Imagine for a moment that you are one of the ancient Israelites who were liberated from slavery in Egypt. The event was so unexpected and seemingly impossible that you saw it as nothing less than miraculous. You sensed the Divine power and Presence at each step of the journey. And that is why now, as you camp at Mount Sinai, you diligently follow Moses’ instructions to purify yourself and get ready to meet the Divinity Who liberated you, face to face.
After three days of special purification, you stand with your people, ready to encounter God… or so you think. A long shofar blast sounds; fire and smoke are on the mountain. Then, God begins to speak. What do you hear? According to one teaching, the only sound you hear is the letter aleph, the first letter of anokhi- “I”- which is the first word of the Ten Commandments. This is too much- you and the rest of your people tell Moses to please make it stop. After all, Moses is the prophet; he should hear the Voice and bring back God’s message.
But what was it exactly that was too much? We tend to imagine that the experience must have been too intense, like taking too many hits of acid or something. But what is the sound of the aleph? Absolutely nothing! The aleph itself has no sound. No content. And yet, the shape of the aleph with its two yods above and below, bridged by a vav in between, is said to represent heaven, earth and the connection between them- in other words, everything. So, we might say that the “sound” heard at Sinai was the realization that everything is really nothing- meaning: there is no purpose, no hope, no big deal, no little deal, just Presence- the “I” of God, as it is, manifesting in and as all creation, now and always. What if, in the moment we expected to hear the Divine Voice, all we heard was a breeze, maybe the sound of a bird. What if the Presence we sought was That which is always here- silent and yet bubbling with life. What if, in the wake of experiencing liberation from the external Pharaoh, God offered us inner liberation- the true liberation of recognizing our own nothingness, of recognizing the One Presence that is pouring out Its beauty and love toward everything, as everything. What then? Perhaps it would have been too much because it was too little, too subtle. Perhaps we would have preferred something we could cling to rather that the Nothing of freedom.
Which do you prefer? Do you prefer the words and concepts of your own mind, or the silent stillness beneath the mind that is Source of liberation? Tomorrow night begins holiday of revelation, Shavuot. This Shavuot, can we let go of the idea of revelation enough to allow true revelation to unfold? Join me at the Berkeley JCC at 10:40 pm and we will find out together!
And, here is another offering to further clarify! A video entitled “Fall Through the Cracks”- enjoy!