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  • Writer's pictureMarilyn Saltzman

Untying Knots, Uniting Souls

They choke off air and stop the blood from pulsating freely.”

When Rabbi Jamie read the poetic prayer, “Untie,” by Rabbi Sheila Peltz Weinberg, at services last Friday night, I visualized a thick, well-worn rope tied in knots around my head, my heart and my gut.

The top knot, constricting my brain, results from current events about which I have no control. First, the horrific massacre of innocents in Israel that has led to war, more death and destruction with no apparent resolution in sight. Feelings of helplessness and hopelessness tighten my heart as I can’t foresee a happy ending. The rising anti-Semitism worldwide freezes my body in a knot of terror, keeping me “from crying and dancing,” as Rabbi Weinberg writes.

And then there is the political situation at home, chaos making mockery of democracy. I recoil when I think of the next presidential election and the divisiveness it is already creating. Can our nation survive? The anger, lack of civility and dishonesty tie my stomach in knots.

“They (the knots) tie us to the posts of the fences that separate us from each other,” the poem continues. Israelis from Palestinians, Muslims from Jews, Republicans from Democrats. Building fences around our hearts to block out the adversary results in locking ourselves in.

Rabbi Weinberg ends her poetic prayer with “O, God, untie all our knots!” While I recognize that I have no control over the situation in Israel or in Congress, I can start by asking for help in untying my own self-limiting knots.

Serendipitously I found some guidance on Sunday, just two days after reading Rabbi Weinberg’s prayer. I attended a birthday party where we danced with abandon and drew tarot cards. Coincidentally, (or maybe not), I drew a card that read “you are stronger than you think” and “Magdalene.” A Jewish girl, I didn’t know much about Mary Magdalene, so I did some online research on her deeper meaning. I found an interpretation by author Shann Vander Leek that resonated: “Do not worry about what others think or say….Send love to those who have hurt or misjudged you. Forgive yourself for what you think you have done or not done. Release old un-forgiveness toward others to help yourself heal and move on.”

I can untie the knots that bind me to past offenses and transgressions through forgiveness of others and myself: Forgive that uninformed teen who shared an anti-Semitic joke 60 years ago. Forgive myself for making impatient, unkind remarks to family members, so I can move on and move up in my soul journey.

What about tangible knots and the lessons they can provide? Some are helpful and are not meant to be untied until the right time. The knots on my shoelaces protect me from tripping over my feet in Jazzercise. The knots on a nautical rope keep the ship safely anchored until is ready to continue its voyage. How can I keep the knots tied when needed and loosen them when they no longer serve me? What needs to be tied together and what should be untied?

When I receive a birthday present wrapped in colorful paper and tied with bow, untying the knot reveals a gift within. That knot represents not an obstacle, but an opportunity to anticipate something precious. How can I use this metaphor of finding the gift within to help untie my unwanted internal knots?

Accidentally, (or maybe not), as I began to write this blog, I typed “unite” instead of “untie.” What would happen, I wondered, if we juxtaposed those two letters to address our perceived differences? Could we untie the knots of anger and fear of the “other” that create enemies and enmity? Could we replace those toxic knots with ones that tie us together through common goals and values? Would it then be possible to unite through the harmony of our pure souls?

From a Shabbat service and a birthday party, two very different weekend events, one clear, cohesive message emerged – if I actively seek ways to untie the knots that entangle and confine me, then uniting with others will become more accessible. In these dark days, it is a hopeful message for myself and perhaps for the world.

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