tree, through the various branches and then down into the many manifestations of leaves and blossoms that brush the earthly realm. Everything that happens in this world starts with the roots.
But the flow can get blocked or constricted in all kinds of ways. We experience this as the various forms of suffering. The answer, however, is not to chop things up and get rid of them. Instead, it is to bring things back into alignment so the sweetness at the root can flow unimpeded into the world.
So when we face suffering out in the world or in our personal lives, one possibility is to work to discover the hidden sweetness in the difficult thing itself that might help us act from a place of greater wisdom, connection and spaciousness. So for example, when I feel the heat of anger, perhaps I can discern the cooler energy—but energy nonetheless—of healthy self confidence that will help me act from holy boldness. When I feel fear, perhaps I can move, even slightly, towards a spiritual sense of humble awe in the face of all that is bigger than me. When I feel the grief of loss, perhaps I can shift my perspective towards receiving the love that continues to flow.
In each case, the goal is not to get rid of the difficult emotion. It is to sweeten it, just a little. Because on a deep, often hidden level, there is one Source for all.
May our looking back over 2018 bring us wisdom and perspective and may 2019 be a sweeter year for all.
Rabbi Nancy Flam
How precious is Your love, God.
Humans take refuge under the shadow of Your wings.
[We] feast on the abundance of Your house,
You give [us] drink from Your stream of delights. (Psalm 36: 8 – 9)
Love is the feast, love our nourishment. Love waters. It springs from the fountain of the world’s heart, flowing through our own.
Find your seat.
Begin to settle.
Feel sensations in the body.
Receive the breath—in and out, in and out.
As thoughts arise, gently release them. Each time. Over and over.
Settle your attention softly in the energetic area of the heart.
Breathe. Smile. Rest here. Rest in the heart.
When attention is pulled elsewhere, come back here.
Just rest here. Rest, awake, in the knowing heart.
With soft smile, soft focus, soft heart, gently release a little more.
Allow yourself to settle—safe here, under the shadow of Your wings.
Invite yourself to release more deeply into the quiet, knowing heart.
Trust the simplicity of letting everything be.
Allow the stream to water you through the heart center.
Drink in God’s love. Receive.
Let the love move through.
With You is the fountain of light,
From Your light we see light.
Draw love down to those who know You intimately,
And goodness to the pure of heart. (Psalm 36: 10 – 11)
Rabbi Marc Margolius
“Knowing our roots” means cultivating conscious contact with a deeper source of nurturance and support. This core Jewish spiritual practice is embodied by Joseph, the protagonist in our current Torah reading cycle concluding the Book of Genesis.
Throughout the story of Joseph and his brothers, he manifests the middah (spiritual/ethical quality) of bitachon, awareness of being implanted in and connected to a source in which he trusts. When Joseph interprets the dreams of the butler and baker in prison and, when he is freed, the dreams of Pharaoh, he insists that God, not he, is the source of their interpretations. According to Rashi, Joseph in effect tells Pharaoh that “the wisdom is not mine, but God will answer and put an answer into my mouth that will bring peace to Pharaoh.” Through his quality of bitachon or trust, Joseph understands himself simply as a conduit, a vessel through which the Divine source will flow.
Despite the manifold challenges and injustices Joseph experiences throughout the narrative (being sold into slavery, imprisoned unjustly, and forgotten by those on whom he depended) he maintains this awareness of a greater or deeper power operating within him. His consciousness of and trust in this process does not waver, even when its energy leads him into extreme challenges and painful experiences.
Strikingly, throughout the Joseph narrative in Genesis this deeper, greater power is never described as operating overtly. God functions down below the surface, in the roots, never “speaking” explicitly to Joseph or anyone else. The hidden reality of the Divine is clearly present but, as depicted in this the narrative, human beings must acknowledge and draw it out. The character of Joseph illuminates and symbolizes this process of drawing up sacred energy through the roots.
Joseph is associated in Jewish mystical tradition with Tzadik, one who does that which is right, acting in alignment with the deeper flow of the Divine. The Friday evening liturgy of Kabbalat Shabbat features Psalm 92 (click here for a healing chant by MIRAJ, a trio consisting of Rabbi Geela Rayzel Raphael, Juliet Spitzer, and Rabbi Margot Stein), which concludes:
tzadik katamar yifrach,
the righteous bloom like a date palm, thrive like a cedar in Lebanon,
sh’tulim b’veit Adonai, b’chatzrot eloheinu yafrichu,
planted in the house of the Holy One, they flourish in the courts of our God.
Od y’nuvun b’seivah d’sheinim v’ra’ananim yehiyu
In old age they still produce fruit; they are full of sap and freshness,
Lehagid ki yashar Adonai, tzuri v’lo avlata bo
attesting that the Holy One is upright, my rock, in whom there is no flaw.
Our roots, planted in the Divine, represent the nexus between ourselves and the deeper Source from which we emerge and which is constantly causing us to flourish. When we grow in awareness of this constant process—when we “know our roots”—then we, like Joseph, can experience a sense of bitachon, trusting in that flow and our ability to draw it up through ourselves into the world. Through this practice, moment by moment each of us has the potential to act as a tzadik, one who does what is right, manifesting the Divine flow, healing and repairing ourselves and our world.
Rabbi Sam Feinsmith
Before we step forward to act in the world, the choreography of the opening for the Amidah (the Silent Prayer) invites us to root down into our spiritual lineage so that we might then step forward with love, courage, and compassion. This guided meditation takes you through that choreography through visualization and embodied awareness that lead to our capacity to deepen these qualities in ourselves and then act upon them.
Rabbi Sheila Peltz Weinberg
When I sit with someone in spiritual direction, I sit with an open heart. I am relaxed. I am not caught in worries or self-absorption. I tend to be spacious and soft.
When I sit with myself, my own mind and heart, I need to ask myself: “What is your attitude?”
Can I allow what arises to just arise?
Can I put down expectations for how I should feel, think, exist?
Can this breath, this flow of thought, this warmth, and this desire for this to be different, be held in an attitude of respect? Trust? Kind curiosity?
What is your attitude?
How do you hold your own experience? How do you meet the fluctuations of life that flow on through the mind and body?
Sit still for a few moments and inquire. What is here? What do I experience?
And softly ask: what is my attitude?
Pushing or Pulling? Advocating an agenda? Grading myself ? Relaxed? Friendly?
And what is my attitude toward my attitude?
Can I settle into this very this? Just for a moment.
Zeh hayom asah adonai. (This is the day YHVH created.)
Zeh dodi zeh rei. (This is my beloved. This is my friend.)