That can be translated to mean: to exhale, to blow out, to hiss, to sting or even to blow fiercely. (Isn’t language wonderful?)
Let’s look at the first translation. Rabbi Isaac Luria, often called the ARI, was a mystic who lived in Tz’fat in the 16th century. He told the story of how God had to contract Godself (the Divine Essence) in order to make room to create the universe. He called that act of contraction Tzimtzum – God removed a bit of Godself to make room.
My friend and teacher Joel Grishaver (who may be a descendant of Rabbi Luria) described Tzimtzum as if you had just exhaled after quickly inhaling, making your chest and stomach contract.
We as teachers have to step back sometimes – just a little – in order to invite the learners to take ownership of their own learning. My wish for the new year – the year of exhaling (a bit) – for us, the teachers, is that we all develop our capacity and the skills needed to draw our learners in deeper and make space for them to step up. Let’s all put a little Tzimtzum into our lesson plans!
(Incidentally, the story goes on that God put the Divine Essence that was removed into vessels made from earthen clay. They cannot hold the Godstuff and shatter. He said our job was to remove the worthless shards of the vessels - sin, bad behavior, evil, etc – from the world and seek out the sparks of Divine Essense – good loving, kind deeds,Mitzvot, etc. This process is called Tikkun Olam – World Repair).