Why & How to Bless the Breath of Life

 Please feel free to share this and discuss it with your friends and congregants . I’d be delighted to hear what responses, criticisms, and insights  you and they have. Write me at Awaskow@theshalomcenter.org Shabbat shalom, Arthur  


This week’s Torah portion begins (Exodus 6: 1): “I am YHWH. I was seen by Abraham, by Isaac, and by Jacob as  El Shaddai [God Many-Breasted], but by my name YHWH I was not known to them.” The Voice says this in Egypt, adding this historical note to the God-Name that had come to Moses at the Burning Bush. It came just after Pharaoh had sneered at being told YHWH demanded Time Off for a Holy Gathering for the Israelites, and had made their forced labor much harder – “bricks without straw.” The enslaved Israelites had blamed Moses for their worsened plight.

 Why this historical footnote? It teaches us that a name of God is a way of thinking about the nature of the universe. “God Many-Breasted” meant that the job of the universe is to nourish Humanity. YHWH mean something more complicated. Those letters can only be “pronounced” by breathing. That means the universe is an intertwining of breath. 

 What human beings breathe out into the universe deeply affects what the universe breathes back. If Pharaoh pours cruelty into the world, the world will respond with cruelty – the Plagues. If Humanity pours more CO2 into planet Earth than all its vegetation can transmute to oxygen, the CO2 builds up and the world overheats into fire, floods, and famine. The Plagues that were about to come upon Egypt could not be explained by seeing the world as simply a nourishing breast.

 For about two thousand years, many of our religious communities have used the God-Names “King” and “Lord” to speak our sense of the world.  That legitimates Domination, Subjugation as the way the world is organized. But long ago farmers and shepherds knew that was not really true, and ecologists know it now. When we learn that trillions of microscopic creatures live in our guts and have a deep effect upon our brains, even though we cannot even see them, we must recognize that the world is not top down. The “Breath of life”” is far truer as a way of understanding the world.

One more learning from this verse. It comes just after the nascent “Brickmakers Union Local 1,”as A.J. Muste called the barely organized Israelite workers, had collapsed under the burden of Boss Pharaoh’s wrathful fury. Why just then, not at the Burning Bush when the YHWH Name first came to Moses?

 I think to tell him that his own soft-heartedness had led him to waffle about the new Name. That he had listened overmuch to Israelites who said they were comfortable with the Name they had learned as children, that surely it did not matter what Name they used. And Moses had shrugged: Perhaps it did not matter. But it did. We cannot transform the world, we will   be unable to press our case with vigorous determination, if we slip and slide into an older understanding of the world, no longer true. 

The warning is as true today as it was in the story of 3,000 years ago. To Name our world as built on Domination, Subjugation, is to collapse in the helplessness of “I Can’t Breathe” in the face of racist brutality, “We Can’t Breathe” in the face of a pandemic virus and its complicit rulers, “Earth Can’t Breathe” in the face of giant corporations that insist on making hyperwealth by pouring CO2 into our planet’s air.

It is time for us, NOW, to change our way of understanding. To Name God more truthfully than  “King” or “Lord”: “Breath of Life,  Interbreathing Spirit of the universe.”  Thus:

 Baruch attah YAHHH, elohenu ruach ha’olam asher kidshanu b’mitzvot, vitzvanu  la’asok b’divrei Torah. [Could also be in feminine, “Bruchah aht,” “kidshatnu,” and “vitzivatnu.”]

Blessed are you, Breath of Life, our creative energy, Interbreathing Spirit of the universe, who makes us holy through acts of connection and connects us through using the Breath we share with  all life to speak words with each other that aim toward wisdom, becoming our own words of Torah. 






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