The musings of a previously unemployed Jewish Freemason. I write about the job search, about Judaism, and about Freemasonry.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Ki Teitzei: If a bird's nest chance to be before thee

We're at that part of Deuteronomy where there are long lists of commandments, seemingly in no particular order. The rabbis are fascinated with this; what seems like random data often contains hidden messages. Moralists like to make lists of rules in order from most important to least important, but the list of rules in this week's Torah portion scatter across the moral compass from soulful and empathetic, to peculiar and enigmatic, to wicked and cruel (if actually carried out). It's hard to write a commentary about a list of rules in no particular order with no plot, but I'll do my best.

The first commandment in this Torah portion is an attempt to minimize the violent rapes of conquered women that comes with conquering a foreign city (a practice that did not end in Ancient times, but was more prevalent back then). The Torah's solution is to create rules for sexual plunder. To a modern conscience, allowing for sexual plunder at all seems reprehensible, but to the Ancients, it was pretty standard, and the common way to motivate soldiers in your army to fight for you, and impossible to control once it got started. The Torah suggests that if an Israelite soldier wants a particular captive woman, he must marry her. He must invite her into his household, shave off her hair (so that he is forced to deal with her based on her personality rather than her looks), change her clothes from foreign dress to Israelite dress, and live with the soldier for a whole month before he is allowed to consummate the marriage. If, during that time, he decides he does not want to marry her, she is to be a free woman, and not a slave.

OK, so yuck, but not as bad as raping and murdering her, which was pretty common in Ancient conquests. It is questionable whether the captive woman has any say in the arrangement (which makes it still rape) but she either gets treated as a wife or a free woman, which gives her more rights than she would as an alien or a slave.

Disobedient sons are to be flogged. If they remain disobedient, they are to be stoned to death in public. The rabbis later mitigated this, based on the way that the commandment is worded. If a youth (from age 12 to age 12½) who is both a glutton and a drunkard disobeys his parents, both his parents (if they decide to do so) will bring the son to the court to trial. If the court finds the son guilty, the son is to be stoned to death by all the men of the city. The Talmud tells us that courts never permitted the execution to occur.

If you see a beast of burden collapse under its load, you are required to help the animal to its feet.

Then we find this passage:
If a bird's nest chance to be before thee in the way in any tree, or on the ground, whether they be young ones, or eggs, and the dam sitting upon the young, or upon the eggs, thou shalt not take the dam with the young: But thou shalt in any wise let the dam go, and take the young to thee; that it may be well with thee, and that thou mayest prolong thy days. [Deuteronomy 22: 6-7].
One of the great villains of the Talmud is former rabbi Elisha ben Abuya. He was a prominent rabbi who lost his faith and became an apostate. The Talmud tells the story of how he lost his faith. He was looking out his window, and he saw a boy climb a tree to steal some eggs from a bird's nest on one of the branches. The boy tried to shoo the mother away from the nest with his hand (to obey this commandment), and lost his balance and fell, snapping his neck and killing him instantly. Elisha ben Abuya could not understand why God  would claim that shooing away the bird would prolong the boy's life, and yet the boy died fulfilling the commandment. He lost his faith in that moment.

If a man rapes a virgin woman betrothed to another man, then the man must pay a dowry to the woman's father, and must marry her and is not permitted to divorce her. While this seems barbaric, it is better than killing her, and it is better, in a highly patriarchal society, to setting her loose after she is no longer a virgin (and therefore less marriageable). The rapist must financially support his victim for life.

Soldiers in an encampment should defecate outside the camp, and must bury their feces.

Do not charge interest when loaning money to another Israelite.

You are permitted to eat fruit while working in another person's orchard, as long as you don't carry food away from the work site.

Pay your laborers daily so that they have the money as soon as they stop working each day. This is where the particular idea in the Mark Master Mason degree comes from.

Do not be too thorough in harvesting your crops. Leave some for the orphan, the alien and the widow to glean. Gleaning is an interesting form of support for the poor. Rather than hand money or food to the poor, allow them to work your lands for their own subsistence.

40 lashes is too many. From this, the rabbis of the Talmud insisted that 39 lashes was the maximal corporal punishment.

Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading grain.

If a brother dies childless, and leaves his wife a widow, his brother is obliged to marry the widow and take care of her. If he refuses, he can take his case up with the courts. His sister-in-law will pluck off his shoe, and spit in his face as a testimony that he did not choose to marry her.

Finally, the Israelites are to remember that the Amelekites were very cruel to them, slaughtering the Israelites as they left Egypt. The Torah, paradoxically, commands that: "thou shalt blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven; thou shalt not forget it." [Deuteronomy 25:19].

How does one simultaneously blot out the remembrance of someone and yet not forget them? The common interpretation is to destroy all traces of Amalek, and never forget their cruelties towards the Israelites. This is a dangerous combination. The Bible calls for a total extermination of the Amalekites. God (through Samuel) dethrones Saul, after a war of extermination of the Amalekites, for not killing Agag, the king of the Amalekites. Haman from the Book of Esther is considered to be a surviving Amalekite. Today, some of the religious Zionists regard the Palestinians as Amalekites, and use this to justify future genocides. It's all very ugly in how it can be interpreted.

There is a virtue in remembering that certain peoples have committed great atrocities. It does not seem that there is much virtue in firing up that remembrance to commit new ones.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Shoftim: Justice, Justice Shalt Thou Follow

In this week's Torah portion, Moses tells the Israelites to appoint judges, and tells the judges how they should judge cases. He tells them: "Justice, justice shalt thou follow, that thou mayest live, and inherit the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee." [Deuteronomy 16:20]. Editorially, I have taken this translation from the Jewish Publication Society's 1919 Bible, rather than the King James Bible, that I usually use for English translations. Why?

The King James Version says: "That which is altogether just shalt thou follow, that thou mayest live, and inherit the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee." The Hebrew line begins: "צֶדֶק צֶדֶק תִּרְדֹּף" The repeat of the word tsedeq (justice) is important here. In the Torah, words are often repeated for emphasis, and the rabbis understand that a double word stresses something significant and worthy of commentary. The King James Version translators understand that tsedeq tsedeq means more than merely justice, but their translation, "that which is altogether just" seems deficient to me because the repeated word is important to the message.

The Promised Land is a place contingent on the pursuit of justice, and the later prophets will tell us that without justice, the Israelites have no claim on the land. All of the spiritual practices and observances, sacrifices and prayers are irrelevant without social justice in the land. Indeed, Isaiah says of this:
Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth: they are a trouble unto me; I am weary to bear them. And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood. Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil; Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow. Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool. [Isaiah 1: 14-18].
Here is the same plea to seek justice, but Isaiah points out that religious practices are detestable to the Lord when performed by people with blood on their hands.

Later in the passage, Moses explains how to judge a capital crime. A person cannot be put to death on the testimony of only one witness. The Torah says "At the mouth of two witnesses, or three witnesses, shall he that is worthy of death be put to death; but at the mouth of one witness he shall not be put to death." [Deuteronomy 17: 6]. The rabbis of the Mishnah ask why two witnesses are mentioned, and then immediately afterwards, three witnesses are mentioned. Are two sufficient?

The rabbis are concerned about perjury in capital cases, and point out that three witnesses can counter the testimony of two witnesses, but also that two witnesses can counter the testimony of three witnesses. Indeed, the Mishnah points out that this language suggests that two witnesses can counter the testimony of a hundred witnesses.

Moses predicts that the people in the Promised Land are going to want a king, and when they do, the king should be chosen by God rather than by the people. Again, if you believe the Documentary Hypothesis, this is Biblical retcon, predicting the story of Samuel and Saul retroactively. There is a warning that the king should not be opulent; if he acquires too much gold, horses and palaces, he will distance himself too much from the people, and be unable to deal with common people justly.

In the Magnum Opus (Pike's older version of the Scottish Rite ritual),  in the 14th degree, Grand Elect Perfect and Sublime Mason, Pike's lecture of the degree points out that the kings failed in their moral authority, and that failure began with King Solomon:
Afterwards [after the Temple was built] this great King, renowned for his wisdom, and long the faithful servant of God, became deaf to the voice of duty; and, filled with haughty pride at the glory he had gained, vain of his great wealth, and intoxicated with flattery, he forgot the lessons which he had taught to others, multiplied the number of his wives and concubines, and gave himself up to shameless and indecent luxury; and, yielding to the blandishments of lascivious women, he built Temples to the Gods of other nations, and profanely offered up to them the incense which should have been offered to the True God alone, in the Holy of Holies of the Temple. [XIV: 11]
Pike goes on to suggest that the Grand Elect Perfect and Sublime Masons he perfected upon learning the lessons of the Royal Arch did not follow him into his moral decay, but kept Masonry alive, knowing that the Kings of Israel and Judah would fail, and knowing that exile was to follow. How those secrets were preserved and recovered in the Babylonian Captivity, in Masonic tradition, is a secret kept in the Chapter of Rose Croix in the Southern Jurisdiction of Scottish Rite Freemasonry, and in the Council of Princes of Jerusalem in the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction. The whole legend as described in the Magnum Opus in the XIV chapter is worth reading. I would say that it is required knowledge for any Scottish Rite Mason who wants to understand the Scottish Rite version of the Royal Arch Legend.

Later in the Torah portion, comes another iteration of lex talionis: "And thine eye shall not pity; but life shall go for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot." [Deuteronomy 19: 20]. The Talmud is clear that lex talionis should be interpreted to mean "at most one life for one life, at most an eye for an eye, at most a tooth for a tooth, at most a hand for a hand, and at most a foot for a foot." Vengeance should not exceed the harm that was done. Also, the Talmud interprets these penalties to be tort penalties to be exacted monetarily rather than corporally. One should pay the penalty fees for damaging one eye if he damages one eye, etc.

In describing the warfare that is to come, the Torah invents the concept of compassionate leave. It dictates that a soldier who just built a house but has not yet moved in should not go into battle, but go home and enjoy that house rather than fight in a war. A man who is engaged to be married should wait until after his wedding (and consumnation) before going to war. Someone who has planted a vineyard that has not yet borne first fruits should stay home and tend his vineyard. A coward should be dismissed as not to dismay the soldiers who stay and fight.

An army should give the city permission to surrender peacefully before they attack the city. If the city refuses to surrender, the Torah (unfortunately) suggests that the army should put all the adult males to the sword, and take the women, children, livestock and riches as spoils.

During a siege, it is forbidden to kill a fruit-bearing tree. This shows a knowledge of peace after fighting since an orchard is the work of generations, and once destroyed is not easy to regain.

The final thing covered in this week's Torah portion is the corpse found in a city, where the murderer is never discovered. The people of the city must take a cow and take her to swiftly-flowing stream, break her neck, and the elders of the city should wash their hands in the waters around her dead body, expiating themselves from the crime.

In the apocryphal book of Tobit, Tobit insists on burying the corpses of the Israelites slain fighting Sennacherib. Later in the narrative, Tobit loses all of his property and is struck blind, but is healed and restored by the Archangel Raphael, who has been prompted to rescue Tobit by the intercession of the Grateful Dead, those whom Tobit buried. In 1966, Robert Hunter was looking to change the name of the band The Warlocks whom he was writing lyrics for, and chose The Grateful Dead from an anthropological essay about Tobit.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Deep Consciousness and Waking Consciousness

 My background is in mathematics, where there are axioms (which are as few as possible) and there are proofs based on rigorous definitions. And nothing else. You don't really get to even make a conjecture without overwhelming evidence, and that conjecture is worthless compared to a proof. I try very hard to liberally interject conditionals into factual statements: "it appears that", "you might want to consider that", "conceivably", etc.

But I also realize that I can use different epistemologies for different purposes. It has become useful to me to distinguish between truth and fact, making a distinction between the epistemological aims of my spiritual journey from the epistemological aims of my scientific journey, which are not always congruent. When I was working on my math Ph.D., I would work on very difficult math proofs, the kind of problems that took weeks to solve. I would sit down for four-hours stretches, and sometimes make a breakthrough, but often not. I would have to live with the problem for long stretches of time.

In solving a difficult problem, one's mental hygiene needs to be immaculate. I would have every definition and theorem that might be useful to its solution memorized, not merely by rote, but so that I could take those theorems and definitions apart and put them back together again in my mind. Even still, often I would run through scenario after scenario, speculation after speculation, and test them over hours and even days. After much exertion, rest, exertion and rest, I would sometimes suddenly have an insight, and the whole solution would be revealed to me in its entirety, in a flash. It was orgasmic. Sometimes it would take me hours to unpack what I had received and put it in a form that was intelligible to other mathematicians (i.e. writing up the solution), but when I got one of those flashes, the problem was solved in my mind.

I talked to my advisor about this (who, incidentally was a staunch atheist), and he told me that, in his observation, humans in their waking consciousness are just not very smart. We can be disciplined and rigorous, and we can work hard at something. When we work hard on a problem, some deeper consciousness within notices that we are struggling with an idea, and decides that maybe that idea is interesting, and begins to pay attention to that idea. That deeper intelligence is very smart, and it can solve these kind of problems almost instantly. It transmits a solution to the waking consciousness in a very concentrated burst, and then is gone, leaving the waking consciousness to shape that burst into something that works for it.

That is an astonishing description of a mental process, and it should be rightly met with deep skepticism. Had I not experienced it directly over and over again, I would probably dismiss it out of hand. When I was a grad student, I discovered a book by Jacques Hadamard called "The Psychology of Invention in the Mathematical Field." Hadamard was a student of Einstein and Poincaré. He interviewed them and other mathematicians about how they create proofs, and their answers are quite similar to the above. Almost an oracular relationship takes place, where the mathematician courts a muse, who provides answers after sufficient supplication. That's very strange, but the testimony of some of the most brilliant minds of the twentieth century attest to this peculiar mental phenomenon.

When I was studying for my comprehensive exams, I would study by reading old exams going back twenty years, and try to solve those problems in preparation for my exam. These problems were so hard that if I spotted them for the first time while sitting for the exam, I might not be able to solve them. So I studied by solving as many of these problems as I could, and hoping that by memorizing their solutions, I could solve something similar if it appeared on the exam. I was studying for an algebra exam, and I worked on one problem for four hours straight, and got nowhere with finding a solution. It was 1:30 AM, and I was exhausted, so I dragged myself away from my desk and put myself to bed. Asleep, I dreamed the solution to the problem. I felt a blissful glow in the dream, and in the midst of that feeling, a voice said, "That's the real answer to the problem. Wake up, schmuck, and right it down."

I did, and went back to sleep. When I woke up the next morning, I looked at what I had written, and it was a concise and elegant solution to the problem, a six-line proof. Astonishingly, that problem, nearly verbatim, showed up on my exam, and I gave the dream solution. My professor later told me that I gave the most elegant solution to the problem he'd seen in twenty-five years of grading.

That's very strange, and it has bothered me for a long time. Poincaré describes something very similar in his anecdote about creating the Theory of Automorphic Forms. Recall that the word "genius" originally referred to a spirit creature that a person could communicate with who would give him knowledge. Socrates, in Plato's "Trial of Socrates", refers to a "daimonion" who always gave him advice and had never failed him. I think Socrates was playfully exteriorizing a mental process that he relied on, but a mental process that transcended the ego-driven consciousness that is the waking state for most people. The direct experience of such mental phenomena has convinced me that there is more to consciousness than the waking state, and made me eager to explore these different states of consciousness.

But it is unsatisfactory to describe these mental workings as either "belief" or "knowledge". Something else is going on. The flashes I received could have been mental garbage, and indeed, they were worthless before I was able to shape them back into mathematical proofs, which shaping was the result of my training as a mathematician. The speculative burst of insight that caused Picasso to paint Guernica, or caused Miles Davis to record Bitches Brew would have been worthless if bestowed upon someone with no particular talents.

Going back to my split between "fact" and "truth", I would say that the proof I discovered is a fact. The description of these mental processes is a truth for me. Truth is somewhat subjective, and fact is objective. That does not make truth inferior to fact; in this story, the fact comes out of the truth, but the truth was only useful for me, whereas the fact anyone could use. Everyone understands (or should understand) that it takes rigor to come up with facts. I would assert that it takes similar rigor to handle truths, and that most people fall upon their truths almost haphazardly, without scrutiny, mental discipline, or circumspection.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Re'eh: There Shall Be A Place

The Documentary Hypothesis suggests that the Deuteronomist wrote during the Babylonian Exile after the destruction of Solomon's Temple. If we accept this assumption, then Deuteronomy was written after the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah had come and gone, the Temple created and destroyed, the Jewish national identity having been built up, sustained, and then facing the worst crisis of its existence thus far. Much of Deuteronomy takes on a sad irony when looked at from this perspective. Much of the Tanakh comes from a perspective straddled between Joshua's conquest of Canaan and the completion of the building of the Second Temple and the return from the Babylonian Exile. Similarly, much of Masonic mythical perspective is straddled between the death of Master Hiram Abiff and the triumph of Zerubbabel.

In this Torah portion, Moses reveals God's plan for a place (מָּקוֹם, or makom in Hebrew) that will be the Indwelling of God on the Earth. This will be a place where the Israelites can perform their sacrifices and focus their religious devotions.

Moses warns the Israelites that God has decided to utterly destroy the inhabitants of the land of Canaan, and  the Israelites are to be the vehicle for that destruction. Moses points out that the Canaanites are being destroyed because of their own offenses, and that everything about their society is abhorrent. Their worship, their practices, their social structures, their moral values, their personalities; none of this is to be emulated. In contrast to this, the Israelites are to trust that God will provide them with their own central place of worship, where sacrifices and pilgrimages will take place:
"Then there shall be a place which the Lord your God shall choose to cause His Name to dwell there; thither shall ye bring all that I command you; your burnt offerings, and your sacrifices, your tithes, and the heave offering of your hand, and all your choice vows which ye vow unto the Lord: And ye shall rejoice before the Lord your God." [Deuteronomy 12: 11-12].
From the perspective of the Babylonian Exile, it is clear that Moses is referring to the Temple at Jerusalem. By the Name (haShem in Hebrew) is meant the Presence of God, the Pillar of Cloud and Fire that followed the Israelites through all their journeys in the Wilderness, which dwelled in the Holy of Holies of the Temple, just as it dwelled in the Holy of Holies of the Tabernacle. From that historical perspective, the Conquest of Canaan, the time of the Judges, the establishment of the monarchy under Saul, the founding of the line of King David, the conquest of Salem and the Jebusites, the establishment of the capital at Jerusalem, and the anointing of King Solomon were necessary before the Temple could be built. To a Jew well-versed in Messianic lore, these steps were necessary and successive, each inevitability building off the previous. But to the tribes massed along the bank of the Jordan in Moab, the vagueness of "a place" could mean anything.

To Jews today, that place is still sacred. The Western Wall still stands, and Jews are forbidden from ascending the Temple Mount. For Masons, the destruction of the Second Temple meant a transition from a physical edifice to a spiritual edifice. Those who have read Dante know that he regarded the Temple Mount as an Omphalos, a center point of the Earth, and placed the mountain island of Purgatory at its antipode.

This idea of a center point where God dwells appears in the Masonic point within the circle. The first step towards universality was to assign a single point of worship, common to Twelve Tribes. The second, which came with the stirrings towards Messianism, which predicted that at some future time, all religions would worship the same One, at the same Temple. In the prophecy of Zechariah, "And the Lord shall be King over all the earth: in that day shall there be One Lord, and His Name One." Zechariah, prophet of Zerubbabel, is important alike to Masons and Jews.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Eikev: Thy Corn, And Thy Wine, And Thine Oil

Yes, this is the Torah portion that the name of this blog comes from, and yes, I've blogged about this Torah portion before. The second paragraph of the Shema prayer comes from this Torah portion.

Moses tells the Children of Israel: "And now, Israel, what doth the Lord thy God require of thee, but to fear the Lord thy God, to walk in all his ways, and to love him, and to serve the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul." [Deuteronomy 10:12]. The Hebrew word for fear being used here is yirah, which sometimes is translated as awe. Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi describes this feeling as the same feeling you have when you are in a room, presumably alone, when suddenly you realize that someone else is in the room with you. There are other words in Hebrew for being in fear of your life, and this is a very different feeling, the sudden awareness that God is right there with you.

In the Babylonian Talmud, Rabbi Hanina said that "everything is in the hand of Heaven except the fear of Heaven", [Berachot, 33b] because of the above quote. He asked, "Is the fear of Heaven such a little thing?" Rabbi Hanina quoted Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai (considered to be the legendary author of the Zohar) as saying that "The Holy One, blessed be He, has in His treasury nought except a store of the fear of Heaven, as it says, The fear of the Lord is His treasure?"

But Rabbi Hanina replied, "Yes, for Moses, it was a small thing. To illustrate by a parable, if a man is asked for a big article and he has it, it seems like a small article to him; if he is asked for a small article and he does not possess it, it seems like a big article to him."

Later, in the passage quoted in the second paragraph of the Shema prayer, Moses says, "And it shall come to pass, if ye shall hearken diligently unto my commandments which I command you this day, to love the Lord your God, and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul, that I will give you the rain of your land in his due season, the first rain and the latter rain, that thou mayest gather in thy corn, and thy wine, and thine oil." [Deuteronomy 11: 13-14].

Later in the same passage in the Talmud, Rabbi Ishmael reasoned that because God commands the Israelites to gather their corn, their wine, and their oil, that Jews should not eschew occupations by becoming ascetic. [Berachot, 35b]. Even though God commands the Jews to study Torah, they must live in the world and work to sustain themselves as well as studying Torah. This was disputed by Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, who was an ascetic. But, the Talmud notes: "Many have followed the advice of Ishmael, and it has worked well; others have followed R. Simeon b. Yohai and it has not been successful."

The Jewish religion is a householder religion. The religious Jew does not have the option of shutting out the world and devoting himself exclusively to religious devotions. Even some today among the ultra-Orthodox live on welfare and study Torah without working, this was against the majority opinion in the Talmud.

The spirituality within Freemasonry is also a spiritual path for men who have careers and live in the world. We have our occupations and we volunteer in Freemasonry after our work duties are completed. Among Masons, corn is a symbol of what we work for that sustains our bodies and nourishes us. Wine is a symbol of what we work for that gladdens the heart and brings joy. Oil is a symbol of what we work for that illuminates the spirit and brings us closer to God. To the Mason, these are the wages of a Fellow Craft. It takes a certain level of understanding in Masonry to be able to yield these rewards, and it takes labor in the Masonic quarries to produce results. We have to work for this, and have ever since Adam outgrew the immediate gratification of the Garden of Eden.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Va'etchanan: Remember and Protect

This Torah portion contains a re-telling of the Ten Commandments (which in the Jewish tradition are the Ten Utterances), and the Shema, or statement of faith, probably the line in the whole Torah that best condenses the Jewish faith into six words.

The Ten Commandments are numbered differently by Jews than by Christians. "I am the LORD thy God" is a preamble to the Christians, but the first utterance to the Jews. Jews also lump all examples of covetous behavior into one utterance, whereas Christians separate the first example of covetousness (house in Exodus, wife from Deuteronomy) from the others. The Jewish fourth utterance (the Christian third commandment) begins with a different word in Exodus than in Deuteronomy. In Exodus, the word is zachor, or "remember". In Deuteronomy, the word is shamor, or "guard", or "protect". So the line is "Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy," in Exodus, and "Keep the sabbath day to sanctify it, as the Lord thy God has commanded thee."

There are other differences, and they are worth noting, but the shamor/zachor difference is fascinating to Judaism. One midrash says that God said both words simultaneously at Sinai, and that Moses had to relate it twice to provide both concepts. The great erotic/mystical poem L'cha Dodi, that Jews recite on Friday evenings has the line "shamor v'zachor b'dibur echad," which can be translated as "shamor and zachor in a single utterance".

The idea is that the Divine happens on a level that transcends language---that language is a mediator and that gnosis is too immediate to have language as a filter. Moses has to share his experiences of gnosis in a medium that the Israelites understand: their own language. But Moses and God have an intimacy more direct than language. In seeking an experience of the Divine, one begins with words and later eschews them in silence.

The Shema [Deuteronomy 6:4} is one of the holiest prayers in Judaism. It is the testament of faith of the Jewish people. The King James Bible has it and the next paragraph as:
"Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord: 
And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes. And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates."
 Shema yisra'el YHVH Eloheinu YHVH echad. Listen, Israel! YHVH is our God. YHVH is one (unity). More metaphorically, yisra'el is one who wrestled with God, so everyone who wrestles with the concept of God, who struggles with faith, whose faith is interlaced with serious doubts. Eloheinu could be a noun "our God", or it could be a verb "that which Gods us". So it could be interpreted as: "Listen, those of you grappling with the concept of God! The fourfold ineffable Name that balances the four elements, that was, is, and shall be is Godding us. This ineffable Force that penetrates time and space is the unifying Force in the universe." That's a bit more resonant for me.

The first line of the Shema is considered so holy that Jews in immediate peril of their lives will say it to make it the last thing they say in this life. There was a story of an IDF soldier who spotted a discharged PLO grenade, and jumped on it and recited the first line of the Shema. It is said that Rabbi Akiva, who was executed by the Romans by having his skin torn off with iron combs, remained calm until he died, when he recited the Shema just before expiring.