Today’s meeting was different than those in the past. We began with a reading from R. Kalman Shapira’s “Conscious Community” dealing with the question of the use of guided imagery in the pursuit of spiritual goals. The use of images was frowned upon by Maimodides, supporting a Jewish prohibition across the ages in creating anthropomorphic representations of God. But Ravad (R Abraham ben David, 12th century) countered that “Many of our true masters have used this technique.” Shapira encourages the use of guided imagery “to help us reach toward ideas that are lofty and transcendent.” He suggests this as a first step, necessary due to our being embedded in the material world, but that “we will eventually expand our minds to the point that we can comprehend imageless thought. A glimmering of the prophetic process will take hold, and our crude imaging will fall away under its own weight.”
With this is mind, we then embarked on a guided meditation, allowing the images to flow and move through us, as the words of Exodus, Parashat Yitro, Chapters 19:6 through 20:23 were read. “And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation . . .”
Following the meditation, we silently entered an artistic process, creating from simple materials (construction paper and glue sticks) an expression of our experience of the words and images we had just encountered. What follows are some individual reports of the teachings that came to us during this imaginal experience at the foot of Sinai, along with the images that were created:
Exodus 19:16 “ . . . and the sound of the Shofar was very powerful . . . “
This is perhaps the only place in Torah where the word shofar is spelled in Hebrew without the letter “vav”. For full commentary on this insight, and the piece of art that it inspired, see the link to Michael’s blog:
Another thought: Vav is the letter of connection and transmission. Grammatically, it means the word "and", and so connects two different thoughts. In the Aitz Chaim, Vav represents the 6 middle Sefirot, those that connect the Sefirot that dwell in the spirit (Keter-Chochmah-Binah) with the Sefirah of physical reality (Malchut). The vav is thus the transducer from the world of spirit to the world of physicality. Since at Sinai, we all had a direct encounter with Spirit, perhaps this transduction was not really necessary, and the Shofar did not need its Vav . . .
Exodus 20:12. “ . . . whoever touches the mountain shall surely die . . .”
When I heard these words, rebel that I am, the immediate image was of a hand, touching the mountain. The black seed on the bottom, represents the potential being sprouted, invisible, under the surface.
Exodus 19:16. “ . . . there was . . . a heavy cloud on the mountain . . . “
I was struck by the repeated reference in the Torah text to the 'clouds' around Mt. Sinai. Were the clouds obscuring the vision the Israelites might otherwise have had of God? Or shrouding Moses' interacting with God? The green land on which the Israelites stood, the brown of the Mt. Sinai, and the white of the clouds are purposely rendered uneven and ill defined, like all things earthly that are constantly in flux. The heavens of blue are purposely made with straight clean edges, signifying the clarity and purpose of Spirit. Then there's the tiny purple square at the top of the mountain as well as the squares at the base of Sinai representing the Israelites waiting for God's word through Moses ...they are hoping to be as pure and perfect as Spirit but are still torn and ragged just a bit.
My own experience of this special torah reading exercise was one of joy in expressing without words (on the page, out of my mouth, or from the mouth's of others) and without having to make or participate in the kind of intellectual commentary that make's up most of my daily interactions. This was a much appreciated respite from thinking too much and instead being in a totally creative mode connected to an intention that the whole 'community' shared. Let's do this at the Passover Village.
Exodus 20:15. “The entire people saw the voices and the flames, the sound of the shofar, and the smoking mountain”
This line struck me – what does it mean that they “saw the voices”? As I began to work with the art materials the mountain came first, the black pillar representing the boundaries set up around the mountain (there are some places humans should not try to go), the image of a pillar of smoke and fire connecting the world of spirit to earth, and then the 7 bolts of color that were the “voices” being seen as the words of the 10 Utterances were spoken. The blast of yellow appearing behind the 7 bolts represents the “sight” of the shofar blast. The many colored spots at the foot of the mountain, the diversity of each soul present to see the revelation, the diversity of souls forming a unified mosaic of one people. Overall, the impression was one of the beauty of diversity, of color, sight, sound, elements, all blending into a single, revelatory experience.
An interesting point . . .
Towards the end of our discussion, someone raised the point that even though we had read/listened to the reading of the 10 “Commandments”, nobody’s artwork reflected anything specific about any of those 10 declarations. Rather, they all had focused on the experience of the revelation, the sights, sounds, feelings associated with a direct experience of Sinai. Perhaps it is not the specific words that are so important, but rather the experience of direct connection with Spirit that we all shared at one moment, each in our individual way, that is the glue that holds the community of Israel together.
We closed with a reading from the Bahir, 45:3: “This teaches us that the Torah was given with seven voices. In each of them the Master of the Universe revealed Himself to them, and they saw Him. It is thus written, “And all the people saw the voices.”
Next gathering: Saturday, October 1, Shabbat Shuvah
· Location and time to be determined – likely our annual hike in Encino to “The Trees”. Our hikes of previous years have done much to connect us to earth and to each other in this special time, the time in limbo before the gates of the Days of Awe close and we step fully into the new cycle of change.