The Hidden Reality in Plain Sight
The universe was created through speech, the same words that were heard at Mt Sinai, and inscribed on tablets of sapphire stone hewn from the Throne of Glory*.
TRANSLATION of Beit Yaakov, Parashat Teruma, Section 5:
“The ten Commandments are equivalent to the ten Sayings through which the universe was created, according to what is written in the holy Zohar (Yitro 93b): “And Hashem Yitbarach (may He be blessed), continually gives existence to the universe.” Hashem Yitbarach continuously pronounces the ten Commandments, as the holy Zohar comments on the verse “a great voice, but nevermore” (Deuteronomy 5:19) (Zohar Vaetchanan 260a).
And as the Gemara states (Berachot 17b): “Each and every day a voice echoes forth from Mt. Horev (Sinai).” Meaning that for Hashem Yitbarach there is no change, God forbid, that one might consider “beforehand He did not speak, and now He has begun to speak; and later He will refrain from speaking.” It is only on account of the noise and the distractions of this world, which never ceases to agitate [us] with its desires, that enshroud us [and prevent] the Divine mysteries (divrei Torah) from penetrating the body. And, therefore, we do not hear the Commandments from Hashem Yitbarach.
But at the time of 'the giving of the law', He quieted and silenced all the distractions of this world, and all the barriers and the forces, namely the cravings of the body, which never let up so as to permit a person to hear the Commandments, because they are unable to distinguish them [from the background noise]. But [at the theophany at Sinai] there was a purification of awareness in the world and of themselves (mimeileh) they heard the Commandments from Hashem Yitbarach , who [in truth] speaks [them] continually; and they clearly saw the Divine truths (divrei Torah)... and then afterward the world returned to its noise as before, through the distractions and forces which operate in the universe; just as before the ‘giving of the law’, and they ceased from hearing and it was hidden from them, as before.
But to them (Israel) it appeared that [only] at ‘the giving of the law’ did He begin to speak, because up until now they had not heard; and after ‘the giving of the law’ it appeared to them that He stopped speaking. But in truth, the change was only from their (Israel’s) side. And whenever there was a revelation, at the time of ‘light’, they thought that they would always be within the bright light. And this is because, in truth, Hashem Yitbarach wants the light to remain permanently, because, in truth, “this voice never ceases”; as is written “a great voice, but nevermore” (Deuteronomy 5:19); for His words are living and enduring [forever].”
END OF TRANSLATION
COMMENTARY & REFLECTION
The Torah is the creative expression of the Infinite Being, compressed into finite words and phrases.
“God gazed into the Torah and created the universe” (Bereshit Rabbah 1). The Torah is the creative expression of the Infinite Being. Just as the Torah is condensed into the utterances of the Ten Commandments so is the whole universe condensed into the Ten Utterances of creation, as we say in the daily liturgy “blessed is He who speaks, and the universe comes into being” (Baruch She'amar, Siddur). The Radziner Rebbe here tells us that there is in fact no distinction between the Ten Utterances of creation and the utterances of the Ten Commandments the children of Israel heard on Mount Sinai. Although it appeared to them that God began speaking at a certain time and then stopped, this was on account of a limitation on their part. In reality, God is and has been continually speaking since the moment of creation, and it was those same words that the children of Israel heard (or overheard) on Mount Sinai.
You may ask how that could be given the words of creation are different to the words of the commandments. The Zohar describes different levels of the Torah, the commandments are called "the body of Torah" and the stories are called "the garments", but within these is the soul of Torah, and within that the Soul of souls (Beha’alotcha III 152a). And as the Ramban describes, “the Torah is composed entirely of names of God and can be read in multiple ways” (Preface to the Torah 1). The Ten Utterances of creation and the utterances of the Ten Commandments are then two possible permutations of the primordial Torah, two solutions to a higher-order puzzle expressed with the same breath.
The Ten Commandments and Ten Utterances of Creation are two possible permutations of the primordial Torah, two solutions to a higher-order puzzle.
At every given moment, the Radziner tells us, we are submerged in the sea of Torah, drenched with the word of God, only we are too distracted to hear it. We are distracted by the cravings of this world, agitated by its pulls and diversions, and thus the subtlety of God speaking with us is overlooked. When the children of Israel received the Torah on Mount Sinai they were graced with peace of mind, God removed from them for a moment their desires, and in doing so their awareness was purified, and then of themselves they could hear the subtle sound of creation.
Learning for the Contemplative Life:
Life is full of distractions and there is no end to desires. This has always been the case, the Rebbe tells us, and will always be the case. But turn your attention away from those distractions, if only for a moment, and the universe opens itself up to you. In deep contemplation and meditation, if we are lucky, we may experience this. The spaces between incoming and outgoing thoughts expand and we glimpse beneath them not a nothingness but a deeper sense of being and presence.
On retreat it might be more obvious, more easily accessed. Gazing out across meadow and mountain. A breeze gusts through the trees, leaves shimmer and rustle their song. The sky expansive above, drifting clouds. And from the stillness we are struck by a glimmer, a shard of the infinite. The Arizal called these "Sparks of Holiness". It is our task, he says, to uncover these moments in space and time, its culmination, the end of want, an era of Divine light and lightness of being.
It is hard to express these ideas without a poetic sentiment, but the contemplative life holds this in its promise. Reducing the time spent in striving after material wealth and adventure and more time in reflection, meditation, and study. We do not need to spend weeks and years immersed in such practice as did the prophets and sages, just an hour or even a moment a day, say the Hasidic masters, is enough to pry open the gates.
Maayan Hatum offers opportunities to experience the stillness within our daily meditation periods, weekly study sessions and monthly practice introductions (see here).
*Midrash Lekach Tov, Exodus 31:18 states that the tablets of testimony were sapphire stones cut from the throne of glory.
Cover Photo by 🇻🇪 Jose G. Ortega Castro 🇲🇽 on Unsplash