Standing at Sinai: One "I"

Rabbi Arthur Waskow, 6/1/2003

This passage is from Rabbi Waskow's book Godwrestling - Round 2 (Jewish Lights). It may be useful in observing Shavuot, perhaps as part of the night-time study that is traditional for the festival. To order the book, click here.:

I find myself standing at the foot of Sinai.

As I look toward the holy mountain, I see an enormous mirror. More than enormous: infinite.

In it I see my self, and the whole Jewish people: thousands who have just trekked out of slavery; ancient Sarah laughing with her husband Abraham; my grandfather Pop, his yellow mustache shaking as he tells a bawdy story; some whose clothing I have never seen in history books.

And I see Egypt, Mother Egypt. And Babylon. And Rome. And India, and the Americas, and snowy plains of ice, and rolling oceans.

The intricate web of human settlements, languages, cultures, dances; a hundred thousand foods, herbs, drinks of nourishment and ecstasy, the shimmering touch of hands and thighs and lips in delicate connection.

And the glaring sun. Spinning planets. Whole whirling galaxies.

My blood cells. One tiny red corpuscle. An atom of oxygen within it. Weightless positrons, dancing in nothing.

All the while I see, I also hear. Echo: the infinite mirror, echoing a sound, a word: Anokhi, I.

From all around me and from within myself, an overwhelming single word:


It comes like a drumbeat, again again: Anokhi.

This is my "I," my own self, but there is no "my," no possessing, no being possessed.

The "I" is the "I" that I am. I speak it, rolling from my throat, I affirm it, I. Anokhi.

And the "I" is also the entire people. I speak Anokhi as one voice of all the people. Again again again again, Anokhi. I.

At every moment - there is only one moment - there is "I" the person, "I" the people.

One I.

And, still in the same moment, the entire universe becomes Anokhi, "I."

My "I" is caught up in the "I" of the universe, the "I" of the universe is caught up in my "I."

This "I" is all there is; there is no "Thou," no "Other," no verb, no predicate. No past, no future, no present, no tense. Only the subject is the sentence, only "I."

I see the wilderness, I am the wilderness, the shimmering heat waves rising from its surface are my I, the spiral twirls of history, the woven tapestries of art and custom, the patterned laws of science: world upon world, infinity upon infinity, all I.

I see myself, part of an unfathomable Whole, not facing it but integrated in it.

For an instant I am infinitesimal, a tiny rhythmic breathing conscious cell in some vast breathing conscious Ultrahuman.

For an instant, I am infinite, containing in one enormous self all the worlds of fact and meaning.

These instants are themselves a single instant, infinitely unfolding: they last for just a flashing moment, it stretches out for all eternity.

All time, all space whirls like a Moebius strip through a vast expanse curved in an unspeakable dimension- while it holds but one surface and one edge.

I tremble, topple, fall to ground that disappears beneath while its textures enter every inch of blazing, open skin.

I am the shaking earth, all my skin is quivering, unending one-great-quivering-shudder.

Stop stop how can I stop forget how can forget, I need forget, how can forget I see too deep, I stand too big, I must forget, how to forget?

Our body quivers; I taste the world, the world is tasting me, is touching all my skin, and inside too: inside our mouths, my belly, every opening filled and every limb outreaching to fill whatever is empty in the world.

Back and forth, I am/ we are All All There Is-Anokhi, "I"-and Everything is all there is, we/ I am part of everything and less than nothing,

Anokhi I a cell of great Anokhi of the world come conscious.

I stand inside God's skull, behind the face; I look out through God's eyes, my face in Face, I see myself, ourself. Anokhi.

And reeling, stunned, I fall, roll, stumble away from the Mirror in the Mountain, I close all eyes and shriek to see that I can still see Everything.

I close our ears, I hear the Voice still ringing in my bones, I back away and try to blot it out, forget. To not be "I" or "we" or any one.

* * * *

And gradually I become a separate "thou." Gradually I can/ we can/ you can/ they can begin to hear the "I" expand, contract, become -

"I YHWH your God Who brought you out . . . "

I disentangle our selves, distinguish between the voice in their throats and the voice in my ears. Gradually they/ I distinguish me/ us/ themselves from the ground beneath, distinguish the pain in tightly clenched fists from pleasure in their open mouth, the breath within them from the wind around them,

Na'aseh, "We will do . . . we/ All There Is/ will do," there is no Other.

Nishma, "We will hear . . . the Other speak to us."


I- Thou.

I connect Thou,

Thou connect I.


An artery channels streams of blood, just I; but now organic unity is gone. "Connect" is necessary.

Gradually: connections and commandments. "You shall keep Shabbat." "You shall not kill."

From organic into what is organized; replace harmonious wholeness with a plan, a patterning. Gradually distinguish what they are doing from what they should be doing.

Ruefully I linger, trying to remember the Anokhi and trying to forget it, relieved I have been able to escape and joyful I will never be able to escape, already wishing to recreate the moment and frightened that the moment will recur without my wishing, still tingling, touching the impossible I have just done, laughing, tasting an apple, rolling on my tongue each drop of juice as if I had just returned to Eden.

Thinking about Anokhi

Anokhi is not Ego. Within the experience of Anokhi lie the dangers of inflating the ego and of annihilating it. How do we avoid these dangers while enriching the ego with Anokhi-sense?

Thinking about the Anokhi experience is one way of healing it, healing from it, and healing through it.

For the moment of Anokhi there is no distinction between the "mystical" and "secular." One Consciousness suffuses/ gives life to/ becomes the life of all the infinite worlds/ Is "God"/ Is world.

In Mirrored Sinai, there is not God on the one side and the secular, the world, on the other. There is no way to leap out of the world to have a "mystical" experience - because the world is all there is, there is no "out" of it. There is no way to turn away from God by turning toward the "secular" world. For God is all there is, there is no "away" from God.

Fully to experience the secular world is itself the mystical experience.

From this utter wholeness the Israelites fled. They could not bear to live in I, Anokhi , so they sent Moses into the Mountain's heart to live It.

And most modern Jews, most modern human beings, still flee — into seeing "God" counterposed to "the world." Into seeing "I" counterposed usually to "It"^I" am sacred, everything else is but an instrument of my desire. At best, occasionally, we may see "I" counterposed to "Thou," sacred but profoundly separate from me.

Once this separation, this duality, had been established, it became one of the great tasks of the Jewish people to hold both ends of the rope, so as neither to "ascend" into the utterly spiritual nor "descend" into the purely material. But there remains an even deeper task: How do we hold both ends of the rope while remembering it is a single rope? Our task is summed up in the challenge we pose to ourselves: "Sh'ma Yisrael, YHWH elohenu—YHWH echad!—Listen up, you Godwrestlers! The Intertwining Breath of Life is our God, and the Breath of Life is ONE."

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