September 30, 2016

Protest as Prayer (Part 11): God’s Language

Hebrew Books

Photo Credit: chany14

 

By Marc Gafni

This post is continued from Part 10.

The Zohar writes that the Shechina is called “I”. This is a particularly dramatic way of expressing the idea that the Shechina speaks through the human voice. This means that whenever a person finds their voice on the deepest level, they are finding the voice of the Shechina. The human cry to God “Please be King” is also God crying out through the same voice, “Please I am trapped — bound in chains — free me and let me be King.”

God’s voice and our voice are one. The language of God is man.

Precisely the same spiritual dynamic is at play when the human being cries out in question, in protest and even in rage against the evil and suffering that so defines our reality. The question is not against God. The question Is God. God is speaking through his creatures. The cry of question is the Shechina in exile crying out for redemption. Our question, rage and protest are our ‘participation in’ and ‘expression of’ the cry of the Shechina.

We allow God’s voice to resound in ours when we refuse to accept facile solutions to the great question of human suffering and instead cry out in protest and anger. This is the deepest meaning of the Zohar’s declaration — “the shechina which is called I.” God’s voice and the human voice merge into one. Our protest is God’s protest. Our rage is divine rage. In some mysterious sense our question is God’s question.

Now we can finally understand the hidden implication of a seemingly straightforward teaching in the Zohar.

The teaching – ‘When texts refer to God as the King — Hamelech — reference is being made to the upper three sefirot.’ At first blush this is a typical Zoharic statement which identifies each Biblical name of God with a different sefirah or set of sefirot. That is, until we remember what Luria taught us – that the word Ayeh, where, as in ‘where is God,’ also refers to the upper three Sefirot. Then we have to add our understanding, based on a close reading of mystical sources, that the cry “Hamelech’ is the merging of human and divine voice in a plea for redemption.

I would suggest that Luria’s source for the poignant cry of Ayeh as the three upper sefirot is indeed this Zoharic teaching about Hamelech. The Zohar, far from being innocent, supports our radical understanding of the Hamelech of High Holy Days liturgy as being not a statement but rather a question, a plea — God, Hamelech, where are you, Ayeh?

This means that God’s title itself, Hamelech, expresses not only certainty, but also the question. This last radical notion can be sourced in bold relief in a Zoharic teaching in Genesis. There the mystical text points out that the divine name Elohim  is made up of two distinct Hebrew words — Eleh and Mee (Eloh-eem). The first three letters spell ‘eleh‘ –- which means ‘this’, and the last two letters spell ‘Mee‘ – which means ‘who’. ‘Eleh – this,’ indicates knowledge and clarity, while ‘Mee – who’ is a question, expressing the uncertainty rooted in the divine name Itself.

The divine dances between the Judah Moment of certainty and the Israel Moment of question…. And we dance along with it.

 

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