The Tree in the Midst

Rabbi Misha Shulman
4 min readJul 29, 2022
Painting by Susan Weinstein

You’re coming home from work or from running around town. Your mind is busy. Your heart full of concerns. You unlock the door to your apartment and are about to step in. Your eye catches sight of the Mezuzah on the doorpost. You remember the first word in the scroll inside of it: Shma, Listen! You pause to fulfill the commandment, to change gears before entering a new space, to walk into your house with your mind, not just your body.

When a friend described this to me yesterday it struck me as a good example of the mental transformation described in Psalm 27. How do we get from the state of mind in verse 2:

בִּקְרֹ֤ב עָלַ֨י ׀ מְרֵעִים֮ לֶאֱכֹ֢ל אֶת־בְּשָׂ֫רִ֥י צָרַ֣י וְאֹיְבַ֣י לִ֑י הֵ֖מָּה כָשְׁל֣וּ וְנָפָֽלוּ׃

When the bad angels
Crowd close over me
To eat my flesh
My constrainers,
My enemies
They fail And fall.

To that in verse 6:

וְעַתָּ֨ה יָר֪וּם רֹאשִׁ֡י עַ֤ל אֹיְבַ֬י סְֽבִיבוֹתַ֗י וְאֶזְבְּחָ֣ה בְ֭אׇהֳלוֹ זִבְחֵ֣י תְרוּעָ֑ה אָשִׁ֥ירָה וַ֝אֲזַמְּרָ֗ה לַֽיהֹוָֽה׃

In that moment
My head will rise
High above my surrounding enemies
I will gift Her
Beautiful sacrifices of sound
Poetry and song to YHVH

The 16th century kabbalist Moshe Alsheich illuminates the phrase “My constrainers, My enemies”:

צרי ואויבי הם צרי ואויבי הנפש

My constrainers and my enemies are the constrainers and enemies of the soul.

The question, then is an internal one: How can I change my inner world from a state of fear and anxiety into one of confidence and peace?

Two possibilities surface in my search for an answer, one available, immediate and short-lived, and the other demands work and time but can be offer a much longer stay in the state of peace.

The quick option appears in the following Hassidic teaching:

“It is written (in Genesis): “The tree in the midst of the garden.” Whenever a person prays, they should think that they are in the garden

Rabbi Misha Shulman

Jerusalem born, Misha has been working at the cusp of religion, art and activism since 1999. Rabbi @ The New Shul and Director of School for Creative Judaism.