The Core of Yesod

04/30/2013 12:46 pm ET | Updated Jun 30, 2013
WikiMedia:John Sweeney

"The stone that the builder refused, turned out to be the head cornerstone." -- Psalm 118

The week of yesod is upon us. Another one of the lesser understood sefirot, which means it deserves our attention all the more so.

Typically translated as "foundation," yesod acts as the anchor of the sefirot. But it also is defined as "the connector" -- the sefirah that fuses all the other ones together. Yesod types are really good at Jewish geography and playing "six degrees of Kevin Bacon."

Connector and foundation, however, only hint at some of the deeper ramifications of yesod. Like netzach, understanding yesod eludes our cognitive grip. It is difficult to make a passing reference to yesod. To connect to it, one must be ready to dive past the surface and immediately into the deep waters. Yesod is about penetrating to the core of who we are. That is a very difficult task. When we think about the question behind the question, that is when we begin the tread into yesod territory.

The week of yesod is an invitation to consider pulling down the veil. For many of us it is an invitation to simply acknowledge that there is a veil to pull down. We know that the mind and heart conspire to trick us with habits, avoidance and other defense mechanisms to protect us. When we are brave enough to go beyond our regular way of being and attempt to approach our inner layers that point toward our core, we have to consider the possibility that we may not be living our deepest truths. Our foundation, once synonymous with stability and reliability, may be redefined. Our core, like the earth's core, simultaneously holds our world together and is inhabitable. Yesod is the sefirah that goes there -- that goes to the places we know exist, but most of the time do not have a clue how to approach.

The biblical character Joseph, or Yosef, is linked to yesod, whose character in the Torah is paradoxically both divisive and stabilizing. What we forget about Yosef is that the entire arc of the Torah shifts through his experience. Yosef is the bridge from Genesis to Exodus, but it is more than that. Yosef represents the passageway between the birth of our tribe to the birth of our nation. Both on Egyptian soil, the epic trek of the ancient Hebrews from slavery to redemption parallels Yosef's path. The forgetting of Yosef by a new Pharoah is one of the Torah's central turning points. Based on the Yosef narrative, I understand yesod less as a foundation in this context and more as "turning point" or "major transition," or at least a spiritual foundation.

Like transitional moments, spiritual foundations are often found in time rather than place. Although transitions often imply the experience of unrootedness and uncertainty, they paradoxically can serve to root the spirit. It is precisely a transitional moment in life that gets us closer to revealing our core and witnessing the energetic chasms between who we think we are, who we want to be and who we actually are.

To truly connect with yesod requires an act of faith, a willingness to look into darkness and step into it. Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi once said, "Where there is faith, there are few beliefs. You use beliefs to shore up opinions, rather than a relationship with the cosmos." When it comes to understanding yesod and yearning toward our core, we are our biggest stumbling block. We are the builder who refused the stone. Our beliefs about ourselves and the world hide our lack of faith and often hide us from ourselves.

In this week of yesod, may we all be blessed with courage and humility. Courage to take a peek inside. A peek long enough to glimpse that there is a truth that is stronger than our convictions. May we be blessed with humility to recognize that we not the sum of our thoughts. May we find comfort and our spirits take root in the faith of our uncertainty. Let that experience be the foundation that prepares us for revelation.

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