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.
Sounds of Silence
The soul print of the emancipated storyteller is not entirely realized with the move from mute silence to sacred speech. It goes one rung higher, for soul print journeys are not only linear but circular, taking us spiraling upward and beyond. The path takes us from silence to speech and then back–to a higher silence that will birth a higher speech.
We return to the most famous biblical myth image of speech–the “Ten Words” spoken at Sinai. The Kabbalists, as you by now expect, have a different interpretation. In fact, according to the Kabbalists, God had nothing special to say that particular morning. God said what God says every day! “I am here,” he said. “I am present. The world is meaningful. Every human being is created in my image and therefore has infinite value and dignity.” In the language of the Kabbalists, “A voice issues forth daily from Sinai saying, ‘I am the Lord your God.’” This is not a statement of theology but an affirmation of meaning and relationship based on voices in sacred conversation.
On that auspicious day at Sinai, we heard a voice not so much because God spoke, but because we listened. We got quiet. So did the whole world. In the wonderful imagery of the third century myth masters, “On the day of revelation a bird did not chirp, an angel did not sing, an ox did not bellow, the sea did not rage – the entire world fell silent…and the voice at Sinai was heard.”
The voice can be heard only from the silence.
This post is part of a series of posts “Foundations for World Spirituality: Learning the Language of God” which begins with Part 1.