Monday, March 25, 2013

God's Name in Our Bodies

Aleph foot print
Aleph made from 2 people's feetThis week's blog is brought to you by the letter א, which has numerical value 1, and is made by 2 people.

God's name written vertically
I want to pick up where we left off last time, with the desire to see the letters that spell our name and define our nature.  Let's start with defining our nature, so we know what we're looking for.  We were created for the purpose of having a relationship with God.  (More on this next week, hopefully!)  Part of the miracle of creation is that God created all people from one stamp/seal (חתימה), like coins, and yet we are all unique.  How is this possible?  I was taught by an instructor at NHC that we each have God's name written in us, like in the picture to the right.  A seal/signature (חתימה) puts your name on a thing and marks it as your work.  Maybe God's name in our bodies is his seal.  If so, it is easy to see how, just by existing, we call out as witnesses to God's creation.  We have God's name in our bodies, reaching up vertically toward him.  Maybe this represents the מצוות (commandments) we keep that are between people and God. 

When we were created, God breathed a soul, a bit of himself, into us.  "וייצר יהוה אלהים את האדם עפר מן האדמה ויפח באפיו נשמת* חיים ויהי האדם לנפש חיה"  "And God formed the man (Adam) of dust from the ground (adamah), and he breathed in his nostrils a soul of life and the man was a living soul." (Breshit:2:7)  If God created us and gave us life by breathing a soul into us, it would make sense that our breathing would mirror God's name and the creation cycle.  After all, all the words for soul (רוח, נפש, נשמה), how we relate to God, all have to do with breathing.  So we connect to God through breath/soul.  In other words we say God's name, just by breathing.  The same teacher I mentioned above also taught us a breathing meditation on God's name (יהוה).

It goes something like this:
Start with nothing in your lungs and hold it for a moment.  There is a moment before you begin inhaling where there is nothing in your lungs, except the absolute overpowering need to begin breathing.  That moment before beginning is the letter י (yod).  It is the smallest letter, a singularity, complete potential, the drive create.  Next, inhale.  This breath is like a ה (heh), which itself sounds like a breath.  Breath in until you are completely full, so full that you can't bend, like a balloon animal about to be twisted into shape.  Hold the breath for a moment, feel your fullness, how it forces you to be straight, like a lulav (palm branch), how straightening yourself further allows you to breathe in more.  This is ו (vav).  Once full, breathe out slowly.  The exhale is the last ה (heh) of God's name.  Breathe out until you are completely empty and need to breathe again.  This places you back at the beginning, י (yod), and you can continue breathing God's name (as if you could stop!) to continue the meditation.** 

So, keeping in mind that we were created to have a relationship with God and that our souls have part of God in them, let's now look for some letters in our body that spell our name and define our nature.  Let's start with איש (man) and אשה (woman).  Originally, Adam (אדם) was called אדם (Earth-being) because he was taken from the earth (אדמה/adama).  It's not until the end of chapter 2 of Breishit, when אשה (woman) is formed, that אדם is ever called איש (man).  The two terms are created in relation to each other, actually. It says, "ויבן יהוה אלהים את הצלע אשר לקח מן האדם לאשה ויבאה אל האדם. ויאמר האדם זאת פעם עצם מעצמי ובשר מבשרי לזאת יקרא אשה כי מאיש לקחה זאת"  "And God built the rib/side that he took from the Adam/Earth-being (אדם) into woman (אשה), and he brought her to the Adam/Earth-being.  And the Adam/Earth-being said, 'this time it is bone from my bone and flesh from my flesh.  This will be called woman (אשה) because she was taken from man (איש).'"  (Breishit: 2:22-23)  This is the first instance of the words איש and אשה being used in the Torah.  The weird thing is that, presumably woman (אשה) gets her name from man (איש), as Adam says, but if you read carefully, you will see that the word איש (man) is never used until after the word אשה (woman).  This qualifies as weird in my book, so let's look deeper.

What is איש (man), and how did Adam know he was an איש without being told?  The latter is "easy" if you accept the idea that Adam was able to see the essence of each animal and name it as it was brought before him.  When he names man and woman, he is actually continuing his former activity of naming the animals (Breishit:2:19).  We can tell this because he says, "this time it is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh."  He means "this time" as opposed to all the other times that a being came before him and he named it.  So, he names woman.  And in doing so, he names himself as well, giving himself a new name in relation to her...or her in relation to him...or him in relation to her.  His name came second, but she was taken from him, but איש and אשה are a pair and only exist in relation to each other since before this, there was only אדם.  And, if you read carefully, the word אשה is used by the text immediately before Adam uses it, so really the חדוש (new thing) that Adam brings out is his own name.  
Rotating א

אש (fire)
The next part of the question is, what is an איש that an אשה is taken from and therefore named after (before/in relation to)?  The common letters between these two words are א and ש, which spells אש or fire.  א is a totally balanced, radially symmetrical letter.  If you rotate it, you get another א.  Spin it around and around, and it is still א.  It has a dividing line in the middle, which looks like a רקיע (rakiya/firmament), and two יs, one above and one below, like the waters above and below.  Fire takes this perfectly balanced letter and directs it up towards God***, exposing it.  It does this by taking the י that is below the רקיע and moving it above the רקיע.  This is easiest seen with a picture.  So, part of  איש (man) is אש (fire), or someone who directs things upwards, exposing meaning and bringing it into the world.  This is his purpose.  he also has a י, a God spark, the drive to create, like in the meditation above.  Think of this as being like the נשמה (soul) that God breathed into him.  So, now we have איש. 

Splitting י into two הs
Let's do אשה (woman).  She was given her name because "she was taken from man (איש)."  Her essence,  אש (fire), remains the same, but when אדם was split, the י (numerical value 10) in איש became a ה (numerical value 5, which is half of 10), which is why אשה is אש with a ה.

Relational letters form God's name
Interestingly, איש's י and אשה's ה form יה, a shortened form of God's name.  But let's not stop here.  איש and אשה are a pair, neither of which existed before אדם was split.  Once they existed, they existed in relation to each other, like an extreme salt and pepper shaker set.  They were זכר ונקבה (male and female).  She was to be his עזר כנגדו (helper opposite/like him).  Their bond was so strong that to complete himself, because they had been split, "על כן יעזב איש את אביו ואת אמו ודבק באשתו והיו לבשר אחד." "Therefore a man (איש) will leave his father and mother and stick to his wife/woman (אשתו) and they will be one flesh."  (Breishit: 2:24)  In the text, they are repeatedly referred to as belonging to one another.  In the verse above, we see  אשה (woman) called אשתו (his woman).  This is the shortened form of האשה שלו.  The grammatical convention is for the ה in אשה to be turned into a ת to make it easier to pronounce (אשתו ishto).  For our purposes, let's preserve the original letters (and the essence of the word), even though it's grammatically incorrect and harder to say.  We'll use אשהו (isha-oh) for his woman. Soon thereafter, in Breishit:3:6, he is referred to as אישה (her man), which is short for האיש שלה.  If we take the extra letters from their possessive forms, where they relate to each other (as only salt and pepper shakers can) we get יה from אישה (her man) and הו from אשהו (his woman).  As you can see in the picture, the woman and man are facing each other, so the woman's letters are turned around and become וה when read by the man.  He reads their extra letters as יהוה.  So when the man and woman, come together and the parts of themselves that exist in relation to each other are combined, they form God's name horizontally.  Maybe this represents the מצוות (commandments) between man and man.

So, the vertical and breathed יהוהs, which define some of our nature, are clearly in our bodies, but where can we find this last set?  This should definitely be in our bodies because the names אישה/איש (her man) and אשהו/אשה (his woman) were given to us because of a physical change that was made to  אדם (Adam)'s body.  As we saw above, the relational letters of the paired beings אישה and אשהו form יהוה (God's name).  יהוה has the numerical value 5+6+5+10=26, which is the same as the numerical value of the letters inside the א, which are י, י and ו and add up to 10+10+6=26, which has been explained in more depth in a footnote (***).  I am not normally swayed by gematria, but I find it compelling that numerical value of God's name could be contained in a letter, whose actual numerical value is 1.  To bring this full circle, in Breishit 2:24 it explains, "Therefore a man (איש) will leave his father and mother and stick to his wife/woman (אשתו) and they will be one flesh."  The Hebrew for this last phrase is "בשר אחד"--"one flesh."  אחד means 1, and it also starts with an א, which has the numerical value of 1.  א has a unifying property, which is illustrated by its ability to be made of many letters, contain the value 26, but still be 1. 
א acting as a function on the ח to form a ד (a.k.a. Midas touch)
In the word אחד (one), the letter א acts as a function (or has the Midas touch) where whatever it touches becomes one.  The א acts on the ח, which actually looks like two barely-held-together זs in the Torah, causing it to merge into one solid letter ד.  So, when a man and a woman, who each contain part of God's name, come together and become one flesh (בשר אחד), the merging of the letters in God's name into an א (with numerical value 1) is possible.  So, we have found a letter, contained in our bodies, which spells our name and defines our nature.  Expose ("אש") what is in this א and you have איש and אשה, who are created in the image of God, relating to each other, stretching up to God, and containing the creative breath of God in their soul. 

There's always more, isn't there, but this is too long as is.  So, let's leave it that there's more...

* נשמה (soul/breath) has the word שם (name) in it.  It seems fitting that our נשמה (soul/breath) that God breathed into us says God's name (יהוה) as we breathe.  There is a prayer, said in the mornings on Shabbat and holidays, that begins, "נשמת כל חי תברך את שמך יהוה אלהינו" "The soul (נשמה) of every living thing will bless your name (שמך), God (יהוה)."  How?  Their soul/breath says "יהוה" over and over again. 

** This meditation helped me swim (in jeans) all the way across the lake and back at NHC that summer, and I don't have much of a swimming background.  It kept me from panicking at the warm and cold spots, inhaling water, getting tired, drowning...  To give you a better sense, my swimming partner, who I've always admired for his strength among other things, threw up when we reached the other side of the lake, and then we had to swim back.  It wasn't an easy swim.  I sort of trust this meditation, but you should test it out for yourself.  (It even stops my hiccups when I focus hard enough!  ;)  ) 

*** יהוה=י+ה+ו+ה=5+6+5+10=26=10+10+6=ו+י+י=א In another post, we will talk about how ש exposes things.  God's name is hidden in א.  In אש, the ש exposes it.  An example of this in the Torah is with the burning bush, where the conversation Moses has with God while watching the bush burn teaches Moses a name for God, אהיה אשר אהיה. 

Thursday, March 14, 2013

(Oh Sing Praises!) הללויה

When you're looking to learn something, you have to open your eyes to the weird.  It's often there to get us to think harder, to ask the question--like at the Passover seder, where we formally ask 4 questions about things that are weird "on this night" compared with "all other nights."  We are also given talking points, a structure, and a multitude of other weird things to consider--needless to say, it is a question filled night.  That's the goal.  The weird is there to help point us in the right direction.  It says, "The Emperor is naked!  Be awake!!"  The trick is to do it in everyday life, not just on Passover, even with prayers we say day after day, like this psalm. 

Psalm 148* (taken from The Schottenstein Edition of The Book of Psalms with an interlinear translation, which was edited by Rabbi Menachem Davis and published in 2001 in Brooklyn, NY by Mesorah Publications, Ltd.)

What's weird here?  The psalm mentions all of creation by parts.  That's not weird, though.  Lots of prayers do that.  (Well, it's rare that I see just about every day of creation represented or implied in one prayer, but you've probably read more prayers than I have.  Feel free to comment and point out others!)  What is weird, to me, is that inanimate objects are praising God.  Angels, I get.  "קדוש, קדוש, קדוש" ("holy, holy, holy," ).  Birds, I can buy.  Chirp, chirp, I guess.  Maybe water.  If you told me water, I'd listen closely.  But mountains?  Hills?  Something else must be going on.  (For all of them, not just the mountains because where do you draw the line to decide what can praise God in the "normal" sense and what can't?)  How can mountains praise God?  Just by existing.  (Because that's what they do, mainly, right?)  So, how can mountains (or anything else) praise God just** by existing?

יהללו את שם יהוה, כי הוא צוה ונברו.  ויעמידם לעד לעולם, חק נתן ולא יעבר 
They will praise the name of God (יהוה), because he commanded and they were created.  And he established them forever and ever; He gave a decree and it will not pass (transgress/cross).
[verses 5 and 6 above]

So, they praise God by just existing because their existence calls back to creation, by which I mean that their existence stands as a witness to and proof of creation.  That they exist at all, that they are still here, and by their very nature they praise God.  Those mountains sure are mountainy today, aren't they?  And the people.  And the angels.  And the waters.  And the birds.  Etc.  What keeps them looking to fresh, so like themselves?  They are filled with the letters that God spoke to create them.  And they, like the rest of the world, are created anew each day.  Can you see them brimming with letters that define them?  The letters within them praise God.  They are in God's handwriting. 

This begs the next question.  If there are so many letters, can we see them?  So I started looking in the easiest place to find.  me.  (Of course, people are tricky because we can praise God ourselves and were created with the intention of such a relationship, but we also have letters written in us.)  I've tried to show the letters I found with hand prints.  I have concluded, however, that while they are fun to make, they are hard to read.  I've finger painted over some to help, but you should probably only use them to get an idea and then look at your own hands for clarification.

The first letter was easy: ה, with the numerical value 5.  My palm has a ה on it and 5 fingers stretching out.  (Totally cheating!)  This is easiest to see with your left hand, but the right hand is legit.  I used it for my hand stamp. 

The next was even more cheating: ג, or 3.  I held up 3 fingers with my right hand.  (You should hold up 3 fingers, rather than look at my print, because ג is hard to get a print of but easy to see.)  Then I dropped my hand upside down.  (Also totally cheating!)

I couldn't find anything else for a while.  And then I decided to do math.  Gematria math.  Yeah that's right--the bogus kind.  I took two ג's, decided that constituted an order of magnitude shift, and called it 30 or ל.  This one is also better with your own hands.  Hold up 3 fingers, or a ג, with each hand.  Close the legs of the ג's, and touch your left thumb to your right pointer.  There's the ל.

With 30 out of the way, I decided to go for 300 (or ש).  I mean, why not, if I was already doing bogus math?  So, I doubled my ל as best I could, holding up another ג on each hand and went from 30 to 300.  (See picture for diagram of where the 4 ג's are.)  Lo and behold, I had the ש that the priests formed with their hands when blessing the Jews.  (I did many hand prints and picked the best to share.  Every single one had a divot in the paint where I was taught the eye of God looks out from between the middle and ring fingers during the priestly blessing.  I don't know where I got that idea, to be totally honest because I can't find it on the internet, and everyone seems to have a different superstition for not looking at the priests during the blessing, so it's probably not true.  Or rather, there seems to be some consensus that something is true, but I'm not sure what.  Welcome to superstition.  It was sort of uncanny, though, but we are two steps into the realm of bogus, and nothing else about my hand prints is clear, so it's probably nothing.) 

If you are unsatisfied with this post, you are not alone.  I wasn't satisfied either.  For satisfied, you will have to wait for next week because I am against typing too much or making anyone read too much at once. I suspect one reason that you are dissatisfied is that you, like I, were hoping to see the letters that spell our name and define our nature, like Adam found in each of the animals when he named them.  Not some random palm letters.  I wish I could find those letters!  I can't.  Maybe we can find them together, though.  Feel free to post ideas.  (Actually something just came to me about אדם (Adam) and איש (man), but I'll save it for next time.  I still can't find any animals, though.  Let's work on that together, if it's okay with you.  I'm not sure I've explained myself very well, so don't worry if you feel like you want to wait until next time before throwing out some ideas.) 

*I sort of get a kick out of the fact that this is psalm number 148 or (in Hebrew numbers) קמח (flour).  As in ''אם אין קמח, איו תורה. אם אין תורה, אין קמח" ("If there is no flour, there is no Torah.  If there is no Torah, there is no flour.") from Pirkei Avot:2:17.  Of course, in verse 18, the translation I just read calls gematria (number games like this one) the condiments, "not the true meat," of halachah (Jewish law).  But I still get a kick out of it.  That's what condiments are for, right?  Tasty.

**I was taught once that "just" is a magical word.  You can tell a person is asking for a miracle when they use the word "just."  You might hear people ask for miracles like, "Can you just make 100 copies and hang them up around the building this afternoon?"  (Can you picture the poor Shmoe carrying a mound of paper around and tacking/taping them one by one to the walls?)  Another miracle request might sound like, "Can you just deliver the food (for 250 people) at 11:30am (half an hour after your restaurant opens)?"  (I hope you tip high for your miracles.)  Listen for the word "just" in your life.  Just existing might be a miracle. 

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

(Letters of God) אתיות של השם

ברוך אתה ה', אלקינו מלך העולם,
שהכל נהיה בדברו

 Blessed are you, lord our God, king of the universe,
that everything should be according to (in) his word.

All of the food blessings are about creation. ("...who creates the fruit of the ground/tree/vine." "...who creates the kinds of sustenance." "...who brings forth bread from the Earth.")  They use creation words like בורא (creates) and המוציא (brings forth).  Without an explicit creation word, this blessing seems, at face value, to not be about creation, but actually it is the most about creation because God created the world by speaking, so the whole world is according to his word, as the blessing says.

It seems strange to say that the world is according to his word (singular) because the world was created with more than one word.  So, what is his word?  What's in this word-singular?

There is an interpretation method that my hevruta taught me where you spell out each of the letters in a word phonetically. So, for example, ד (which is pronounced dalet) becomes דלית (dalet).  The letter ב is spelled out as בית.  A ר becomes ריש. And ו is ואו.*  And then you rearrange those letters to make up a new word, which can help you understand more about the original word.  (See picture to the right.)  Doing this with דברו (his word) yields אתיות של יי (letters of God), so שהכל נהיה בדברו becomes שהכל נהיה באתיות של יי.  The world is full of the words (and letters) that were used to create it.

RaeAn Design's micrography of Parshat B'reishit
RaeAn Design's Parshat B'reishit (1:1-6:8)
The picture I have in my head of the world is like micrography.  There was a picture in my parents' bedroom when I was growing up of a scene from מגילת אסתר (The Book of Ester) of מרדכי (Mordecai) outside the palace gates, saving the king's life, and the entire picture was made up of the letters of the מגילה (megilah/Book).  That's what the world looks like, full of and shaped by the letters that called it into existence.**

So, what is this blessing about?  How is it the most about creation of all the food blessings?  It is about life.  The water that is required for all living things, the living things (fish, birds, animals), the things living things have created (honey, eggs, milk), and what we have created (reshaped) in the world (e.g., orange juice out of oranges).  The blessings that start with בורא have a food "as is."  The blessing that starts with המוציא is about wheat which has been reshaped into bread.  It echoes of God's creation but is a stepped removed.  This blessing (שהכל) follows the progression.  It reminds us that God created the world (although you have to look deeper to see it), but it is also about the ongoing act of creation that goes on even now.

RaeAn Design's micrography of B'reishit/Genesis
RaeAn Design's micrography of B'reishit/Genesis (1-32)
The blessing says the world is full of the letters God spoke.  He is the king of the world and created even the water that has been here since before life, and this life that has evolved, and this thing the life has made, and this thing that I reshaped/created in my own way. Even this, he created.  And you can tell because it is full of his letters, the blessing says.  Just as you can tell one person's handwriting from another's, God's word/letters are recognizable in the world. 

Finding those letters, understanding how they shape the world, and working backwards from our understanding of the world to learn more about the letters to inform our understanding of other things in the world is the purpose of this blog.  

* Spellings were taken from the spellings at the beginning of Miriam's tikkun (תיקון קוראים, published by מישמור in Bnei Brak and NYC in 1998, printed in Israel) which also goes into depth about the shapes of the letters and the various ways they are written by a סופר (scribe).  It seemed quite thorough, and much of what it said made sense, so while the spellings were strange, we went with them. 

**We have this tendency, being created in the image of God, to echo God's creative abilities.  I think this is why we have elements and DNA nucleotides all being named with single letters.  The way we name the things we have found that shape the world's properties and form who we are is with chains of single letters, combining and recombining like words that tell us about the world.