I was preparing for my workshop this week called “Five Jewish Mindfulness Practices that Cultivate Wholeness.” The first category of discussion was going to be about what Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel called “radical amazement.” He writes, “Wonder, or radical amazement, is a way of going beyond what is given in thing and thought, refusing to take anything for granted…”(The Way of Man)
We live amongst miracles and in order to get through the day, it’s easy to become inured to the wonders right in front of us. We may walk by the first tulip of the season without seeing it, we may fail to appreciate the depth of beauty in someone we live with; we may have become so used to the ability to research any topic at any hour of any day and not realize how incredibly awesome that is! Or to be amazed that we can tell our television to download a movie we missed in the theater and somehow the satellite knows how to point that movie right to our tv!
Learning to pay deep attention is a life-changing spiritual practice. We can learn to pause more, to make note of our blessings each day, to be more verbal in our appreciation of the gifts we are given. We can teach ourselves to see every day as if we were 18 months old, discovering it for the first time.
I thought it would be fascinating, as part of the teaching, to share what the Hebrew word for“paying deep attention” was. I find that Hebrew, as a nuanced language, often gives tremendous insights into the quality of experience.
After spending some lovely time with Hebrew dictionaries, I knew I needed help. There were too many possibilities. SO – I went to my Facebook community, which includes knowledgeable scholars in Hebrew, as well as many Israelis.
Here’s the question I posted: “HEBREW help: looking for the best Hebrew word to describe “noticing” as in “paying attention in a deep way.” What’s the best word for this? I have come up with לְהַבחִין (l’hav’cheen) and תשומת-לב (tsumat-lev) What is the difference?”
Do you know that I received 63 responses! It was a lively conversation because as it turns out, there are MANY Hebrew words for this idea of noticing, paying attention. It was beautiful as people engaged in politely disagreeing with each other (sometimes) and inviting others into the conversation who they thought would really know.
My dear friend Rabbi Uri Regev (of Hiddush: http://hiddush.org/ in Israel) wrote – “Jill, tell me some sentences in which you would use the word and it would be easier to tell you how to say it in Hebrew.”
Here are the sentences I gave: I am noticing, with awe, the intoxicating scent of the jasmine blooming. Sometimes I leave in a hurry and I don’t notice it although it is in bloom. I am noticing the tone in her voice which tells me much more than the words alone. I want to learn to notice the gifts and miracles contained in each day.
And so a new friend, obviously an expert in Hebrew, shared the words he would use for each sentence. (NOTICE, if you will, that there are FIVE different hebrew verbs for the kind of noticing in these sentences!!)
“I am noticing, with awe, the intoxicating scent of the jasmine blooming.” אני קולטת
“Sometimes I leave in a hurry and I don’t notice it although it is in bloom.” שמה לב
“I am noticing the tone in her voice which tells me much more than the words alone.” מבחינה or חשה
“I want to learn to notice the gifts and miracles contained in each day. להיות מודע לי
“I am noticing all the time and care you took to post with such thoughtfulness” שמה לב ל
Some other precious comments:
- L’hakshiv means to listen intently. La-sim lev means to pay attention but doesn’t specify one of the five senses.
- About tzumat lev: Lev is ‘center’. My instinct is that tsumet-lev is better than le’havchin.
- However I think ‘nochach’ is what you are looking for. It is to be present. While it is applicable as “being here” it is also applicable as being aware, as in being present in the moment.
- I would add התעורר for “awaken”; see the imperative use of the root עור in Lekha Dodi.
- I would also suggest שומר or שמירה as it is often referred to from Gen. 37:11 in Hasidic texts as attentive watching to see what will develop, when will that particular mitzvah come my way to perform it, how shall I respond in this moment.
- Depending on the specific situation – Mud’a could be a better fit. (מודע, מודעות). For example
מודעות עצמית is self-awareness, It is sort of the passive complementary of Tsumet-lev.
My friend Rabbi Uri Regev ended up doing a lot of research on his own and wrote to me: “Jill, your question make us realize how much the different words are tied to the relevant organs of the body which are at work when you notice something!”
MORAL OF THE STORY: 1) investigating Hebrew added nuance and creativity and great thoughtfulness 2) when you “don’t know” ask for help and 3) in the most unexpected places, it is possible to find new friends, learn new and beautiful insights.
What’s your response? What have you been noticing lately? Springtime is (I think) the best time of year to tune up our “radical amazement” muscles. I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.
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