Torah Reflections: January 28 – February 3, 2018

Yitro

Exodus 18:1 – 20:23

One With the One

Now Moses went up to God. The Eternal One called to him from the mountain, saying, “Thus shall you say to the house of Jacob and declare to the children of Israel: ‘You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Me. Now then, if you hear, deeply hear My voice, and keep My covenant, you will be to Me a special treasure among all peoples, for all the earth is Mine. You shall be a kingdom of priests, a holy nation’. These are the words that you shall speak to the children of Israel.” [Exod. 19:3-6]

Thus begins chapter 19 in the book of Exodus, the chapter leading up to the Ten Commandments and Revelation at Sinai. Moving beyond the literal level, I read this passage as a transmission of a spiritual encounter couched in the literary form of myth. Though the words of Revelation meet us in the next chapter, chapter 19 describes the moment of awakening.

These early verses might, therefore, detail the initial meditation from which the unfolding chaotic, awesome and terrifying vision unfolds. “Moses,” the “house of Jacob,” as well as “the children of Israel,” represent different layers of consciousness being addressed here. Our inner Moses, the always already enlightened part of self, is the one to ascend and channel this transmission. The “house of Jacob” represents the level of ego consciousness, while the “children of Israel” the more spiritually inclined aspects of consciousness.

To the ego consciousness God says: “You have seen what I did to the Egyptians;” because the ego needs to see in order to believe. To the “children of Israel” God says: “I bore you on eagles’ wings” because, the kabbalists remind us, the eagle is one of the four animals Ezekiel describes in his vision of the celestial chariot, and is associated with the Cosmic Spiritual World. In this meditation, therefore, God carries the “children of Israel” part of self, up to cosmic consciousness. In so doing God “brought” us to Him—a Hebrew expression used in the context of marriage or union. It is this union with the Divine, becoming one with the One, which this meditation describes. For our mystics the transmission expressed in these verses unfolds at the cosmic level of consciousness and depicts the union of the individual human soul with the Godhead.

Now, then, having reached this state of union, we can hear God’s voice which is our voice. Now, then, we can know that “all the earth” is God’s; and echo the words of the Chasidic masters: “God fills all worlds and surrounds all worlds.” Now, then, we can know ourselves to be a “kingdom of priests”—which Martin Buber translated as “Royal retinue”—one with the One, serving the Holy One of all Being by bearing witness to and acting as the conduits of Its Presence in the world, of Its Holiness in all lives. Now, then, we can truly hear the first word of the Ten Commandments “Anochi – I am,” not as an affirmation from an entity outside of our self, but as the “I am” that I am, the “I am” that you are, one with the One as we forever are.
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1. In Genesis, Jacob sheds his ego-identity through a night of God-wresting & awakens to a higher self named Israel.

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