These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

[PEP Student] “Root Down and Rise Up”

Posted on January 9, 2011 by Tamara Frankel

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Dear Friends,

As I sit to write a dvar Torah this week, I find myself overwhelmed with ideas to share. Thank God, I had the privilege of preparing and learning a lot of Torah from my peers this past week, as we (in the Pardes Educators Program) planned a day of text-study and hands-on learning for the Pardes community in honour of Rosh Chodesh (last Thursday) and the fast-approaching holiday of Tu B’Shvat. It seems to me that it is no coincidence that last week’s parsha also talks about the mitzvah of sanctifying the new moon (Ex. 12:2). In fact, many Jewish holidays sanctify both time and space together. For example, on Sukkot we usher in the fall season by designating distinct living quarters for ourselves and recognizing our dependence on God, as we dwell in a shaky sukkah. In this act we also commemorate the historical moment when the Jewish People lived in huts (sukkahs) in the desert upon entering the Land of Israel.

But what is so sacred about this time of year specifically? How is this Hebrew month of Shvat which we have just begun unique? And within that month, what is the message of Tu B’Shvat?

I’d like to share an idea I learned from my colleague and friend, Kelly Cohen, in one of the learning sessions at the Yom Iyun. Kelly focused on a text in Deuteronomy which compares man to “a tree of the land” (Deut. 20:19) and asked us to consider why the Torah compares humanity to trees. After discussing several texts, Kelly led a yoga practice called “Root Down, Rise Up” in which we practiced finding our roots, particularly in our feet while standing and our backs while laying down. In this exercise, we became aware of which parts of our body provide us with that stability and sense of being grounded in the world. Then, we were asked to shift our body weight to one side or another and try to withstand falling over. As long as we concentrated on our feet or our backs which provided a solid foundation, we could keep ourselves firmly planted in the ground. Toward the end of the yoga practice, Kelly asked us to draw strength from our solid footing and extend our arms out and up in the air. Just like a tree needs to have deep and nourished roots in order to grow, Kelly invited us to think of ways we too can ensure that our roots are planted firmly in the ground in order to give us the strength and energy to extend ourselves out and elevate our actions in the world.

As such, I encourage all of us to take seriously Kelly’s call to action to “Root Down and Rise Up” so that this new month of Shvat  will be one that nourishes our roots and thus keeps us grounded, and as a result will enable us to blossom and extend our branches.

Shavua tov and Chodesh Tov,