Torah Reflections: February 12 – 18, 2017

Yitro

Exodus 18:1 – 20:23

The End of Belief

We finally reached Mount Sinai, ten weeks after escaping Egypt. There, Moses told us we had three days to purify ourselves and wash our clothing in preparation for our meeting with God. And as morning dawned on the third day:

There was thunder and lightning, and a dense cloud upon the mountain, and a very loud blast of the horn… and [we] took [our] place at the foot of the mountain… Now Mount Sinai was all in smoke, for the Eternal had come down to it in fire… and all the mountain trembled exceedingly. [Exod. 19:16-18]

Amidst this awesome display, the Holy One spoke the Ten Commandments, the Ten Utterances that were to be the foundation of our spiritual path; beginning with “I am the Eternal One your God.” [Exod. 20:2] Now, immediately following the last word uttered by God, the Torah says: “And all the people saw the voices…” [Exod. 20:15] This curious verse has captured the attention of scholars for generations.

Take one of the rabbinic teachings for example: the reason that the Torah specifies “all the people,” is to remind us that the Sinaitic event isn’t specific to a fixed time and place, but that all the generations of Jews and converts to Judaism before Sinai and after Sinai, wherever they were or will be in the world, are considered to have been at Sinai. In other (less ethnocentric) words, Revelation is an experience universally available to those who are willing to engage in a spiritual practice that leads one to the foot of the mythical Mount Sinai. The Midrash jumps in as well to explain that though the voice of God was one, the plural form used in this verse points to the Divine power to speak to all according to their own capacity; thus appearing as though there were many voices. This teaches that Revelation can happen to anyone at any age; but who we are in that moment will impact how we interpret and describe the experience.

The late Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem M. Schneerson went one step further, wrestling with the word “saw” as it refers, here, to “voices.” What one sees, he explains, always refers to a concrete object outside of ourselves, whereas hearing does not. Hearing opens us up to the inner realm. For the Rebbe, seeing is of the physical world, hearing of the spiritual world. He taught:

They saw what was normally heard—i.e., the spiritual became as tangible and certain as the familiar world of physical objects. Indeed, the Essence of God was revealed to their eyes, when they heard the words, “I (the Essence) the Eternal (who transcends the world) am thy God (who is immanent in the world).” [Torah Studies, p.107]

In this experience of Enlightenment, we directly see the Essence of our being and that of Being Itself as one and the same. This “I” of the First Utterance becomes our “I.” There is no separation anymore. There is only One. We cannot, therefore, hear this first Divine pronouncement as a Commandment to believe in God, but as a call to knowing the Essence we are, the One we have always been. And with that knowing comes the end of belief.

Torah Reflections – February 1-7, 2015

Yitro

Exodus 18:1 – 20:23

The End of Belief                           

We finally reached Mount Sinai, ten weeks after escaping Egypt. There, Moses told us we had three days to purify ourselves and wash our clothing in preparation for our meeting with God. And as morning dawned on the third day:

There were was thunder and lightning, and a dense cloud upon the mountain, and a very loud blast of the horn… and [we] took [our] place at the foot of the mountain… Now Mount Sinai was all in smoke, for the Eternal had come down to it in fire… and all the mountain trembled exceedingly. [Exod. 19:16-18]

Amidst this awesome display, the Holy One spoke the Ten Commandments, the Ten Utterances that were to be the foundation of our spiritual path; beginning with “I am the Eternal One your God.” [Exod. 20:2] Now, immediately following the last word uttered by God, the Torah says: “And all the people saw the voices…” [Exod. 20:15] This curious verse has captured the attention of scholars for generations.

Take one of the rabbinic teachings for example: the reason that the Torah specifies “all the people,” is to remind us that the Sinaitic event isn’t specific to a fixed time and place, but that all the generations of Jews and converts to Judaism before Sinai and after Sinai, wherever they were or will be in the world, are considered to have been at Sinai. In other (less ethnocentric) words, Revelation is an experience universally available to those who are willing to engage in a spiritual practice that leads one to the foot of the mythical Mount Sinai. The Midrash jumps in as well to explain that though the voice of God was one, the plural form used in this verse points to the Divine power to speak to all according to their own capacity; thus appearing as though there were many voices. This teaches that Revelation can happen to anyone at any age; but who we are in that moment will impact how we interpret and describe the experience.

The late Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem M. Schneerson went one step further, wrestling with the word “saw” as it refers, here, to “voices.” What one sees, he explains, always refers to a concrete object outside of ourselves, whereas hearing does not. Hearing opens us up to the inner realm. For the Rebbe, seeing is of the physical world, hearing of the spiritual world. He taught:

They saw what was normally heard — i.e., the spiritual became as tangible and certain as the familiar world of physical objects. Indeed, the Essence of God was revealed to their eyes, when they heard the words, “I (the Essence) the Eternal (who transcends the world) am thy God (who is immanent in the world).”

[Torah Studies, p.107]

In this experience of Enlightenment, we directly see the Essence of our being and that of Being Itself as one and the same. This “I” of the First Utterance becomes our “I.” There is no separation anymore. There is only One. We cannot, therefore, hear this first Divine pronouncement as a Commandment to believe in God, but as a call to knowing theEssence we are, the One we have always been. And with that knowing comes the end of belief.

Torah Reflections – January 12 – 18, 2014

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 chapter 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.

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Torah Reflections: February 5 – 11, 2012

Parashah (portion) Yitro – One With The One  
Exodus 18:1 – 20:23

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 chapter 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.[1]
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Torah Reflections: January 16 – 22, 2011

Parashah (portion) Yitro – We Begin with the Tenth Commandment
Exodus 18:1 – 20:23

The month of January is dedicated to the practice of compassion. We often equate compassion with an emotion, with an open-hearted feeling of interconnectedness toward another sentient being. And that is true enough. The Hebrew word for compassion is rachamim, from the root which also gives us the word rechem, meaning womb. The Hebrew points to this feminine energy of compassion born of a motherly holding place of warmth and nurturing. Yet true compassion also includes masculine energies of firm guidance, the setting of rules and boundaries–together with the consequences for breaking them–that parental love also brings forth.

This week’s Torah portion tells of the theophany at Sinai and of the Ten Commandments, the Ten Utterances. In studying this passage, I saw in these Ten Divine Utterances powerful expressions of compassion. Sure, on the surface they may appear merely as more rules, laws, and obligations, but on another level they may be viewed as a gift of compassion from what can be understood as a heavenly Parent. Our rabbis never speak of the Sinaitic event as revelation; rather they refer to it as matan Torah, as a gift; the gift of Torah, the gift of the ten essential spiritual teachings. They divide these ten teachings into two groups: the first four are bein adam laMakom, between people and God; the last six are bein adam l’chavero, between persons. This last group of six–from the fifth “Honor your father and mother” to the tenth “You are not to desire… anything that is your neighbor’s”–is where we have to start, the beginning of a transformative spiritual practice: the practice of compassion.
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