Celebrating the Spiritual Levels of Torah

Torah is a teaching that continues to unfold, guiding us to appreciate the text more fully
as our awareness evolves.

Torah Portion for the Shabbat of Feb. 18, 2017: Yitro

(Exodus 18:1 - 20:23)

An Operating Manual for Planet Earth

I often think of the Ten Commandments as an operating manual for planet earth. Those principles, so important that they are listed twice in the Torah, first in this weekly parashah in the Book of Exodus, later in the Book of Deuteronomy, provide a foundation for a world of peace -- and a stunning description of how to create a world of polarization and war.

While they became known as the Ten Commandments, the Bible refers to them as the Ten Utterances, or the Ten Principles. Of the ten, the first two are the most inclusive and the most challenging.

The Scene at the Mountain/strong>

The Israelites were several months out of an ancient enslavement, still at the early stages of what would become a 40-year trek. Their approach to Mount Sinai was filled with increasingly intense drama as they were prepared by Moses for something extraordinary.

And it came to pass on the third day in the morning, that there was thunder and lightning, a thick cloud upon the mount, and the blaring sound of the shofar, and all the people who were in the camp trembled. (19:16)

The drama intensified until Mount Sinai was totally in smoke signaling to the community that the Eternal had descended upon it in fire (19:17). The smoke grew thicker, like the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain trembled greatly. (19:18). What everyone heard was the voice of the shofar, the ram's horn, becoming louder and louder. Moses spoke, and God answered him by a voice. (19:19) It was a voice whose meaning only Moses could understand, and he translated the sound into words.

The First Principle: What ultimately frees us

The first principle points to the Universal Identity affirming our essential connection to all beings. This shared Identity reminds us of our own sacred core, and the essential dignity of every person. This is the way of peace.

And God spoke all these words, saying, I AM [is] the Eternal One your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. (20:1-2)

This first principle is clearly a statement rather than a commandment. You might remember that in biblical Hebrew, the present tense of the verb "to be" is understood from context but not indicated in any other way. The Hebrew allows us to appreciate the Eternal Presence as the absolutely inclusive first-person singular. One might say that God is the Universal I.

On the surface level, this verse reflects an understanding that a divine intervention led to the original exodus from the enslavement of that ancient Egypt. On a more general level, the verse relates to all peoples and times when we experience ourselves freed from various levels of enslavement.

On the more profound level of metaphor and myth, the action is realized as internal rather than external. This first principle reminds us that what ultimately frees us is our awakening to our more inclusive identity. Remembering the One we are frees us from our enslavements to habitual ways of thinking and acting, and from beliefs that limit our capacity to live fully and creatively.

The I AM is the Universal Identity behind the far more limited ego identity with which we act in the world. Through our Higher Self behind our ego, and through the Guiding Self expanding behind that Self, we awaken to ever-greater freedom.

The Second Principle: Speaking to our ego-selves

The second principle speaks to the automatic tendency of our ego-selves to assign god-like significance to persons and to objects in this material world. We cannot do this without supporting the perception of separation and competition that leads to power struggles and, ultimately, to violence.

You cannot have any other gods before Me. Do not make any image, or any likeness of anything in the heavens, the earth, or the water for you to bow down to and serve, for I AM is the Eternal your God. (20:3-5)

There is only one One, and any attempt to elevate an aspect of creation above the Whole of creation will create discord not only in the life of individuals, but in the life of communities, countries, and the world.

The awakening to more inclusive levels of our own identity may not come with external thunder, lightning, smoke, and the blaring of the shofar, but it is accompanied with a deep sense of awe, as our normal boundaries of self expand. The wonder of such moments allows the ego-self to release its position as the center of our little universe.

The Meditation: Our Expanding Identity

Please feel free to copy this meditation and carry it with you for those moments when you can devote time and energy being consciously available for an inner awakening. You can record these words, leaving spaces of silence where appropriate, so that your own voice can support you.

As you begin to settle in, remember that there is nothing else you need to do now. Turn off your mobile phone or put it on airplane mode, and do what you can to reduce interruptions.

Begin by invoking your Meditative Space

Please sit comfortably, making sure that you are can breathe freely and easily. Take a few moments to find your correct position now, then allow yourself a few deep breaths.

Notice how the body fills and releases as you breathe. Aware of the fullness and then the emptiness. Your gentle attention to the breath naturally brings you into a quieter and calmer consciousness. That calmness expands as you simply focus on your breath for several minutes.

When you are ready, begin a gentle scan of your body from the inside. Notice how it feels now as you direct your attention to each part of your body. Take time, even as you read this, to slowly allow your awareness to explore your entire body.

Start at the tips of your toes and slowly move upward all the way up into your breath. Rest in the breath for a moment, then start at the tips of your fingers, and move slowly up all the way up into your breath. Then begin at the top of your head and explore the sensations all the way down and into your breath. Take some time to simply rest in the space of your breath. In the center of your calmness.

In this calmness, become aware of the activities of your mind. Perhaps you can hear the voice of your mind reading these words. Perhaps you can hear that inner voice commenting on other aspects of your experience. Notice how the mind automatically reaches back into a remembered past or into an imagined future.

As you become more conscious of the mind's voice, you can naturally appreciate this more inclusive awareness that contains the mind but is not limited to it. In this more restful state, you realize that you have a mind, but you are more than your mind. You have a body, but you are more than your body.

It becomes easier now to appreciate both body and mind, simply allowing them to be exactly as they are. This is the place of witness. Your place of expanding calmness and deep security.

Opening Our I's

Every time we enter into this meditative space and move behind our mind to this place of witness, we open to the fuller dimensions of our own identity. We rest as the witness, allowing the mind to operate as it does, allowing the body to simply be as it is. As witness, we are fully aware, but we drop back from the limitations of mind and body.

In moments of quiet, it becomes natural to turn our attention behind the place of witness. Dropping back, drifting behind, releasing ourselves. Becoming aware of the witness from behind the witness. Aware of the witness and, through the witness, aware of the mind and the body. Always connected, but so much less involved.

There may be moments when we are reclaimed by our mind and our body, yet we can notice this too, and simply release that attachment. Aware from the consciousness of the witness, and aware from the consciousness behind the witness.

Releasing. Allowing. There are no limits. Tasting an expansion of awareness beyond the limitations of a physical moment. Perhaps there are doors opening. There may be a path unfolding.

Releasing into a space of such deep security and safety. Expanding into the awareness of our greater Self. Behind that Self, the Guiding Self. Allowing the embrace of that fuller identity. An embrace of blessing. An embrace of affirmation. An embrace of such deep acceptance. An embrace of love.

And wondering how that blessing, how that affirmation, how that acceptance, how that love shall flow now from this more expansive identity as you begin to return to the witness of the witness, to the witness, and to the mind and the body. Always connected. Always blessed. Always accepted. Always One.

Rest in the calmness of this moment until it is time to arise and notice the world around you.

Photo: Mark Reden