A message from Reb Rachel: untie our tangles

Dear Congregation Beth Israel members and friends,

As I write these words, we’re well into the fifth week of the Omer, the 49 days we count between Pesach and Shavuot, between freedom and revelation. (Today is day 31, the day of harmony and balance within the week of splendor and humility.)

There’s a prayer which is traditionally recited after counting the Omer which I wanted to share with you today. Even if you haven’t been counting the Omer every day, I hope this prayer may still be meaningful.

The prayer is called Ana b’Koach, and I wrote about it last year: A melody to sing after counting the Omer. That post contains the words of the whole prayer (in Hebrew and in sing-able English) as well as some material about the prayer (and a recording of the prayer as well). What I want to focus on today is just the first line, which Reb Zalman translates as “Source of Mercy, with loving strength, untie our tangles.”

Source of Mercy, with loving strength, untie our tangles.

What are we saying when we read, or sing, or meditate upon, these words? First, that there is a source of mercy in the universe, an everflowing stream from which divine mercy and compassion and kindness arise (and so do our own qualities of mercy and compassion and kindness). One name for this source of mercy is “God.”

Second, that that source of mercy is both loving and strong. Jewish tradition teaches that God’s lovingkindness and God’s strength are always intertwined. Strength (and judgement and justice and discernment) in perfect balance with mercy (and compassion and lovingkindness) — that’s one of our quintessential ways of understanding God.

And we’re saying that our tangled places, the places where we’re tied up in knots, can be lovingly untangled.

You know how knots can become so tight that it can start to seem impossible that they will ever come apart? That’s true not only in the case of yarn or fine necklace chains; it’s true also on an emotional and spiritual level. Our hearts and our souls and our minds can become tied-up in knots too, and when they do, it can be easy to despair of ever untangling them. But this prayer tells us otherwise. It tells us that our knots can be unbound, that our tight places can be released.

If there are places (ideas, relationships, emotions) where you’re feeling bound-up, wound-up, tied in knots: may the Source of Mercy, with loving strength, untie those tangles in your heart and in your life.

May this Shabbat be a source of comfort and rejuvenation for all of us. (And join us tomorrow morning for services led by Rabbi Pam Wax, featuring the Ana B’Koach prayer as well as a Pirkei Avot-focused Torah study!)

Blessings to all,

Reb Rachel

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