Last year’s B’nai Mitzvah class gave a High Holyday Torah cover as a gift to the synagogue. So, we used it for the first time on Rosh Hashanah. Technically, I used it for the first time earlier in the week when I was getting things ready for the New Year. I have had occasion to see it/use it a few different times so far at different times of the day … and it was, in a fashion, different each time.
The mantle is an off white, almost cream color with a large tree as its main image. The roots and trunk of the tree are embroidered with a solid, simple dark golden, brownish hue. The ‘leaves’ that surround the branches are of a translucent thread that seems to be on many colors – gold, brown, greens, oranges — and depending on the time of day and kind of light in the room it looks different.
I love the balance of elements on the mantle that some stay the same and some change, too. There are so many metaphorical, interpretive paths I could take with such a piece of art … the one that jumps out at me is the existence of that dynamic tension between what is fixed or set and what is fluid or changing. Our tradition names this dynamic tension as an important element of the prayer service. It calls the fixed or set end of the spectrum: kevah. It names the fluid or changing end of the spectrum: kavanah. Think of it in this way: the keva may be the fact that Shema is always said at a certain time with the same words during a prayer service; the kavanah may be the way that the Shema is sung or interpreted during that same service.
It seems that this spectrum of keva and kavanah and their dynamic tension are not limited to the prayer service. Our entire world works and evolves along the grades of this spectrum. Ask any artist of any kind about the importance of studying and understanding the traditional forms of their ‘art’. Then, ask that same artist about the creative process and how it is all about changing something either around those forms or in response to those forms. The same plays out in any field – medicine, law, science … there are set forms that help define the structure of a paradigm; but then transformation comes when doctors, lawyers, scientists figure out a way to be creative and play with or beyond those established forms.
And of course, we live on the grades of this spectrum as well. We need and thrive on a certain set-ness or fixed-ness about certain elements of our lives. We also need (and possibly crave) that energy that derives from change, fluidity and creativity. Understanding our own place on the keva and kavanah spectrum – where we are most comfortable and where we experience growth and transformation – is an essential element to living as mature, grounded individuals whose lives feel meaningful, joyous and rich.
Take advantage of these last few days before Yom Kippur and take a look at the ‘mantle’ that covers your own sacred story and pay attention to what parts are made of keva and what parts are made of kavanah.