The power of whisper

« But among the humble is wisdom. » i.

In Hebrew, the word « humble » derives from the verb צָנַע, to hide, to humiliate oneself. A more literal translation might then be possible: « But among those who hide is wisdom. »

The humble are hiding. So is wisdom, hiding.

The idea of hidden wisdom is old. It is found in many religious, exoteric or esoteric traditions.

« I speak to you, O Nacitekas, heavenly Agni, who knows how to obtain the endless worlds and the sojourn. O thou, know it, [this wisdom] is deposited in a secret place. » ii

The secret is first and foremost a “place”. And wisdom also is a “place”.

Going to this secret “place” is akin to a “revelation”. To penetrate the divine secret is to penetrate this divine place, and to plunge into the abyss. When you enter it, you lose all balance, all connection, you leave everything to go beyond the human.

« When he meditated, applying himself, on the union with the supreme soul, on the God who is difficult to perceive, who has penetrated into the secret, who has settled in the hiding place, who resides in the abyss, – the wise leaves aside joy and sorrow. » iii

Not everyone can imitate the wise man. The Holy of Holies is a very empty, solitary, place.

If the revelation reveals anything, it is that nothing sheds light on the mystery. It only deepens it without measure, always more so.

Abrahamic, Mosaic or Christian “revelations” are in a way an “unveiling”. But this unveiling brings in reality many new veils, many questions, throwing inconceivable, unexpected perspectives.

Among them: any divine revelation threatens the state of things and life itself. How many prophets stoned or crucified for sharing their vision? Death is the companion of their truth.

R. Isaac of Acra comments: « When Moses our master said: « Show me your glory » (Ex. 33:18), it is death that he asked for, so that his soul may break the light of his palace, which separates him from the wonderful divine light, which she was eager to contemplate ».

The union with the Divine presents an extraordinary challenge: death.

Elsewhere, in other traditions, it is called dissolution. It is compared to a drop of water in the sea. « As pure water poured into pure water becomes like it, the soul of the discerning wise man becomes like Brahman.»iv

The same image can be found in the Jewish Kabbalah: « The soul will cling to the divine Intellect and the intellect will cling to the soul (…) And the soul and the Intellect become the same thing, as when a jug of water is poured into a gushing spring. This is therefore the secret of the verse: ‘A fire that devours fire’. » (R. Isaac of Acra).

A drop of water in the spring. A fire that devours the fire. Wisdom is well hidden. Why is she concealing herself, shying away from glory, from revelation?

A passage from Paul can put us on the track. « Should we boast? It’s not worth anything, though. (…) For me, I will only boast of my weaknesses.» v

An « angel of Satan » is in charge of blowing Paul so that he does not take pride. If Paul asks God to remove this satanic angel from him, God answers: « My grace is enough for you; for power unfolds in weakness.» So the blows continue.

And Paul concludes: « That is why I take pleasure in weaknesses, in outrages, in distress, in persecutions and anguish endured for Christ: for when I am weak, it is then that I am strong ».vi

It is strange (and maybe inaudible) in our modern times, to hear that weakness, distress, persecution,, may be a « strength ».

Strength and power in effect veil and muffle everything. In the noisy storm, in the midst of the devastating hurricane, only the humble, the wise, have a little chance of hearing the zephyr, which will follow, in a whisper.

iProv.11,2

iiKatha Upanisad 1,14

iiiKatha Upanisad 2,12.

ivKatha Upanisad 4,15

v2 Cor. 12,1-10

vi2 Cor. 12,1-10

The Three Screams of God

When do you need a ‘veil’ ?

There are strong reasons to wear a veil, under certain circumstances. For example, it reads:

« And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look upon God. »i

Or: « When Moses had finished speaking to them, he put a veil over his face. »ii

In both cases, the veil seems to be justified, for very different reasons.

But there are times when, clearly, you have to remove the veil. For example:

« When Moses entered before the Lord to speak with him, he took off the veil until he came out. »iii

How can we explain that Moses sometimes veils himself, and sometimes reveals himself, when he is in the presence of God?

Moses, it seems to me, makes an essential difference between watching and speaking.

To make a long story short, this difference is as follows: the gaze kills, the word gives life.

It is certain that there is mortal danger in « seeing » the face of God. « Man cannot see me and live. »iv

To overcome this risk, Moses only looks at God’s « back » or the « cloud » in which He hides.

On the contrary, the word is the very instrument of prophecy. It does not kill, it gives life.

With a capital letter, the Word is Wisdom, Verb, Logos. It is even placed at the right hand of God, like Adonaiv. It names the Name. It sets out the Law.

In the extreme, the Word is a « scream ». More precisely, three screams.

It reads: « The Lord passed before him and screamed: ‘YHVH, YHVH, God, merciful and gracious!’  » vi

Why does God shout His name to Moses three times?

Why does He shout His name ‘YHVH’ twice in a row, and His name ‘EL’ a third time?

These three screams are not addressed to Moses alone, maybe.

They must be heard, long after, by all those who were not there, – all of humanity yet to come.

In order for these ‘names’ to be heard long after Moses days, they had to be screamed, to be shouted, very loud, to reach the extremities of Mankind. But above all, they had to be written.

« Put these words in writing »vii.

Words, screams, writings. How do you put a scream in writing ? With capital letters? There are none in Hebrew.

If Moses had put on a veil, he would not have « seen », and above all he would have heard badly enough, one can speculate – except for the screams. But, for sure, with a veil he could not have written.

And he could not have spoken (audibly). Moses did not have an easy wordviii. With a veil over his face, he would have been even more embarrassed to speak distinctly.

The veil would have been a barrier to exchange. It was therefore not really necessary, it was even strongly discouraged.

Especially since the interview environment was very noisy. « Moses was speaking and God was answering him in thunder. »ix

Moses had previously put a veil over his face for fear of dying in front of the Face, or when he had wanted to hide his own « shining » face from the Israelites.

The veil was then necessary, it seems, as a defence (against death) or as a modesty (against the jealousy of the people).

But when it came to speaking, hearing, writing, then Moses removed the veil.

The lesson is still valid today.

i Ex. 3,6

ii Ex. 34,33

iii Ex. 34, 34

iv Ex. 33,20

v Ps. 110 (109) -1

vi Ex. 34,6

vii Ex. 34,27

viii Ex. 6,30

ix Ex.19,19

A God hidden in the mud

« You really are a hidden God.  » (Is 45:15)

אָכֵן, אַתָּה אֵל מִסְתַּתֵּר

Vere tu es Deus absconditus.

Isaiah calls out to God by a simple « you », in Hebrew « attah ».

This « you » mocks the cynic, the incredulous. It testifies to the immediate proximity of what is revealed, the certainty of the idea.

But this « you » hides more than it reveals itself.

The adjective « hidden » is said mistatar in Hebrew. Esther of the Book of Esther, bears this name, she is « the hidden one » (מִסְתַּתמִסֵר mistatèr). These words come from the verb סַתָר « to hide, protect, shelter ». This word is often found in the Bible, with a wide range of possible meanings: to cover, conceal, eclipse, bury, wrap, bury, blotch, mask, shut in, shut up, hold, drag, veil.

In the substantive form, three main meanings emerge: 1) What is hidden, secret 2) Envelope, cover, veil 3) Protection, retirement, asylum.

It is revealing, I think, that the meaning of a word that means « veil » can have hidden depths, and refer to other words, just as deep, just as veiled.

The verb tsamtsem, related to the concept of tsimtsum, also means « to veil ».

The God who hides and veils himself is also the God who contracts Himself, and makes Himself silent. It is also the God of kenosis, the God who humbles Himself ( the word humble comes from Latin humus, earth, which also gave homo, man).

What is God hiding in His humiliation? What is He hiding in the humus, in the mud-made man?

The Veil of Death

Deep mysteries are made of successive veils. Their unveiling never offers a complete revelation. It is a long process – that is a veil in itself.

In his diary on 26-27 November 1906, Tolstoy describes his daughter Macha’s death, which just happened: « Macha died earlier today. Strange thing. I felt neither frightened nor afraid, nor aware that something exceptional was being done (…) I watched her all the time she was dying: with astonishing tranquility. For me – she was a being who unveils herself before my own unveiling. I was following this unveiling, and it was joyful for me. But this unveiling has ceased in the domain that is accessible to me (life), that is, this unveiling has ceased to be visible to me; but what was being unveiled is that. »

The unveiling of death begins in life. Its signs still belong to life, until this singular unveiling is no longer visible to those who do not die, to those who remain in the unveiling of life.

Their lives veil their death. And death continues to reveal what cannot be revealed to those who do not die.

This is what can sometimes be revealed at the death of a loved one, that there is an unveiling of death, which continues in death. Tolstoy attests to this. Capital information, but imponderable. There may be reason to doubt such a fragile testimony, based on tenuous clues. Yet I believe that Tolstoy is a precious, sensitive and credible witness.

The death of those we love is not of the visible order. But it waved, it showed a possible path. Nine months before Macha’s death in February 1906, Tolstoy had already noted: « What is the matter before me? The most important: a good death », and also: « You grow up to death ».

Growing in this way is certainly a metamorphosis, a movement. A movement towards what? On 31 December 1906, Tolstoy replied: « Movement is the awareness of our divine character. »

This movement towards death can be brief or long, sharp or languid, confused or sustained. Only the tempo varies, not the end.

As a man who seems to have experienced the essence of death, Tolstoy notes this strange formula, not without a whiff à la Newton: « The value of life is inversely proportional to the square of the distance from death. »

Fatal attraction of bodies by the dark star. A black hole in the vicinity of which thought is accelerating. Plato said that death is for the soul the deliverance of the body. It remains to meditate on the speed, acceleration and gravity of this deliverance.