It is now one month since the devastating barbarity of Hamas’ attacks in southern Israel and the ghastly fall out of everything that has happened since. One month of tragic loss of innocents, and innocence, on both sides of borders, and around the globe.
Here in Australia, I have been observing how the amplification of fault lines is reflected nationally, within communities, in families, and in the convulsing within our own hearts. For myself, I notice how difficult it is for me to keep my heart open when the stranglehold of millennia of intergenerational trauma tightens inside me. Under circumstances like these, which are both sickeningly familiar and completely unexpected at the same time, how do I discern appropriate action, how can I be of service?
Over and over I hear the echo of Tisha B’av, the historic national day of mourning commemorating the destruction of the two Temples among other things. The Tisha B’Av lament is Eicha/Alas/How did it come to this? But the same word, transliterated slightly differently as Ayeka, also means Where are you? We know that from the Biblical story of the first murder, a fratricide, when Cain killed his brother Abel. And Cain’s chillingly prescient response when God asked Ayeka was Am I my brother’s keeper. Am I? And who exactly is my brother?
I have been asking Ayeka for weeks. In both senses. Alas/How did it come to this? And …. Where am I in the increasingly bifurcated world that is being forced onto me from outside and from within.
I have been revisiting the big questions that are so much the focus of my particular engagement with the lineage I was born into - questions about the nature and purpose creation, about the nature and purpose of evil, about choice vs providence, about covenant and co-creation, about this messy world where we are all flailing about and what could exist in the imaginings of olam haba/the world that is continuously coming. To me, these questions give me rich context and meaning in circumstances that would otherwise be dire and nihilistic.
I don’t have answers. I notice that it is very uncomfortable living in the not-knowing. It is tempting to go with certainty instead, but that route seems to me to be calamitous.
These past many days, I have been re-reading Sarah Yehudit Schneider’s excellent book based on the Kabbalistic teachings of the Komarna Rebbe, You are What You Hate: A Spiritually Productive Approach to Enemies. I am grateful also for Rabbi T'mimah Ickovits' offering entitled Not Knowing: A Divine Perspective, which draws on her translation of an amazing contemporary Hebrew text, Sefer Kol Demama Dakar (The Book of the Small Still Voice) by someone with the pseudonym Bilvavi Mishkon Evneh. This text explores age old questions of doubt (as represented by the Amalek archetype throughout the ages), of division and the illusion of it, and of reciprocals, from quantum entanglement of particles to quantum entanglement of peoples.
This last week’s Torah portion, Parsha Vayera, I found myself drawn instead to Exodus 10:26
לֹא־נֵדַע מַה־נַּעֲבֹד אֶת־יְהֹוָה עַד־בֹּאֵנוּ שָׁמָּה
“We shall not know with what we are to worship YHVH until we arrive there.” However, Rabbi Shefa Gold’s translation resonates more fully with me: “we don’t know how we will serve YHVH until we get there(wards)”.
She writes “We don’t know what form our service will take, what the world will be like or what will be called from us. … Not-knowing can be terrifying and yet it also holds the infinite potential of our power and creativity. We can only prepare for this mystery by becoming fully present, by accessing the fullness of Being in this moment, knowing that when we are called, we will respond with that fullness. On this journey to Freedom we must dare to live in a place of uncertainty that is held inside the confidence that just showing up in our fullness and in our uniqueness is enough.”
Our tradition gives us another example of the discomfort of being called to live in the not-knowing. In the Purim story of chaos, corruption and reversals, Mordecai urges Esther to go to her essence in order to take appropriate action for herself. I have a fondness for the Purim story. I was born in its rishimu/imprint on Ta’anit Esther, the Fast of Esther, in Adar Sheni, the occasionally occuring thirteenth month. Adar Sheni is associated with the Purim themes of flipping/transformation of bad to good. There is significance in the link to the number 13 because the words ahavah/love and echad/oneness, both have the gematria/numerology of 13, and together they add up to 26, the value of the ultimate human expression of God.
In the account of Purim, Mordecai says to Esther: “Do not imagine that you, of all the Jews, will escape with your life by being in the king’s palace. On the contrary, if you keep silent in this crisis, relief and deliverance will come to the Jews from another quarter, while you and your father’s house will perish.”
He goes on: “And who knows, perhaps you have attained to royal position for just such a crisis.” (Esther 4: 13-14).
A Kabbalistic reading of this last sentence is more akin to, “And who knows, perhaps the expression of your fullness of being (your ) is for this precise moment.”
Who knows indeed? Esther, like all of us, learns to live in the not-knowing, and do anyway.
Which brings me to the mixed media collage I created, The Power of Not Knowing. Using Wonderland patterned papers by Asuka Studios chosen because of their ironic name, provocative beauty and chaotic style all of which suggest both coherence and its ambivalent opposite, the piece includes a handmade book with quotes from the teachings that have moved me so much over this last week.
From Rabbi Yael Levy (A Way In) on Shabbat Vayera:
Abraham saw that the Infinite Presence is within promise, hope, turmoil and pain. The Infinite Presence is in conflict and longing. The Infinite Presence is in grief, devastation and despair. And the Infinite presence is in possibilities for healing and transformation not yet seen or imagined.
From the FaceBook musings of Israeli novelist, editor and human rights activist, Ori Hanan Weisberg on Parsha Vayera, (including the binding of Isaac and the destruction of S’dom and Gemorrah & its parallels or not to what is happening in Gaza):
Sometimes I hear Abraham's challenge, "will the Judge of all the earth not do justice?", (Gen. 18:25) in a stern but reasoned voice, a powerful rhetorical and even lawerly argument. Sometimes I hear it as a desperate cry. And often I hear it as outrage. If we keep it ringing in our minds and hearts and imaginations, it won't lead us to the same position on this horrible horrific and agonizing war. But I'd like to think that it will somehow help all of us maintain and strengthen our commitments to compassion and to challenge ourselves as we pass through this terrifying time.
From Sefer Kol deMama Dakar by Bilvavi Mishkon Evneh as translated by Rabbi T'mimah Ickovits:
Close, really close, to the days of Moshiah (Messiah) and the end of galut (dispersion), the klipah (hard shell) of Amalek amplifies. Her issue is doubt. The reason for this amplification is that the light of Raysha D’lo Aetyada (the unknown initial condition) is beginning to be revealed. And for every aspect, its reciprocal (reverse) is revealed. For example, it becomes revealed that when something looks good, bad can also be found there. And when something looks bad, good is also in it. Truly, this is the complete and final tikkun-to understand a matter and its reciprocal. To know that the person who is the greatest is also the smallest.
From Sarah Yehudit Schneider on the teachings of the Komarna Rebbe in You Are What You Hate: A Spiritually Productive Approach to Enemies.
The illusion of other-than-God (ie evil) manifests in many ways & on many fronts, both outside & in. The fact that it reflects a core soul-wound inherited from primordial times does not negate our duty (& capacity) to choose a spiritually productive response.
Evil comes to hone good (Sefer Yetzirah 6:4). When illusion incites a lust for something harmful or forbidden, the first step is to remember & know that God is present in this fallen moment & even within the thought itself. This is what is means that God is one & there is nothing but God. The second step is to know that this difficult moment is rich in potential for good. The third is to know that this challenge (with its hidden spark of Divinity) will definitely succeed in actualizing its potential & producing the good. The only question is when. And that depends in part on us.
The hand lettered bottom left panel includes:
Hebrew/English reversal/flip word from the Purim story.
word play between “the unknown initial condition” (beyond our ability to know) and the Hebrew month of Adar.
the Hebrew word equivalences of Amalek and sapek (doubt), both of which must, because of their existence, also have roots in holiness.
Reference to the reciprocal entanglement of particles from their inception, which explains the non-locality of the quantum world in which we live. The YouTube video by Arvin Ash called Quantum Entanglement Explained: How Does it Really Work? describes how quantum entanglement instantaneously connects objects in a vast web of reciprocal interactions regardless of their proximity and location.
Created and written in the energy of Shabbat Vayera 5784/2023
Chana-Toni Whitmont is a collage artist, crystal sound practitioner, creative, teacher and student whose practice and passions are born from her spiritual connection to her Jewish lineage and the ebbs and flows in the annual calendar cycle. She lives on magnificent Bidjigal, Birrabirragal and Gadigal Country (also known as Bondi), on the Pacific coast of Australia.