Our L'hiyot b'simkhah, To Live in Joy Class, is nearing its conclusion. What a wonderful year it's been of learning and getting to know each other through our tradition's teachings on joy, the essential nature of life lived in connection with with Holy. I'm so grateful for all who have attended this year and helped to create a special community of learning and embodied Jewish practice.
Last week, as we explored the Ba'al Shem Tov's three-part process for dealing with painful experience (as identified by Rabbi Burt Jacobson), one class member raised the question of the verb root for the word "hakhna'ah," "surrender," the first step of the three steps. (The other two steps, as we discussed, are hav'dalah, discernment, and ham'takah, sweetening, or lifting up the suffering, our response to the experience, to G~d). The Hebrew root of hakhana'ah is chaf-nun-ayin. Its hifil form (l'hakhniyah), in contemporary Hebrew, means to subdue, defeat, or overpower. In the dictionary of Talmudic and medieval Hebrew/Aramaic, which may give a closer approximation to the Ba'al Shem's meaning, there is also the connotation of "humbling" oneself. This suggests a more active stance in relation to pain and suffering than Rabbi Burt's translation, "surrender," or the word our class came up with, "welcoming." It connects directly with Reb Nachman's "psychological activism," which we had learned about the previous week--how Reb Nachman advocated consciously entering or drawing others into joyful activities, such as dance and song, to "defeat" depression and sadness.
Approaching our class's conclusion, we are now entering more deeply into the nuances of joy, addressing the core issue of how to cultivate the deep joy, which is also faith, through changing external conditions. This unfolding glides us right into the High Holy Day season, a time for taking stock of our life circumstances and how we want to be in relationship with them. In the Ba'al Shem's approach, I believe we are asked to literally subdue our instinct to push away what is happening, whether painful or joyful. This requires an application of will. If, as a constant ongoing practice, I can apply this "will" with compassion rather than with more layers of anger, rage, fear, or aversion, then there is the possibility of discerning (havdalah) the Holy within the difficulty and of reconnecting with myself, my fellow beings, and with G~d, rather than distancing, isolating, and freezing in patterns of hurt, anger, fear, grief, or envy. I see this as a process of constantly melting the internal "ice" that forms in response to insults or injuries and that obstructs both my inner flow, which is also my participation in the Universal Flow.
We'll continue our explorations on Monday, August 10 with "Joy as Teshuvah: Choosing Happiness." Our last class will be August 24. Feel free to join us, even if you haven't attended the class thus far--it's a wonderful way to make closer connections with others in the community and to move your mind and heart toward the coming Holy Days.