Drawing Courtesy of Sheri Zeff, Women's Retreat at Westerbeke Ranch, 2016

Drawing Courtesy of Sheri Zeff, Women's Retreat at Westerbeke Ranch, 2016

Embodied Pardes

a unique methodology created by Julie Emden

When bringing forth Jewish wisdom teachings from primary texts sources we employ a method we call Embodied Pardes. We take one moment in Torah, liturgy or other source texts, and we go deep and long with a look at the Hebrew language, at the phrasing, at the intricacies of the text and apply the Pardes method (Pshat, Remez, Drash, and Sod), but through a lens of embodiment.

For example, here is how we use this approach with the line:

Genesis 28:12

וַיַּחֲלֹם, וְהִנֵּה סֻלָּם מֻצָּב אַרְצָה, וְרֹאשׁוֹ, מַגִּיעַ הַשָּׁמָיְמָה; וְהִנֵּה מַלְאֲכֵי אֱלֹהִים, עֹלִים וְיֹרְדִים בּוֹ.

And he dreamed, and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven; and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it.

 

First, in Pshat, we search the text for the Hebrew words that are actual body parts or bodily movements or elements. So in this line, we have ‘rosh’ (head) and ‘artzah’ (earth).  

Next, in Remez, we search for hints or references to the body and bodily movements - words that can describe an element or movement of the body. So in this line we have ‘mutzav’ (planted firmly), ‘magia’ (approach), ‘olim’ (ascend or rise up) and ‘yordim’ (descend or come down). 

Next, in Drash, we look for words or phrases in which we can interpret or derive bodily reference, even if the language is not directly a body part or movement.  So for example in this line we have ‘sulam’ (ladder), whose imagery maps onto the body as spine. Or if drawing from these words as we embody the text, we can look at which parts of the body plant firmly, approach, ascend, descend in any given posture or movement.  For instance, in Warrior 1 (Virabhadrasana 1) the outer back foot and heel mutzav (plant or set firmly into the ground) as the inner thigh, kidney, psoas and front of the spine olim (ascend). And the olim/yordim of the angels on the ladders mirrors an ongoing ascent and descent of various parts of the body in just this pose alone!  The tailbone descends, the back of the neck ascends. The base of the toe descends, the inner arch of the foot ascends. 

Finally, we reach the level of Sod. Here we look for what is creative, new, or secret in the sense of perhaps being unknown until this moment.  Often we can discover or experience a new Sod level of understanding through this practice, that is difficult to even put into words.  One example could be, a ladder implies steps, incremental moments of approaching or retreating from a height (Ha’Shamayim). So too, in an embodied practice we have one small step, one opening, and another and another, until we reach expanded physical stretch or consciousness that is a result of each small step taken.

All of the levels of Embodied Pardes work together and provide gateways into an embodied experience of the text. So, we can take this line to bring in another and yet another instruction about a yoga pose that gives more freedom.  In Warrior I, we can enter the pose with all of these images in mind - with our back heel as Mutzav (planted firmly) and our spine as the Sulam (length of the ladder), and the crown of our head (Rosh) reaching (Magia) to the sky (Shamayim).  Then we can further refine the pose as informed by order of the words in the text. ‘Ascending’ (Olim) appears first. So also in the practice, by first lifting (Olim) the pelvis and torso up off the legs,  and then descending (Yordim) lower to the ground by bending the front knee,  we receive more freedom, stability and openness in the asana! 

Thus, the lines of Torah can support and expand our embodied practices, just as the embodied practices can inform and expand our understanding of Torah. It is a creative, cyclical, non-verbal process. In the end, we experience the text and the bodily practice as one.