Flight 86 lands at Tel Aviv just two hours before the last of the High Holidays, Simchat Torah, begins, and by the time we drive into Jerusalem the streets are full of men and boys in festive dress heading to the synagogues. My mother, already in silk and pearls but still wearing an apron, throws open the door: Welcome Home! It’s so good to be back, but I can’t help thinking – IS this home? Can one really have more than gravity center – more than one home? I’ve spent the past decade in New York City- and now I’m back with my parents, in this familiar house – home away from home? How do I balance NYC and Jerusalem -my two homes – and keep focused and grounded? The following day, as the Torah scrolls roll open and start again at the very beginning I find a wink, a response, in the ancient script of my ancestors, and I take counsel from the Waters of Genesis, whose first mythic action on the planet is to focus, gather, and define the meaning of ‘place’.
Genesis Chapter 1, verse 9, describes the creation of the Third Day; “God spoke: ‘the waters under the heaven will be gathered to one place, and dry land shall be seen: And so it was.”
The Hebrew word for GATHERED is YIKAVU – translated most often as ‘gathered, collected, come together’. The image is of a vast body of primordial water covering the planet as it is being drained into a single container and enabling the earth to emerge – solid reality manifesting from the fluids of chaos. The next verse introduces the word MIKVEH – the gathering place of water – the original biblical name for the sea. Nowadays the term Mikveh is recognized as the Jewish location for ritual immersion in water for the purpose of purification and self renewal – a place to gather one’s self and emerge anew. In order to become who you are, the Torah tells us, you have to contract yourself and then contain yourself – the water that is in excess, all over the place become one contained place. This focusing and gathering enables the creation of creativity and the birth of life – on the third day, vegetation happens. But how does one move from the chaos of all over the place to the fulcrum of focus? Step by step, Genesis guides us, and with a strong sense of direction and aspiration, spiraling from contraction to expansion, again and again.
The Hebrew word YIKAVU does not just mean ‘gathered’ it also means ‘hope’ or ‘aspiration’. Ever sang the Israeli Anthem – ‘HaTikvah’ – The Hope? It’s from the same root. To hope, says Hebrew, is also to gather one’s resources and energy in one clear direction. Every time we challenge ourselves to focus and ground ourselves we are re-creating the act of Creation – actively re-activating our human hope in the possibility of change, progress, and transformation.
So maybe I am lucky to have more than one real home, but my task this week- this year – is to focus on one place inside of me which is the real place of focus, dry land. My first task this week, as the first verses of Genesis are chanted in the streets of Jerusalem and New York, is to gather the water and make sure I fully land here. Today I went shopping for a desk, and tomorrow I will place it in my new apartment, in just the right angle, harness my energy, and hope for inspiration. Let chaos be gathered, and the solid reality of creativity emerge. I sit down inside this new home, still empty of furniture, and suddenly recall an 80’s hit song line from my teen years – ‘wherever I hang my hat – that’s my home…’
So, friends, where in your lives do “gathering” and “hope” reverberate? How will you separate excess from focus? What will you need to do in order to plunge into the Mikveh of your soul, ground your self in this brave New Year and hang your hat?
Let’s talk the walk…