Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Arrive Early, Stay Late

* source

by Susan Weinberg

What does your doorbell sound like?  

How do you knock on a door?  Do you knock differently if it is a friend’s door?  Perhaps a friendly rhythmic knock with a touch of whimsy in its refrain?  

Are you a knocker or a ringer?

These were some of the questions posed to us as we milled around with our lab partners, stopping when signaled to address the questions with our nearest partner.

Gradually Rabbi Davis moved us to a more difficult question.

What doors are hard to open?

Thus we began our exploration of thresholds, their meaning and the journey across them as we considered the doors that we tug at unsuccessfully or enter uneasily.  For some of us it was our studio door during one of those periods where creativity eludes us.  

Rabbi Davis introduced a passage from Proverbs 8:34.  (Handout -What's Behind Door#2)

Happy is the person who listens to me, who comes quickly to my doors every day, to guard the door posts of my entrance ways.

What doors does this reference and what doors do we guard?  We concluded this was a spiritual door and considered how we guard doors for our own peace of mind against disturbing intrusions, sometimes as simple as shutting off the news.

We turned our attention to the interpretations of this passage.  It has been proposed that the verse describes Wisdom, sitting in her holy sanctuary.  Rashi weighed in with an interpretation of  “my doors” meaning that we should be the first to enter the hall of study and the shul and the last to leave.  Perhaps we are to arrive early in childhood and stay late into old age. Nor should we sit too close to the exit.  We are to commit fully to being present, not be preparing for exit. The Gemara goes yet a step further and proposes that we must enter through two doors in the synagogue.  So what if there is only one door? Well we are to walk into the synagogue the distance of the width of two doors.  There is a process of preparation which this allows, one door to enter, one door to transition and prepare our mind.  Some propose that there are many entries to wisdom, hence the significance of more than one door.

We had been asked to bring a picture of a door to the lab and to speak of its significance to us.  My door was to my ancestral home in Poland, a door I arrived at through my exploration of family history which took me over the threshold into a relationship with the Jewish community.  It occurred to me that I would not be in the lab were it not for this journey.  Others also saw significance in doors that represented an exploration of Judaism. 

Some spoke of inscriptions on doors. In Rome Alison visited the Garden of Monsters which has a door called the Orcus Mouth and is inscribed “Cast away every thought, you who enter" or "All thoughts fly.”  Perhaps this is not too unlike Rashi’s guidance to commit to this place we are entering, to cleanse our mind and leave the outer world behind. 

Rani presented the door to a place that they had stayed at in Israel that had an entry that deceived, small and modest, but revealing a much larger and dramatic place than it would appear to be.  We noted that a door is like a blank canvas, we never know where it will lead.  

Some saw doors as similar to bridges, connecting a passageway to something new.  Others preferred round doors that were perpetually open. Robyn shared her cheerful red door in a color that has meaning to her family. Rabbi Davis shared the back door of his home where family comes in through the mudroom and expressed the hope that over time we would arrive at sufficient comfort together to go through the back door, getting to know each other on a deeper level.

Our session concluded with some journaling about the theme of thresholds.  We were asked if there were aspects we hoped to cover in our upcoming sessions. An animated discussion followed where questions were raised about what we leave behind when we cross a threshold. Is there ever a turning back? How do we mark thresholds and how and why do we cross a threshold? 

Many of us are fascinated by word derivation so we closed with some thoughts about the word "threshold" which contains the words hold, old and thresh. Are we to not hold onto the old? Does thresh relate to the turmoil often associated with change? Threshing involves beating the plant to separate the seeds and grain, an apt metaphor for a process of change and transformation. A little exploration after the meeting turned up the fact that there was no clear derivation of the word although that didn't stop experts from writing extensively on the topic. One theory related to the idea of people putting thresh on the dirt floor to keep it dry and hence needing a threshold to keep it within the room when shutting the door. With no clear derivation I am rather partial to the idea of threshing to separate the germ of what is valuable from our past as we carry it forward, crossing the threshold into the future.

*photo by Jusben from Morguefile