One such instance occurred recently, as my time of early morning contemplation was drawing to a close. I noticed that the gold, Hebrew lettering on a small container had, by a trick of the light, apparently disappeared. Intrigued, I moved my hand slowly back and forth – and the reflected light from my skin momentarily illuminated each letter as it passed by. The effect was quite beautiful as the gold flashed briefly and disappeared once again into the shadows.
The fanciful thought arose that it was the presence of light and the human form that brought the sacred letters to life; that without our presence and, indeed, our intervention, the sacred would be powerless to enter the world.
I pondered many ideas as they arose from this concept; the theological proposition of our role as co-creators, of the Zen koan of the tree in the forest – if there was nobody there to observe the letters, did they in fact exist?
What of Quantum Theory and the way in which observation influences reality? Did my deliberate action cause the letters to behave in this way or, like Shrödinger’s cat, was there a chance that when not observed, they were lifeless, even unformed.
As my hand moved across the field of reflective light, did the letters actually appear and disappear or was it simply an illusion? Did they both exist and not exist simultaneously?
Hebrew is, for many of us, the sacred language. By that, not only do I mean that it is the language of liturgy and ritual, but that it also contains a mystical component. Each letter possesses many layers of meaning – its own story – which, when concatenated in a word, a sentence, a paragraph, provides a subtextual narrative which expands upon and enhances that which is written. What, then, was the meaning of each letter as it flashed with light and how did it connect with its neighbours?
The word was לאוֹת – in English, l’ot: which translates “as a sign of” or “in token of”. As neophyte in the exploration of Hebrew, I examined the letters in turn, lamed, aleph, vav and tav, researching the layers of meaning and, although each is worthy of many hours of study to which I could not do justice, a brief narrative began to reveal itself.
ל Lamed represents the heart that wishes to learn in order to teach, in aspiration to conceive and comprehend.
א Aleph denotes the sense of existential gap between the divine and the human – the bitter-sweet experience of creatureliness. It bridges the paradox of immanence and transcendence.
ו Vav is the beam of light. In the beginning of Creation, when Infinite Light filled all reality, the Light contracted to create the “place” necessary for the existence of finite worlds. Into this vacuum was drawn, figuratively speaking, a single line of light, from the Infinite Source. This ray of light is the secret of the letter vav. It is the force of connection between the Divine sparks inherent throughout reality.
ת And, finally, Tav. The tav is the secret of the power that links worlds, and generations, together. It is the divine power of continuation – the sign, the impression, the code.
Taken together, we can see that this simple phrase, denoting a sign, speaks mystically of the interconnectedness of all existence, experienced through the light of consciousness which yearns to plumb the mystery of Divinity and reveal what it has learned. How perfectly it described the kavvanah, the intention, of my meditation that morning; how, in its deceptive simplicity, it revealed the goal of prayer and meditation: the flickering, reflected light of human consciousness which contemplates with awe, the magnitude of the Divine and sees its traces everywhere.
And how blessed are we, when we take the time to see the small miracles of daily life…
* * * * *