Editor's note: The following essay is published as a white paper of the Center for World Spirituality think tank. Our Spirit's Next Move blog is pleased to announce the paper's availability.

Implications: A Great Voice Which Does Not Cease

Some teachers have taught that revelation heard long ago at Mount Sinai when God spoke to human beings was an event occurring once in the lifetime of the universe, calling it according to its biblical phrasing, “A great voice which did not continue.” Again, the mystics insist that another reading is possible. In the original Hebrew, the phrase “did not continue” can paradoxically be read as “did not cease.” The voice of Sinai is accessible even after the echoes of the original revelation are long since lost in the wind. The voice of revelation has never ended.

So if the voice still continues, in what form does it live on?

It thrives in the voice of the human being who speaks from the silence. This is what I have termed Silence of Presence. When we listen deeply, we are able to uncover the God-voice within us. We become present in the silence. We are called by the presence--the God-voice within us--that wells up from the silence.

Indeed the entire cultural –spiritual enterprise of the Judaic spirit in the post biblical age is to hear the voice, even in - some would say especially in - the silence. The Biblical age ended when God stopped talking. For the Buddhist, even if one were to assume some notion of divinity – there is clearly no such absurdity as a talking God. For the Hebrew however, the essence of divinity is a talking God. Indeed the Hebrew God of the Bible talks almost endlessly, pouring out 24 books of divinely spoken or inspired word - the Hebrew Canon. What to do then when God stops talking and retreats into silence? In the interpretive reaction to this silence Judaism and early Christianity parted ways. For Christianity the cessation of speech by a talking God could only be a portent of divine withdrawal of favor. They interpreted the silence as a silence of absence. God no longer talked to the Hebrews for he had chosen a New Israel. The post prophetic Hebrews however refused to accept this understanding of God's silence. This is the silence, not of abandonment they insisted – but of mature love. It is not silence of absence but silence of presence. Imbued with intense and profound religious passion they listened to the silence and insisted that they heard God talking. That speech is the Halachic enterprise, which insists on the radical presence of the divine in every facet of existence. It is only in this sense that we understand the Rabbinic comment after the temple's destruction, “God's presence in this world now rests in the four cubits of Halacha”. It is not a statement of dejection or resignation – it is rather the confident commitment of the lover.

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Editor's note: The following essay by Marc Gafni is published as a white paper of the Center for World Spirituality think tank. Our Spirit's Next Move blog is pleased to announce the paper's availability.

Ten Words to Live By

The second biblical myth word symbol of freedom is actually mistranslated into English as the Ten Commandments. The people, so the story goes, having fled Egypt, gather at the foot of Mount Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments. Of course, nowhere in the biblical myth is there any mention of Ten Commandments. Here is where the old witty maxim, “Reading the bible in translation is like kissing a woman through a veil,” becomes not altogether untrue. In the original Hebrew, the people receive at Sinai not Ten Commandments but “Ten Words.” Here Voice becomes Word, the articulation of speech. It is the beginning of the vision that follows revolution.

The third word symbol is no less than the word “Messiah.” “Messiah” in the original Hebrew is understood by the Kabbalists, quite astoundingly, to mean “conversation.” Master Nachum of Chernobyl, mystic and philosopher, points out that the Hebrew word for messiah, Mashiach, can be understood as the Hebrew word Ma-siach – meaning “from dialogue” or “of conversation.” His assertion radically implies that the Messiah is potentially present in every human conversation””every mutual act of voice-giving.

All authentic conversation is sacred conversation. The ability to have an honest face-to-face talk in which both sides are true to themselves, vulnerable and powerful at the same time, is Messianic.

Simply put, sacred conversation is the vessel that receives the light of Messiah.

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By Marc Gafni

Editor's note: The following essay is published as a white paper of the Center for World Spirituality think tank. Our Spirit's Next Move blog is pleased to announce the paper's availability.

The Second Stage: from Silence to Sound

The beginning of freedom is the emergence of voice. This stage is expressed both by the initial cry of the Israelite slaves that broke their silence, as well as by Moses' arrival on the scene. “When Moses came, voice came,” writes the Zohar. Moses does what the charismatic revolutionary always does: he gives voice to the people. Indeed, biblical myth text records the beginning of redemption with the following words: “”¦It came to pass in the course of many days that the King of Egypt died and the children of Israel sighed by reason of the bondage and they cried out and their cry came up unto God.” The enslaved Israelites are received by the presence of God at the point when they move from the dumb silence of the slave to sound which is the beginning of speech, the characteristic of a free people. This “cry” is not an elegantly articulated protest – it is a cry as in the cry of a wolf, or the cry of an infant. It is primal, impassioned, pre-civilized, a howl of protest that makes it into the halls of heaven, heard by God himself.

For the first time the enslaved can express distress. They seek to articulate words that are not yet ready to form themselves on their lips. At this stage of moving toward freedom, we do not yet know how to tell our story. We do not know what we would do with the world if it were given over to our stewardship. We just know that we must protest.

The biblical myth symbol (Leviticus 25) for the transition from slavery to freedom is the primal blast of a ram's horn. No trumpet of gold, it is rather the rawness of the ram's horn that captures the slave's first fitful sounds. The first thing a revolutionary movement must do is sound its ram horn--start a newspaper, set up a radio station, build an internet site. It is not by accident that the fundamentalist and totalitarian states are trying to disallow or severely limit internet access. Freedom's beginnings are expressed in the first shouts of protest.

The sixties and seventies were such second-stage revolutionary generations. This helps explain why so many sixties hippies became late seventies and early eighties yuppies and then transformed again into the establishment of the nineties. The feeling of distress generated protest – sound and even the first glimmerings of voice--but there was no alternative vision of society to generate “speech.” Similarly, many third world revolutionaries reflect such second stage thinking. Consequently, as we all know, that not a few third world revolutionaries became the leaders of far more repressive regimes than the ones they overthrew. Because they lacked speech to articulate the primal manifestations of voice, they needed to repress all of their own pain, the very distress and disease that initially led to the revolution.

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Editor's note: The following essay is published as a white paper of the Center for World Spirituality think tank. Our Spirit's Next Move blog is pleased to announce the paper's availability.

The First Stage: The Silence of Absence

The aforementioned passage in the Zohar (Exodus 25a) suggests that there are three distinct stages in the continuum from slavery to freedom. The first stage is silence. The second stage involves moving from silence to sound without speech. And the third stage is speech--voice and articulated word.

In the first stage, slavery, we are mute and dumb. We live our lives without ever really crying out. The routines of the everyday deaden our sense of injustice, and our passions atrophy amid the narrowness of Egypt, when all sounds are smothered in our throats. In the biblical myth, the people were silent in the first stage of exile in Egypt. The pain broke their spirits and they became mute--no longer able to even cry out, much less to express the injustices with the eloquence of speech. We all have touched a fraction of that experience when, after a protracted argument, we are so worn down that we lack the strength to protest even the most blatant offenses of those who oppose or oppress us.

In a less familiar reading of the biblical story, Talmudic masters suggest that the slavery in Egypt was not of the usual kind. In fact, the Israelites were successful and prosperous. However, the deadening quality and comfort of their routine had anesthetized the sensitivity to their own wounds of alienation. How many of us suffer and hurt, yet remain fundamentally unaware of our suffering, deadened by the soma pills of the expected, and the narrow straits of success?

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Editor's note: The following essay is published as a white paper of the Center for World Spirituality think tank. Our Spirit's Next Move blog is pleased to announce the paper's availability.

"As the Kabbalists point out, the word Moses spelled backwards is Ha Shem, meaning 'the name.' Importantly, Ha-shem in biblical Hebrew also is the most common reference to God's name. When you respond to your call and realize your soul print, fully becoming your name, you become one with God. When Moses did this, he found his voice, he became a prophet."

By Marc Gafni

To live your story is to move from a state of slavery to freedom. Slavery is not limited to our old image of the oppressed Hebrew or black slave being whipped by the cruel master. We are all potentially free, just as we are all potentially slaves. Our intent in this brief essay is to at least begin to unpack a core intuition of the Zohar ””that a free person is a person who has found voice. As we shall see in the very last paragraphs of this discussion the implications of freedom are wondrous indeed!

The Hebrew name for the Passover Storytelling Ritual, which celebrates and reenacts the dynamic movement from slavery to freedom, is Pe-Sach. Renaissance mystic Isaac Luria reminded us that Pe-Sach is a combination of two words””Peh, meaning “mouth,” and Sach, meaning “talk.” Pe- Sach, therefore, means the mouth that talks.

One school of Hasidic masters unpacks this idea by defining redemption as the emergence of speech. To move from a dumb and mute existence to a communal storytelling existence is to undergo redemptive transformation. “To be redeemed,” writes one mystic, “is to lead a history-making, storytelling, communing, free existence.” To be in exile is to lack history, tell no story, fail to commune, and exist as a slave, silent.

The most oft cited source for this idea is a stunning passage in the Zohar which describes the Egyptian slavery as the “exile of speech.” In Kabbalah, every biblical nation represents a different organ of the body; Egypt represents the throat. The mystics read the Hebrew word “Egypt” literally as meaning narrowness. The throat is, of course, the narrow, constricted passage between the wide spaces of the heart and mind. The narrow throat, Egypt, is thus the ideal symbol for the exile of speech. Speech remains caught in the throat, in the dark passage, and can't make it to freedom's gateway, the mouth. Redemption comes in the birth of the word. In the actual process of your retelling, you reclaim your story. But to be capable of retelling your story you need voice. Redemption then is the process of finding voice.

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