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Section 7 of “Shekhinah: The Presence” by Joseph Zitt
This is an unedited scan of the text, courtesy of Josh Ronsen
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These ancient walls These silent speaking stones These wooden seatbacks worn smooth by the books and hands of generations In the haze of words and tones of our leader's repetition we float our souls in search of others similarly focused to Brooklyn to Vilna to Yemen to Jerusalem to the chambers by the Western Wall to the place that, when all places become one, will be the one place these places become to the place where the dreamworld the world to come the world from which we were called here summoned to take on temporary flesh brushes closest to this world in which we breathe Step up to the Western Wall, facing east (we pray at what was the outside of the temple, the inside having drawn the faithful of other faiths of other tastes of God to establish their own solemn sacred domains within), kiss the stones, slide a bit of paper in within the cracks between the massive bricks where so many others have inserted their own prayers in hopes that God will read these small requests with greater interest, step back one step, turn left, and face another wall of arches, doorways, gates, and somewhat less ancient stone. Walk through the nearer arch. Here: a small chamber dressed in stone on stone. Wooden bookshelves line its walls, filled with well-worn volumes: books of prayer, books of law, psalms, mysteries, and commentaries. Lift one book down. Open it: the pages are yellow, brittle, brought from a town that no longer lives a town whose ashes and the ashes of its citizens still drift in the air over Poland, Hungary, Austria still sting the eyes, still trigger sudden tears for those (now older, now scattered) who survived the war (and few recall the gentle storms whose raindrops caught the ashes souls letters and carried them back to earth grounding the microscopic angels who were guiding them to Jerusalem. Listen: in the dim silence of dawn-lit desert roads you can hear them walking back eastward to ascend again to heaven from the welcoming shadow of the Temple Mount.) Walk on, walk forward a few steps more, another archway then a cavelike hall extending to the left from which echo remnants of the voices and students present, past, and yet to come who sit within cavern-rooms by the light of candles by the light of the sun and argue fine points of the laws and mysteries again and again (The walls have heard these arguments so frequently that the stones themselves have memorized the cases, counterpoints, and deductions. Look closely: the veins of rhetoric and logic are embedded deep within the porous rock.) Do not turn there; walk forward, walk on. To your right: grate-covered shafts expose more of the Western Wall down to where the ground had been when Solomon built it there. To your left: another bookcase more volumes some different but mostly the same and small signs urging that you treat the books and rooms with due proper respect for their sanctity and antiquity. Ahead again, again to the left: another arch, another gate. Iron bars run floor to ceiling, to the smoothly curved arch set in time-cooled stone. The gates are open, swung back into corners, welcoming us within. We have arrived. Before us: The Arks up a series of steps stand dressed in fine, polished wood wearing curtains of velvet of golden braid with golden threaded letters and images lions tablets quotations Touch the curtains gently: the softness of velvet caresses our fingers the roughness of the golden script transfers its meaning from hands to souls to hearts, in holy braille. Our eyes, our minds can only see the edges of the glory; we open wide our senses and absorb the moment the distant sounds the promise of the Presence through breath through touch through the resonance of centuries of wanderers and pilgrims whose prayers, dreams, ecstasies have accumulated here; the echoes of their souls still coat the grey stone walls long after their bodies no longer walk these roads. And these Arks, these cases and curtains, are echoes of the first holy Ark that was built in the desert that contained the twin tablets of the essence of the law that traveled to Israel that went into battle that came to rest upstairs from here in the original Temple in the holiest of places that was the resting place of the Presence when she came to stay with us that disappeared into history buried, some say, in a hidden mountain to be retrieved when the Temple is rebuilt in the world to come carried, some say, to the world of dreams where we will gather where time is silent where the rivers carry angels to and from our world of flesh. Look now; Feel; Lay your hands upon the curtains; Grasp and follow the opening cords: In this moment, all Arks are one. We concentrate on the moment with a focus greater than reality. We look beyond the present beyond these chambers in Jerusalem beyond the prayer hall where we still also stand. All images merge: the curtains from a single canopy of velvet its folds waving in and out of the three mundane dimensions its length, its texture, its embrace wider, deeper than the sky a single glowing golden thread creating, joining all the letters symbols images into a single pictogram which, if we could but pronounce it, would join all of the holy Names into a single syllable of joy and at its center (that is- everywhere) the image of the original Ark On its curtain, infinitely tall, portrayed in gold, their bodies closer to ideal than any human artist's craft, conception, calculation, Cherubim--angels, intermediaries-- stand and wit infinitely patient listening to heaven formed from the souls of clouds (Male and female he created them) They need not speak; the Ofanim, the Seraphim call out, at times, bless the Blessed from his holy place. From this holy place, the Cherubim need not call; the Presence is forever here and thus they stand side by side their contact sign enough of their love of the Presence of their love of each other of their love of humankind. Approach the Ark, then, (in the hall of prayer, in Jerusalem, in the near and distant world of dreams) touch the shoulder of a cherub the cord of a curtain the place within your heart which leads you to what rests inside the Ark, open the gates, the everlasting doors, that we may see the mysteries that lie concealed within, and the doors, the curtains, at the breath of a touch from our solemn, exultant leader, part and open wide for us like frost on a mirror at the warming exhalation of one who is still alive like the water of the Sea of Reeds before Moses's unyielding staff like the thighs of a long-accustomed lover at a gentle touch a familiar embrace And we gaze within and see The Scroll of the Law, covered, also, in velvet lettered, also, in threads of gold the fine-lathed spools, her arms and legs, crafted from the richest wood her cool skin formed from the purest of parchment the meticulous letters, the black pools of eyes glistening upon the pale white background reading us as we read from her a slender silver arm reaching downward guiding us to see the words from which we draw our life. Carefully, now, our leader embraces then raises the scroll, bringing her out from the eternal womb of the Ark into the merely physical light of the now-risen sun (The Cherubim part, then move silently around our leader and crouch before us, silent guardians of the Holy Word) and gently, slowly, evenly, with the strength and balance gained by uncounted years of practice and devotion, lifts the scroll into the air, shining her pearl-sheen light upon us as we rise to greet the unveiling of her Words with scattered unison whisperings of our own, raising her closer to the skies as she brings the breath of heaven closer to our lives and inspires the spark of the Eternal and buried deep within us to burn more strongly to melt another fraction of the husks of darkness that surround and mask the sparks that make our world remain distant from the world of dreams then, again slowly, again gently, brings her back down back to the grasp of those of us who honor her back down to our realm to accept our kiss but we dare not kiss her directly, no, lest she be defiled by the lips of those of us who have allowed words of evil, of human hurt, distrust, and battered truth to be formed by them to pass between them lest her holy glow of love burn our mouths making us as slow of speech as Moses with no inspired, willing Aaron to speak of us the words we try to mean and so we clutch the corners of our prayer shawls in our trembling hands as, as she passes, kiss the cloth, and the fringes on it, then touch it softly to her velvet cloak. And, having travelled, having blessed the perimeters of our sacred hall, she rests relaxed on her back on the reading desk, its surface covered, also, in velvet, its fringes, also, threads of gold. Carefully we remove her silver ornaments: her crown, circles with subtle filigree, rests on a platform by the Ark; her pointer, her hand, olive wood with silver chain, the leader holds, preparing for the reading. Cautiously we raise her again from her resting place, and remove her cloak , slowly, smoothly. Upwards our hands slide it, along the smooth firmness of her parchment torso over the slender symmetry of her dark wood spools and arms. We lay her down again, and roll the columns outwards, exposing her night-black text and pale white skin to the eastern light of the glass-refracted sun to the cooling breezes of dim Jerusalem halls to our loving gaze and shyly tender touch as the leader extends a well-trained hand that holds the simple pointer and its own silver hand. We shall begin. "And may his kingship over us be revealed and become visible soon and may he be gracious to our remnant and the remnant of his people the family of Israel for graciousness, kindness, mercy, and favor" And we respond, "Amen." Listen, now; awake from your reveries; the leader is calling you, "Descendant of priests, approach, arise" speaking a name that you realize must be your own, and another name, which must be your father. Step up to the reading desk, slowly, slowly; in these moments of revelation you have infinite time. (The dreamworld is fading for you now; this temporary flesh in which you clothed yourself when called from the river where you guided the child's ark toward the Ark of the covenant where you drifted homeward summoned by voices of prayer feels slightly more concrete now, more confining: you have been called by your name and the name of your father. A lineage has been thrust upon you: The weight of centuries now rests on your shoulders; the decisions of the fathers delimit the children far past the tenth generation. Descendant of priests, the law has determined that you are first in line to be called to read from the holy scrolls that you may bless the people, your hands spread in the unseen salute that so many know and so few recognize the Presence resting gently on your outstretched fingers that you and your fathers and sons will be called in the world to come in the world beyond dreams to celebrate the sacrifices and forgotten rituals in the third temple the everlasting hall the sanctuary, outside of time, from which the plans for lesser sanctuaries were drawn. Thus, by your name encircled, enabled, drawn, defined you take a deep breath of this world's air and move infinitely slowly to the reading desk to her resting place she whom defines all worlds.) "Bless the Lord, who is blessed!" Again, your words wrap back upon themselves, reiterating, restating, repeating the recursion "now and in eternity!" We carry the phrases as before in a feedback loop of blessing "who has chosen us from all peoples and has given us your teaching" Focus your heart on the text, now, on the beauty and glory unrolled before you. The leader points to the appointed words; grasp the prayer shawl fringes in your silent hand then touch them to the black, enveloping letters then kiss them and listen and merge your inner voice with the voice of the leader with the words that rise from the holy scroll from her pale, near-glowing skin, from her heart. Clearly, emphatically, the reader sings out the words of the text, each vowel, each note, all punctuation ringing out from memory unwritten in the text as seen but deeply etched in tradition The pointer hand, olive wood and silver, a perfect echo of the human hand that guides it smoothly, lightly, along the letters (black as the pupils of the eyes of the soul) traces the text, revealing the words that flow up through it absorbed and transmitted by the skin the nerves the sinews the blood the breath the heart the voice of the reader through the air through the ether through the light that underlines all space that overlays all time to all out hearts. And these words that we hear now fill the rooms fill every hidden crevice of silence that might have been left behind by the now-departed night. (Listen: in the light of the fully risen sun even the crickets have muted their song in honor of the chant of our leader of the repetition, the recitation of the words of the law.) And when the selection has come to an end when our leader has finished the impassioned reading when the melodies of meaning find their final major cadence reach down again, fingers still wrapped in the tassels of the shawl touch the tender scroll again, then kiss, again, the tassels. "You are blessed," you call out to the Creator "who gave us these teachings of truth and planted eternal life in our midst." And you step back, away, around to the side of the reading desk and another approaches, and another still, and the scroll waits for their approach, her columns lying open to their touch, their kiss, their prayers and she gives of her words, her light, her love, equally to all who come to her with open hearts, who call to her with willing souls. Then, all readings complete for the day, (though the reading, the learning is never complete, and the words cycle endlessly as the dawn whispers across the planet, as the years draw us around the sun, as, on this day in other ages, our fathers, our children, have read, will read, the same pages, the same texts, from physically different scrolls, letter for letter, point for point, the same as the original letters, inscribed at Sinai, in black fire on white fire on pages of stone, burning through the ages, all scrolls joined end to end across dimensions, flowing, black pools of letters endlessly deep, sacred scrolls all joined at the text) our leader softly grasps the scroll's dark wood limbs rolls her columns close again, together, and raises her, again, high into the air. "She is a tree of life for those who hold her," we chant, "and those who support her are filled with joy. All her ways are pleasant; all her paths are peace." "And may it be the will," our leader replies, "of our Father who is in heaven to establish the Temple, the home of our lives, and to restore his PResence among us, speedily, in our time." Then we all join the leader, and together, quietly, chant "Amen." And our leader lowers her, evenly with the perfect balance born of perfect faith and cradles her, head resting in comfort, in love, against her solid side, nestling the other side in the crook of an arm, right hand lightly grasping her finely lathed spindle leg, and circles, again, the congregation, and again we kiss the scroll by proxy hand wrapped in tassels, tassels touched to lips, kiss transferred by tassels' touch to our beloved to our law And you sit upon the simple chair provided on the podium and the leader rests the scroll in your waiting arms, her back resting against your chest (breathe lightly, now, so that you won't disturb her), her slender legs straddling your thigh, her weight against you, heavier than flesh but still warm with comfort. "May it be the will of our Father who is in heaven," the congregation meditates on ancient words again, their silence again the scattered unison of the individual, the universal, as the leader continues the litany of wishes: "to have mercy on us, on those of us who still remain to worship... to keep destruction and plague from us and from all his people... to preserve among us our sages, their mates, their children, their disciples and the students of their disciples... that we may be told of good tidings of deliverance and comfort... that he gather the dispersed from the four corners of the Earth... that he may have mercy on our brethren who are handed over to distress and captivity, on the sea or on dry land, and may bring them from darkness to light, from servitude to liberty, speedily, soon..." Focus, again: The Ark again is open, the Cherubim by its edges, waiting, the velvet throne room coffin womb awaiting her return. Sense, feel, open your eyes: she must return soon to her home. Cautiously the leader lifts her forward, tightens, again, her columns together, ties the narrow sash around her waist, lifts the gold-threaded velvet cloak and lowers it over her arms, over her torso, sliding it softly along her smooth sides till it rests about her, balanced on her shoulders, rests the silver-olive pointer hand suspended from her limbs, and places her ornamented, filigreed crown as a completion of her beauty, her glory. The leader takes her from you (you wish to hold on but know that would be futile; there are laws, commands, and rituals, and to depart from them would hurt the one whose life, whose giving of life, is dearest to your heart) and moves with her but in your love (in the blindness of your love) you no longer see the leader, and the scroll dances alone a dance of heaven, a dance of magic, a dance that newborns know, but, as they learn to walk like other men, forget, the dance that is the way that angels move in the world to come, the world of dreams, a dance of words that dance without words. In silence you observe her motion and wish that you could comprehend for in her footsteps are spelled out all the mystic names of God. Then, murmuring (again the scattered unison) with all who worship in the sacred hall (and in Jerusalem and all the places that will someday be as one) you prepare for her departure with words of psalms: "This is the generation of those that seek the Lord, who yearn for the Presence... Gates, raise up your heads, Be uplifted, ancient door..." We must conclude. Look: The room seems almost empty, still, the whispering surrounding you not revealing the sight of any others. The Cherubim, now still as wood, are as if they were part of the Ark themselves and you move to join them, and you touch the Ark, stroke its wood, its velvet trace the markings in golden-threaded braille and its spirit flows into you, merges with you, and in your reverie you become the Ark become the sacred home wear the eternal flame as a signpost upon your brow and the scroll rests with you, rests on your shoulders, her ageless ancient legs relaxed, thighs balanced about you, legs draped down your chest like the leather straps of the boxes of prayers like the exact fringes of the shawl and she closes her eyes, calms, sleeps, and the leader shuts the doors, the Cherubim reassuming their initial position ("She is a tree of life," they sing again, "for those that hold her, and those that support her are filled with joy.") and in the warmth, the darkness, the velvet holiness of the place you have become you know that, for the moment, you have found peace, that you, and the scroll of life, and the Presence, are as one.
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