Grateful for Yizkor-Reflections on “The Lord is my Shepherd”
Yizkor is a sad time; but as an opportunity for reflection it can be transformed into a moment of understanding and insight.
Because I had read the 23rd Psalm most often in English in the course of my rabbinic work, I never paid sufficient attention to the Hebrew. This time, one word caught my attention. I realized that its translation, while widespread, common and familiar , may not capture its essence. The verse referred to is the following:
....ינחיני במעגלי צדק למען שמו
“He leads me on paths-pathways of justice-righteousness, for His Name’s sake” ( v.3).
The word translated as “path” could and perhaps should be translated differently.
“B’maaglei”-”במעגלי”-is derived from the Hebrew word “עגל", round or circular.
Unlike the Western mode of thought that views life and time as a progression or regression,what is suggested by the word ‘maaglei’ is the Kabbalistic notion that all of life and time moves circularly, each point containing the fullness of God’s justice and righteousness. The author of the Psalm seems to discover comfort from his journey through the valley of darkness in the awareness that godliness ie. justice,righteousness,”tzedek,”-is merely temporarily out of sight and will eventually reappear as points in a circle rotate and return to their original place.
Interestingly, in the world of Kabbalah, divinity is circular-the first sefirah is “keter”-a crown, that which is circular, the ineffable source of the Godhead-the Ein Sof-which represents the first stirrings of divinity in the universe.The final sefirah,”malchut”-is also known as “atarah,” another word for crown or that which is round and circular.
As Arthur Green puts it so cogently in his wonderful book-Ehyeh-Kabbalah for Tomorrow- “Now we should see the sefirot (the world of Divinity) as a sacred circle, ‘Its end tied to its beginning and its beginning to its end.”(p.59).
Green continues: “The circle of life includes all that is. In order to understand the process, to trace the origin of the many back to the One, we have allowed ourselves to open the circle, to turn it temporarily into a series of straight lines, so that we may see its progression...this is the way our linear brains work....now we have come to the end of that system......we must remember, as the kabbalists remind us, that really we understand nothing at all. Therefore we rejoin the circle, tie its ends back together , and allow ourselves to dance within it....The ten sefirot must become a way of thinking for us, not a body of knowledge.They are the choreography for a dance of the mind......”(Ibid)
Thus the Psalmist articulates his faith in the dance of life at the time of his deepest sorrow and sadness, his moment of greatest fear and isolation.
God will lead him “b’maaglei tzedek”-open the awareness of his heart to the reality of life as a wondrous circular dance.