by Hazzan Jacob Sandler
Once, when I was in high school, I missed the bus home. My sister had after school activities, and my parents were working late so nobody could pick me up to drive me. This perfect storm inspired me to make the ten minute drive home on foot. It took me an hour and half, and there weren’t enough sidewalks, but I really enjoyed the experience. I ended up choosing to walk home about once a week just for fun.
What I loved about walking home was that it provided the time to talk to myself, think aloud and reflect on any number of things going on in my life at that point. I would think about anything and everything, and this proved to be one of my earliest spiritual experiences. I’d often direct my monologuing toward God, who I believe was a deep and thoughtful listener. When a particularly novel idea came to me, I attributed that inspiration to God and my walks home proved to be a deeply meditative exercise.
In this week’s parsha, Chayei Sarah, we have an instance of a word, which is used only once in the entire Tanakh, “לָשׂוּחַ” (la-suach). It appears in Genesis 24:62, the verse reads, “וַיֵּצֵ֥א יִצְחָ֛ק לָשׂ֥וּחַ בַּשָּׂדֶ֖ה לִפְנ֣וֹת עָ֑רֶב וַיִּשָּׂ֤א עֵינָיו֙ וַיַּ֔רְא וְהִנֵּ֥ה גְמַלִּ֖ים בָּאִֽים׃” — “vayeitzei Yitzchak la-suach basadeh lifnot arev, vayisa einav vayar v’hinei g’malim ba’im.” — “And Isaac went out walking* in the field toward evening and, looking up, he saw camels approaching.” In our Eitz Chayim chumash la-suach is translated as walking. However, Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan asserts that this is actually “the very first reference to meditation in the Bible.” He relates the root of שׂוּחַ (suach) to שׂיחַ (siyach) and its derivative שׂיחה (sichah) meaning conversation. We can therefore interpret the Hebrew to mean, “And Isaac went out, to meditate in the field…” Naturally the Hebrew holds both meanings at once, whereas the english translation is forced to choose. I don’t imagine Isaac sitting pretzel-style in the fields, breathing deeply as one might imagine someone meditating today — that is just one form of meditation. I picture Isaac’s experience as looking and sounding more like my meditative walks home from school, conversing alone and with God. This is a great model for individual prayer as well. I encourage you to give it a try! Go out, like Isaac, take a walk and “suach” meditate and see what meaning and inspiration it yields for you.