July 20 – Gesher Tzar Me’od – The World is a Narrow Bridge

by Mary Connerty

© Pat Young | Dreamstime Stock Photos

© Pat Young | Dreamstime Stock Photos

The best conversations I have with my son seem to happen in the car. A few weeks ago, while driving home from our synagogue after teaching in our religious school program, my son asked why we call Sunday school “Gesher” and not Sunday School or Hebrew School.

Hmmm . . . I tried to rack my brain to remember what I had learned about this moniker, but could only think to tell him that Gesher meant “bridge” in Hebrew and, in true practiced educator fashion, turned the question around and asked him why he thought that might be appropriate.

After a “harrumph” and a “Mom, why can’t you just ever answer my question?” I got him to suggest that the bridge referred to bridging childhood to adulthood, to leading to a knowledge of Judaism, to paving the way for living in the world. Pretty good for a 15-minute drive, I thought, but something felt missing. So I began to research:

Gesher (Hebrew: גֶּשֶׁר, lit. Bridge), according to Wikipedia, may refer to:
•       Gesher, a former political party from Israel
•       Gesher, a kibbutz in Israel
•       Camp Gesher, a summer camp in Ontario
•       Gesher, the former codename of a microarchitecture computer chip

Not very helpful.

A deeper search led me to a quote from Rabbi Nachman: “The whole world is a very narrow bridge; the important thing is not to be afraid.”

Rabbi Nachman was an amazing 18th century Hasidic Jew who combined Kabbalah and Torah study to teach that one should face life with simplicity, faith and joy. In fact, for Rabbi Nachman, experiencing joy was a mitzvah, a commandment. When he teaches that the world is a very narrow bridge which we must not be afraid to cross, he transcends any peculiarities of his 18th century Hasidic Jewish world and gives us a timeless roadmap for life. After all, fear is not particular to any one group of people, and living fearlessly can be a real and daily struggle for many of us.

For me, the Nachman quote explains perfectly why Gesher is the perfect name for Sunday School lessons of any faith, but also can serve as an anchor for all of us, particularly women, to live beyond our comfort zones. Mustn’t we try to teach our children and to remind ourselves that life is precious, that care must be taken, but to live in fear is not to live–it is to stay stuck on one side of the bridge?

Each day, we all face bullies, spiders, pressures from school or work, family illness, cyber hackers, potential terrorists, and who knows what else.  So, as strange as it may seem for 21st century women (who may or may not be Jewish) to learn from an 18th century Hasidic rabbi, we learn from Rabbi Nachman that if we have faith, we don’t need to be afraid, or, at least, we can move forward in spite of our fear. This is a lesson for us all, and a reason to keep walking across the bridge.

Mary Connerty

Mary Connerty is a mom, wife, Linguistics Ph.D., runner, gardener,  and writer. She is tentatively, yet daily, stepping out onto the bridge.

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17 responses to “July 20 – Gesher Tzar Me’od – The World is a Narrow Bridge

  1. Lovely piece, Mary! My best conversations with my now 36-year-old daughter were always in the car too. I agree, the world may often seem like a narrow bridge, but that bridge can carry us across/over/beyond whatever we fear if we just walk forward, one step at a time. Blessings!

    • Mary Connerty

      Thank you so much, Susan. There is something about the space in the car that just lends itself to conversation – even with my sometimes-surly 15-year-old. I look for excuses now to get him in the car!

  2. This past weekend I walked on a swinging bridge that crossed the rapids of a stream. I always walk tenuously across such bridges, but do so because there is someone or something on the other side that makes the trek worth it. Certainly a metaphor for our lives as well.

    • Mary Connerty

      Wow! Timing is everything! Isn’t it amazing how the universe conspired to send you bridges?! Thank you for your response. Best

  3. Thank you for this, Mary! When I feel at peace, it is because I am without fear. But I find that most people live in fear, and their fear can be infectious. I think I need to keep your essay close to me, where I can re-read it, and remind myself that I have passed through and beyond the most fearful things, and that there is really not much left to fear, . . . . despite the warnings of the fear mongers who focus on the hardships and terrors that may lie ahead.

    • Mary Connerty

      Thank you, Samantha! I agree that we seem to live in a fear-based culture. It becomes so much of where we live that we are not even aware of how many decisions we make based on fear. It is so incredible to me though how, when I do take those steps onto the bridge, how the universe opens up in response.

  4. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this. My daughter, like my mother, always falls asleep in the car, but my grandson does not. It must skip a generation. This inspires me to continue the talks with my grandson when we go on our family road trips.

  5. Mary Connerty

    Thanks, Juliana. I really appreciate your comment. I learn so much from my son when we are in the car; he is a great teacher. I’m sure your grandson is too.

  6. Lois Ann Bull

    Thank you for this both euridite and inspiring piece, including the spiders. Now that my kids are parents themselves, I have learned a great deal in the car that I never knew when they were growing up. As for fearfulness, I have always taught joy and laughter instead which you show in spades in your picture.

  7. Thank you for this, Mary. I’ve always had a fear of actual bridges though I realize it’s more a fear of the edges than actually being on a bridge. *G* Still, seeing the world as a bridge was enlightenment for me and while I can’t see the “edges” of the world, I feel like I’ve managed to traverse just a little bit more, thanks to this piece.

    • Mary Connerty

      Thank you! I used to have a terrible fear of bridges that went over water – I think it was because of Twilight Zone/Outer Limits episode I had seen as kid. I’m so glad this piece resonated with you.

  8. A very interesting article; prodded me to do some reflection about my journey through life and the connections I have made and am continuing to make. The Rabbi’s quotation is indeed empowering. Thank you for these words.

  9. Lovely, Mary–thoughtful, provocative, allusive: just what I needed this morning!

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