Notes from Torah Study 12-6-15
Quick check-ins, which seemed to be focused on various aches, pains, and physical complaints (oy vey!), then back into Psalm 104.
Ps 104:1-4 “ ... He makes the wind his messengers, the flaming fire his ministers”
The early verses begin their high praise of God (Barchi Nahfshi et-YHVH – my Soul, give blessings to Adonai!), then quickly connect us to the cardinal elements as recognized in the Hebrew tradition: Avir/Air; Mayim/Water; Aish/Fire. Sefer Yetzirah associates these elements with the 3 Mother letters: Aleph, Mem, and Shin respectively – Ah’Mah’Sheh as an acronym. These Mother letters are also associated with the top 3 sefirot on the Aitz Chaim: Keter (Ruach Elohim Chaim – Breath/Air of the Living Creator); Hochmah (Mayim mi’Ruach – Water from Breath); and Binah (Aish mi’mayim – fire from water). This is indigenous Hebrew mind at it’s finest, connecting us with the most primordial of substances in the elements, and making the direct link between our experience of Nature and the Divine.
The poetry of the psalmist takes our breath away, describing God as the One who “walks on the wings of the wind”. Each breeze is a message from the Divine – are we paying attention enough to decipher the message of that Spirit/Angel? Fire is a minister, serving the Divine through its flaming heat and light. The animism within the Hebrew conceptualization of the world around is clearly apparent here, just as when the Talmud tells us that there is a malach (angel or spirit) associated with every single blade of grass.
The wind comes down from the Ain Sof, winds down through our Sefirot, fires down the spine, connecting us to Earth. And, the wind coming to us doesn’t stop there. How is the wind itself changed when it interacts with you?
Who is God?! Who is He?!
The impassioned, impatient question arose in the circle, demanding an answer. What is this psalm talking about? All the anthropomorphisms are disturbing. Do Jews, in fact, believe in a white-bearded deity in the sky? Is “He” “God”? Why all this “He” and “You” talk?
Deep discussion followed, as we searched for the core Jewish belief regarding the conceptualization of God, and how that understanding relates to the natural world. We acknowledge that we are entirely inadequate to convey in language or in concept the answer to that question. The best we can do is to describe attributes or manifestations of the Divine through our horribly inadequate language. God as our Hebrew understanding has it, is truly unknowable, unspeakable (we don’t even know how to pronounce the holiest “name” of God), an infinite, indescribable, depth. This seems quite comparable to the Native American concept of Great Mystery. All we can really describe is the manifestation of harmony and beauty, Divine harmony, as we experience it in the natural world, which is what the psalm is trying to do. And this attempt is what is described by our name, Yis’ra’el – one who will wrestle with God. We can start with acknowledging the Presence, naming attributes, and perhaps then, through meditation or other means, elevating our understanding of God to a non-verbal level.
A try: God as we conceptualize It, is a universal, connecting Consciousness or Presence
Can we do a silent PV, without words, only in dance, movement, tune? Perhaps. And yet language is so distinctly Human, what characterizes us as different than other beings. Thus, there are the Stone Beings (domem), Sprouting Beings (tz’machim), and Living Beings (animals, Chayot). Then there are the Speaking Beings, the M’dabrim, human beings. So perhaps the question is how do we acknowledge our nature as speaking beings AND ALSO come to understand things in non-verbal, non-language-based ways as well. And our tradition tells us that all these other beings are contained within us, so we clearly must have the capacity to understand things in the “languages” of these other beings. Perhaps it is just that we are out of balance, relying too much on our language, and need to get back to understandings at more earthy levels.
The violence we all are carrying
The shadows of the recent horrors in Paris and San Bernardino were present among us, and brought much discussion, only part of which is captured here:
· Some say that today, despite all the terrors we are living with, is actually the least violent period of all human history in terms of absolute numbers. Compared to the millions killed during the World Wars for example, there is much less loss of life in today’s world. But as we are so much more connected throughout the world in terms of communication and travel, each event is known, transmitted, and experienced immediately wherever it occurs.
· It is so helpful to read the other texts. Studying the sacred texts of the 3 of the Abrahamic religions in a multicultural women’s group, one arrives at the bottom line: it is all about Mystery.
· All I can do is say Kaddish.
We closed our study with Oseh Shalom, asking the Holy One to make peace, replacing the last 3 words “ahl kol Yisrael” (peace upon all Israel) with “kol yoshvay tevel” (peace upon all who dwell in this plane of existence, including all beings, All Our Relations, human and otherwise). There is no “Other”.
Chanukah party followed – Chag Chanukah Sameach!!!
Next Gathering: Saturday, January 2
Location: Marc & Tobi’s
10-12: Torah study
12-1: Pot-luck lunch
1 - ???: envisioning “retreat” and planning for PV 2016 and beyond