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Numbers 8:1 – 12:16

It seems like every time we turn the page in the biblical story of our people, they are complaining about their situation in the wilderness. This time it’s the monotony of the same food, day in and day out, that has them fantasizing about how much better they had it back in merry old Egypt.

“Now our soul is dried out, there is nothing except this manna to look at. And the manna was like coriander seed, its appearance was as the appearance of crystal.” (Num. 11:6-7)

Three times in these two short sentences we come upon a form of the Hebrew word ayin, which means “eye.” In verse 6 it is usually read as “to look at,” although a literal translation of the pertinent phrase “[nothing except] this manna to look at” would be “to the manna our eye.” In verse 7 the two occurrences are generally translated “its appearance was the appearance of crystal,” though a literal translation would read “its eye like the eye of the crystal.”

Both phrases are puzzling, which may be why translators often double as interpreters in an attempt to convey what they think Torah is saying. But perhaps the Hebrew is hinting at something deeper, something a non-mystically inclined translator would miss. For Jewish mystics, Creation is a manifestation of the word of God as described in the first verses of Genesis. Everything, every being, is the manifest vibration of that ongoing Divine “spoken” word, the Eternal birthing Itself as the finite, moment to moment. This vibration, this force that gives everything its existence now, and now, and now, is understood by our mystics as the “ayin,” the “eye” of each thing.

Consider the eye of a storm, which is the calm center of the energies spiraling around it. Though not moving itself, it is not separate from those swirling energies. Our sages used this image to point to a profound spiritual teaching: That which is perceiving through the “eye” of every aspect of Creation is the Eternal Oneness of Being. The coriander seed’s “eye,” the “eye” of the crystal, and our own “eye” are all one and the same. This entire vibrating Universe is, according to our sages, Self-Aware Divine Consciousness. It is that Awareness that is reading these words right now, the “eye” within the vibrating form that responds to your name. It is not you who is reading this page; it is God, the “eye” of all things.

This teaching is hard for us to fathom. We have trained ourselves for as long as we can remember to make believe that there is a separate “me”—a lone island in the ocean of Creation—that is seeing, reading, acting, being. “I” am a separate entity in control of “my” discrete body-mind. All that is perceived through the senses seems to continually reinforce this notion of separation, of a me “in here” distinct from a world “out there.” This is what our tradition calls “ayin ha-ra,” the “bad eye,” or “false seeing.” Though we do not question our understanding of what appears to be on the outside as being separate objects, we seldom do the same when turning our attention inward to recognize our sensations, emotions, desires, and thoughts also as arising objects in consciousness. All four inner apprehensions, instead, are identified with, becoming constitutive of this mistaken sense of being a separate entity we call “me,” that is erroneously believed to be doing the apprehending, the seeing. To counter this mistaken or “false seeing,” we need to practice holding all that arises in our consciousness, whether perceived as being outside or inside our “self,” in the same way, i.e., as objects. Once every thought, every idea, concept, belief, sensation, desire and emotion is seen as an object that is part of the whirling vibration of this “me” form, we can begin to ask: What, then, is aware? What, then, is aware of being aware? And as the silence within deepens with our practice, we uncover the Eye at the center of the storm, the Eye of God aware of all arising content, our true identity.