In the Aleinu prayer it says: “G-d is the Divinity in the heavens above and in the earth below; ein od- there is nothing else”- there is nothing else but this Divinity because Divinity is Being Itself. But later it says- “…and G-d will be king over all the earth”- as if there is a dualism, as if “G-d” and the “earth” are two separate things. But this is resolved in the final verse- “and on that day G-d will be One and the Name will be One”. The “Name” is our understanding of “G-d”. G-d is already one, but our understanding is that things are separate, so we think of G-d as separate. The duality is not between G-d and the world, but between G-d (which includes the world) and our mental concept of the world. Our concept of the world is our narrative, so the true duality is between Reality and our narrative of reality.
I was recently visiting a friend and we stayed up late talking about spiritual things. He started telling me about his Christian friends who were terrified of Hell. As he animatedly conveyed the extreme fear of his friends in graphic terms, I started to feel light headed. The next thing I knew I was waking up on the floor with my friend crouching over me friend saying, “Brian, Brian, are you okay? Here is some water!” I had passed out. This was amazing to me as it was a direct experience of our tendency to shut down from pain. The Christian narrative of Hell was too much for my nervous system and it shut down for about a minute.
Most of the time, however, we don't shut down by fainting, but by thinking. The paradox is that, on one hand, it is our narrative-making mind that creates our inner suffering, but it is also our narrative that allows us to avoid the very suffering it creates. Through incessant thinking, we are able to avoid the direct experience of the pain within; we are able to remain separate. But relax your narrative and sooner or later the pain will come. Stand firm, let yourself experience the pain and it becomes possible to break through the mind’s illusion of separation to the realization: There is nothing else! There is just This!
In Parshat Bo, G-d says to Moses, “Bo el Paro- come to Pharaoh”- not “go” but “come”- as if G-d is there with Pharaoh, calling Moses to “come”. Pharaoh represents the constriction and suffering of ego and in order for Moses to lead the people to liberation he must “come” right into Pharaoh, come directly into the experience of suffering, without the dualistic narrative. There is not “G-d” and “Pharaoh” as two separate things; there is just G-d and you must fully feel your suffering to see that for yourself.
In a sense, this is just another version of the incident at the burning bush. Moses tried to avoid the Call from the Fire to liberation. “Send someone else,” he says. It is natural to want to avoid the fire- who wants to get burned? But the voice says, “take off your shoes”- in other words, remove the barrier between yourself and the reality of this moment, even if it is a burning fire. The truth is, it will not kill you- though it may kill the false you! It may kill the Pharaoh, because the burning of your pain has the power to dissolve not just the suffering-creating mental narratives, but all narrative. In the Torah, the Hebrews did not cry out for liberation until the suffering had become unbearable. They were slaves but there was no desire for freedom until the slavery hurt bad enough. It’s the same with us. Ordinarily we are “enslaved” by our narratives that keep us in the experience of separateness, though we may not notice. But when this separateness hurts badly enough, there is this special opportunity for the whole narrative-generated illusion to collapse, if we let it. Without narrative, there is just this direct awareness of Being, of awareness as Being.
This is hinted at by a later verse where G-d speaks of the suffering that will be brought upon Egypt- “and I will pass through the land of Egypt- I and no other!” There is a story of a Hassid named Reb Yoel of Tshopli. One day Reb Yoel thirsted for some words of wisdom, so he set out to learn something from his master Reb Mordechai of Lechovitch. When he arrived, the door to his master’s home was closed. So eager he was that he pounded loudly on the door and shouted- “Open up please!” Reb Asher who had stepped out for some fresh air said, “Who is that”? “It is I!” said Reb Yoel. The voice of the master came booming from within: “Where in the whole universe can you find a creature that can say “I” about itself? ‘Ani Hashem- ani Hu- v’lo akher- I am Hashem, I and there is no other!’” When Reb Yoel heard these words through the door he had no need to stay- he had received the wisdom he sought. He untied his pony and trotted home to Tshopli, his thirst quenched.