Kavannah is a Jewish concept meaning intention or motivation, perhaps most associated with Hasidism. Hassidism teaches that prayer and the fulfillment of mitzvot connects one more with the Holy One if the right state of mind is cultivated before participating in said activity. While going through the motions (prayer, mitzvot, etc.) is important and still technically fulfills the mitzvot, it is not as spiritually beneficial to the individual as is doing those tasks with kavannah. Praying and fulfilling mitzvot within a certain mental space more fully connects you to the divine. Judaism is not alone regarding this religious insight. Clearly there is something to it.
Hasidic teachers often inspire and encourage their adherents to find a way to enter into the right mood before starting prayers or performing mitzvot. What works for you may not work for me and vice versa. The same is often not the case within community. Continue reading “On Our Beit Midrash: Kavannah, Writing and Study by Ivy Helman”
Never has it been more difficult for me to affirm that “love trumps hate” as during this unprecedented United States election season. After watching the Republican Convention last July in mute horror, I took to bed for several days, overwhelmed by the presentiment that everyone–blacks, women, Jews, Latinos, Muslims, queers– other than a certain breed of white American males was doomed to shameless malignment and persecution. The palpable hatred in Donald Trump’s acceptance speech seared me, arousing my ancestral memory of various persecutions of Jews, Muslims, and others–not something I usually think about or choose to foreground. For several months now, I have been haunted (and almost paralyzed) by fear.
Hence Ani Tuzman’s The Tremble of Love: A Novel of the Baal Shem Tov has come as an especially welcome, healing antidote, affirming as it does the power of “unshakeable faith even in the presence of inhumanity” (473). I cannot say that I fully have such faith, but this novel, if anything can, leads me towards it. Page after page is filled with compelling examples of love’s power to disarm hatred and assuage pain.
Early on, a tale is told of a young man fearlessly facing three would-be highwaymen who have stopped the wagon in which he is riding with a rabbi’s wife and her three children, one of whom is disabled:
Continue reading “The Tremble of Love: A Novel of the Baal Shem Tov by Ani Tuzman – Reviewed by Joyce Zonana”