Deuteronomy 29:1 – 31:30
One of the fascinating things about Semitic languages is the way words grow from a root (usually three letters) so that additional letters qualify, illustrate, and expand the meaning of the basic root. Take for example the word mitzvah, which grew from the three-letter root tzadi, vav, vav. Mitzvah is usually translated as “commandment,” but the Hebrew (or the Aramaic in this case) has much more granularity than a one-word translation can convey. From its root additional words can be derived, such as “to be attached/connected,” or “to be joined together.” This flexibility of language greatly impacts how we read Torah and is especially instructive when we read one of its most powerful passages, which occurs in this week’s parashah.
This is the passage that begins, “Surely, this commandment which I enjoin upon you this day is not too baffling….” (Deut. 30:11). When we look at it again with a new appreciation of what the root of “commandment” (mitzvah) suggests, we come up with a more nuanced and mystical translation:
“Surely [realizing] this joining, that joins me to you in this and every moment, is not too extraordinary for you, it is not beyond reach! It is not in the heavens [for you] to say: “Who can ascend for us to the heavens and get it for us and impart it to us, that we may act from it?” Nor is it across the sea [for you] to say: “who can cross for us, across the sea, and get it for us and impart it to us, that we may act from it?” Rather, exceedingly near to you is the word, in your mouth and in your heart, to act from it.” (Deut. 30:11-14)
This represents the quintessential teaching of all non-dual spiritual traditions, words that could have been spoken by any enlightened master. We are “joined” with the Holy One of Being as one inseparable, undifferentiated manifestation. Being manifested Herself as every form, every shape, and as the Force, the Energy that enlivens and binds together this entire universe. We are bound up with the Source of Life, as each of us is the unique shape through which It expresses.
Yet we are utterly unaware of this truth owing to the process of human evolution and socialization ushered in by our parents and their parents before them since time immemorial, and as we are now doing to our children. From undifferentiated awareness, we have evolved into a differentiated awareness that posits a separation between a skin-encapsulated entity, and everything beyond it. We grow up thinking there is an “inside” and an “outside,” a singular “I” and a plural “they.” A kind of optical illusion is created by which “I” reside “inside” and “they” reside “outside.” Whatever is now felt, thought, sensed and seen refers to things “outside” of “me,” denying the truth that all experience arises within, in the field of Awareness.
God, too, has been externalized, made into a noun (though YHVH is in fact a verb), an object outside of ourselves. We want to know and connect intimately with God, but how to do that if God is in the highest heavens and unattainable by us mere mortals? Surely, a wise one among us, a pious one, a true devotee “can ascend for us to the heavens” and bring God down for us so that we can have proof God exists. Or maybe a guru in India, the pope in Rome, a great rabbi in Jerusalem, “across the sea” can “impart to us” his knowledge so that we may know God. But it doesn’t work that way. As long as we are looking for God as a noun, as an object outside, we will never find God. God is “in our mouth”—It is That which is doing the speaking. God is “in our heart”—It is That which is doing the thinking/feeling. We cannot see God, for It is That which is doing the seeing. That’s why Torah tells us, “It is exceedingly close.” So close, indeed, that It is “joined together” as us.