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Thursday, February 9, 2012

Parshat Yitro: The Voice of Sinai Continues

This week's parashah/portion) is Yitro (Shemot/Exodus 18:1-20:23). It contains within of the central, dramatic mythic moments, when God speaks the Ten Commandments (literally, the ten utterances) from the mountain.  But the text is unclear as to what the people heard and what Moses heard.

There is a story about a group of rabbis who were arguing (what a surprise) about exactly what the people heard at Sinai. The first rabbi said that the people heard the first two commandments: I am the Lord and You Shall Have No Other Gods Before Me (nor make any graven images).  No, exclaimed the next rabbi, the people only heard the first commandment "I am the Eternal, Your God.  That's all they needed to hear in order to begin their relationship with the Divine!'

Each rabbi claimed that the people heard progressively less and less until the final rabbi stated that all the people heard was the first letter of the first word of the first commandment. That letter 'aleph' is silent. However, the rabbi taught, it is not merely silent, but it is the beginning "no-sound" that
precedes speech. In other words, the aleph that the people "heard" was the "no-sound" sound that begins God's conversation with us - and ours with God.  That is the teaching behind this poem that I would like to share with you.

Some of you have read this poem before, but I have edited it yet again, as I feel so many of my poems, are always evolving.  And so I hope that this current version  begins a new conversation between each of and the Divine, however you choose to define, experience or understand it.

The Conversation Begins

we stand beneath the mountain
the ground    our bodies   shaking    quaking
we see the thunder  
    the voices  of God
we not only hear     but see  God's voice
reaching  our soul
becoming part of us
reality shifts
we see the world   differently
see what before      we could only hear
see what before    was beyond our perception
see  within  ourselves
feel within  our souls
the voice   essence    of God

what is this voice
I cannot tell
I think   I know
     it is me
but you say   you know
    it is you
and you say   you know    it is
child    mother    father     friend
comforting     frightening      challenging       compassionate
yet within we each know
it is none    it is all     of these

I stand here frozen
fear    terror     joy
  in liminal space
on the boundary between the realms
     of divinity and humanity
I cannot move
I cannot speak
I can only   hear   feel   sense
I know not exactly what

a voice
     that is no voice
a word
     never uttered word
only thunder and lightning
a barely perceptible deafening whisper

I hear the aleph
the no-sound sound
beginning of a conversation
the contents I do not know
I only know
that it is real true
more than anything 
I have    will ever   experience

the deepest truth
cannot be heard    or truly known
I hear  I know  in my soul
what it is

we stand at sinai
long ago        this moment
hearing the lightning  
Feeling the earth    my soul   quake
we listen for the voice
trying to discern what it says
in this moment

that is our task
our holy work      each and every day
to delve in   to decipher the sound and meaning 
    of the aleph
the no-sound sound
the beginning   with no end
infinite continuation
of the conversation
with God   world   all existence
returning us once again to sinai
though we have never left it
it has never left us
etched on our souls
engraved on our hear
we are one with it     and it with us
for all eternity

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