The Wordless Torah of the Wordless Mountains

Rabbi Arthur Waskow *

Seven weeks of walking from the Narrows into the open space that is the Land of No One – and then we enter the heart of the heart of the wilderness -- Sinai itself, and the Torah.

"Wilderness" is "midbar." It could be understood as "midaber," -- "wording, speaking," -- or "m'devar/ m'dibbur," "away from word, without a word, beyond words."

Or both:

A speaking beyond words.

Several years ago, Phyllis (Rabbi Phyllis Berman, my life-partner) and I spent a few days in "Midbar sinai," and with hundreds of pilgrims from many religions and from all around the world spent all night climbing the mountain that either is or isn't the mountain where we all assembled to get the Teaching that was beyond words.

For as one teaching about the Teaching goes, no word at all was spoken -- only an aleph, the first letter of the Ten Words that have come down to us.

The aleph, the silent sound made by an open throat. From just the truth that the Universe wants to speak with us comes all the rest, for us to figure out: Don't kill --- Don't take a useful part of the Whole and carve it out from all the flow, rigidify it and bow down to it --

And when we looked out at dawn and the many diverse pilgrims began to sing and sob in joy, Phyllis pointed to the nearby mountains. "See," she said, "the Tablets!"

The mountains themselves, in their geological formations, look like the conventional images of the Tablets that we see in our art and on our synagogues -- and running across them are horizontal outcroppings, grooves, furrows, horizontal bands of rough outjetting rock separated from each other by horizontal bands of smoothness. Layer on layer, the outcomes of convulsive wordless history.

Outcroppings that can ALMOST be read. Beyond words.

The Tablets of the earth itself and the Utterances of the earth itself.


*Rabbi Arthur Waskow is director of The Shalom Center.


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