Shekhinah: Shema (Listen)

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Shekhinah: the Presence
Shekhinah: the Presence

Section 5 of “Shekhinah: The Presence” by Joseph Zitt
This is an unedited scan of the text, courtesy of Josh Ronsen
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Six words.

We say them clearly
our hands closing our eyes
as we enunciate
  each letter
  each unwritten vowel
  each silence between words

One letter wrong
  and the meaning is blasphemy
One wrong vowel
  and the meaning is in doubt
One misplaced silence
  and the meaning is at best obscured.

Six words.

We focus on the One Creator,
the Unity,
forgetting for the moment
all manifestations
all simple evidence
even the solidity of
  his Presence.

She, alone,
floats above us,
joining in our proclamation.

Her love and power pour down on us
like the gentle rain
  that does not disrupt
  the white-globed dandelions
and she turns
facing in all directions
yet at all times facing east.

She, too, chants clearly,
showing no envy
towards the One of whom she is
  a partner and a part
  a mate and an emanation
showing her closeness
  to us and to the One
  at a careful distance
so that we may concentrate fully
on the One without distraction.

She floats,
her love and focus
joining with ours
as we chant

Six words

in the ancient sacred language
(though like so many words
they expand and lose some focus
when moved away into other tongues):

  We chant aloud
  as our words sail forth
  beyond the solid chambers of
  this sacred hall.

  We chant aloud
  these ancient words
  going back
        to the ages of the Holy Books
        to the days of Moses
        to the nights of Solomon 

  back to these words
       which rose from the lips of believers
       from the lips of martyrs 

       always making sure
       that they were heard
      by other believers
         and potential believers
  by our tormentors
    as a sign
    that their iron combs
    could not flay our spirits
  by the One
    as a proclamation,
    and, for some,
    as a prayer that the One
    might believe equally in us.

  and most importantly,
  that we heard ourselves and each other
  proclaiming unity
    of the One
    in the One
    for the One
  proclaiming ourselves
    to be of the ones
    who chose,
      or were chosen by,
      or chose to be chosen by,
    the One we follow.

"We will do them;
we will hear them"
our ancestors said of the
  forthcoming laws
conveying trust
(or perhaps extreme self-confidence)
that whatever the One would command us
we would promise to fulfill.

"We will do them;
we will hear them"
in that order.
The stars arranged themselves
  above Mount Sinai
  as a dotted line
and, with an invisible quill
  made of feathers
  of all the doves
  who would give their souls
    in sacrifice
with weightless ink
  comet’s-tail white
  made of blood
    of sacrifice and martyrdom
  blended with the tears
    of Sarah,
      believing Isaac was no more,
    of Hannah,
      who prayed that, like Sarah,
      she might someday see a son
    of all mothers
      who died, and saw others die,
      in pogroms,
        wars, and
with a giant hand
  formed of the will of generations
  its lifeline stretching
    from the past to the unknown
  its fingers spread
    in the secret sacred salute
    to which, when our priests
    repeated it in blessing,
    the Presence would come,
    for a moment, to rest
  its pulsing veins
    arrayed in the emulation
    of the brief holy name
    that the leather strands
    around our merely human hands
    now follow

we signed the eternal covenant
and met the strong hand
  and outstretched arm
  of the One
and shook on it
reaffirming the contract
  made with Noah
    and bonded by the rainbow
  made with Abraham
    in the field of visions
    where the flaming torch
      and smoking oven
    moved among
    the half-animals they sacrificed
  made with Jacob
    at Bethel
    before his favorite son
      was born
    before his wife and his father
      (emboldened by the knowledge
      that he would share
      in his father’s inheritance)
      he joined for one last
        peaceful moment
      with his spurned angry brother
      to bury their father,
      embracing Esau at Hebron
      before their sons resumed
      their interminable wars.

"We will do them;
we will hear them"
and with these words
our ancestors changed
from a random band of refugees
  into a people
still to have to wait to find a land
still to have to pass through cycles
  of conquest
    wandering, and
still (their name showing that
  their ancestor had wrestled
  with messengers of the One)
    wrestling with their own beliefs
    trying to find adaptations
    to make the ancient words fit
    the changing worlds
    in which we must survive.

The Lord
  Despite the insistence
    on clarity

we do not
spell this word as spoken,
speak this word outside of prayer
  (with even the substitutions
  we speak now)
write this word in such a way
  that we might deduce
  from simple letters and from vowels
  how we would pronounce it
  if we were to dare
    disobey the warnings
    of teachers and mystics
    that from these four letters
    miracles are made.

Even the way we pronounce it
within prayer
within readings of the holy books
is a mystery.
The Name of the One
seems to be plural,
not, as we translate the Name,
but rather,
as if showing that within
  One is All,
as if saying that
  the One that commands
  the One that blesses
  the One that gives
    and takes away
  all are the One

and, as we pronounce it,
the Name is personal,
not a simple distant object
"The Lord" [NOTE FROM JOSH: remove the comma, as
but rather
"My Lords"
as if showing the connection
  in a single word
as if saying that
  the One that creates
  the One that watches
  the One that rewards
    and disciplines
  all speak to us

is our God
  and now, another name
  this one softer,
  pronounced as spelled

  whereas, they say,
  the first name denotes judgment,
  this name denotes mercy

  and the holy books
  use first one name,
  then another,
  showing, some say,
    aspects of the One
    visible in that part of the story
  showing, according to others,
    who wrote that part of the story
    and when
    and, perhaps, why

  and this name, too,
  is strangely plural,
  as is the hidden verb
    nestled between the names

  "My Lords are our Gods"?

the struggle
  between meaning and vocabulary
  between statement, sense, and syntax
  between the words on our lips
    and the feelings in our hearts

  compels up to drive onward

The Lord
  again stating the first name,
  the ineffable name,
  spoken from the depths of sacred mystery
  with the sounds of an unrelated word
  spelled, through our teachers’
    well-intentioned indirection
  with the vowels of the spoken word,
  leading those who dared to speak them
    devoid of special powers,
    the ashes of the burnt husk
      of what seemed to be the name
    dry and bitter
    on their erring tongues

  and even these mistake
  were judged unsafe by our teachers
  who told us not to speak the holy name
  nor even to utter the second name,
    the mask that hid the Tetragrammaton,
    except in carefully controlled
    except when at the height of prayer
  instead we only say "The Name"
    as if, by saying the name of The Name,
    we name that
      to which we mean to refer,
    the One who rests
    under layers of onion skin
    inscribed by those
      schooled in the sacred,
    removed from being one with the Earth
      by layers of metaphor
        in which he is clothed
      by the emanations and manifestations
        which mediate and interfere
  making sure that only the purest souls,
    the most stubborn,
  pierce through the symbols
  and come to rest
  in the highest of heavens
  next to the throne of the One
  while we down here are comforted
    by his partner self,
    his Presence,
  sheltering us as we speak the words
  (the strangely plural,
    the misleadingly pronounced,
    the ineffable)
  that proclaim the Unity,
    the identity,
    of the name we dare not speak

is One
    of the One

  At last it rests on this:
  that in all the confusion
    of names and numberings,
    of inscription and pronunciation
    of the repetitive
      the hidden and
      the oddly plural
  the One,
    who is named by every sound
    whose image resonates with
      the paths of planets and stars
    whose scent is carried
      by every breeze that
      drifts through memories,
      masking, for the moment,
      the mundane truth
      transmitted by the air,
  is One.

  And our teachers have told us
  to say this twice each day
  with the intent to make it seem
  that this simplest of statements
  the core of all we speak in prayer
  is a new revelation
    never before heard
    never before exposed
    now brought again to light
  for us to contemplate.

and we pause,

then whisper the prayer that Moses
  was said to have learned
  from the angels:

"Blessed is the name
  of the glory of his kingdom

(again we say that the Blessed is blessed
again we speak of the name, not the One,
and of his kingdom which is everywhere
  the Creator is;
that is--

then speak of the places and times
where we have been commanded
  to remember six holy words
and the source of the shawl
  and the boxes and the straps
  with which we wrap and bind ourselves.

And the Presence spins and lowers,
weaving a bright sheer web of holiness
above our leader

then, gently,
she brings us together

after our grand statements
  our bold proclamations
there will soon be silence

with her tiny, powerful hands
with her seemingly fragile fingertips
that carved the words of the One
  with letters of fire
  into slabs of stone

she transfers a kiss of silence
  to our minds
    our lips
    our hearts
    our hands

and we all stand together
we each stand alone
all as one in her eyes
all made equal by her touch
each locked
  in a silent secret focus
  by the power of her kiss

as we stand and face the east
and her beauty blends with the rays
of the now risen sun

as we prepare ourselves for these meditations


in silence.

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