What follows is part of Chapter 17 of the book Freedom Journeys: The Tale of Exodus and Wilderness Across Millennia, by Rabbis Arthur Waskow & Phyllis Berman, published (2011) by Jewish Lights. The whole book is available from The Shalom center by emailing Office@theshalomcenter.org
Chapter 17: Sinai: The universe says "I"
The Israelites stood at the foot of Sinai.
They gazed at the holy mountain, but could not see its crags, its precipices. The clouds enfolded it into an enormous mirror.
More than enormous: Infinite.
In that mirror each one saw a self, and the entire people: saw all who had just trekked out of slavery, and ancient Sarah with her husband Abraham, and many many descendants, beyond the generation that had just fled slavery and on and on, to many centuries later.
And each one, looking, saw Egypt, Mother Egypt. And Babylon. And Rome. And India, and the Americas, and snowy plains of ice, and rolling oceans.
Saw the intricate web of human settlements, languages, cultures, dances; a hundred thousand foods, herbs, drinks of nourishment and ecstasy, the shimmering touch of hands and thighs and lips in delicate connection.
And the glaring sun. Spinning planets. Whole whirling galaxies.
And blood cells. One tiny red corpuscle. An atom of oxygen within it. Weightless positrons, dancing in nothing.
All the while each one, each "I' seeing, each "I" hearing. Infinite mirror, infinite echo -- echoing a
sound, a word: Anokhi, I.
Time drops away. The past becomes an ever-present present. From all around each "I" and from within each "I," each self hears an overwhelming single word:
It comes like a drumbeat, again again: Anokhi.
This is my “I,” my own self, but there is no “my,” no possessing, no being possessed.
The “I” is the “I” that I am. I speak it, it rolls from my throat, I affirm it, I. Anokhi.
And the “I” is also the entire people. I speak Anokhi also as one voice of all the people. Again again again again, Anokhi. I.
At every moment — there is only one moment — there is I the person, I the people.
And, still in the same moment, the entire universe becomes Anokhi, "I."
My “I” is caught up in the “I” of the universe, the “I” of the universe is caught up in my “I.”
This “I” is all there is; there is no "Thou," no "Other," no verb, no predicate. No past, no future, no present, no tense. Only the subject is the sentence, only “I.”
I see the wilderness, I am the wilderness, the shimmering heat waves rising from its surface are my I, the spirals of time and history, the woven tapestries of art and custom, the patterned laws of science: world upon world, infinity upon infinity, all I.
I see myself, part of an unfathomable Whole, not facing it but integrated in it.
For an instant I am infinitesimal, a tiny rhythmic breathing conscious cell in some vast breathing conscious Ultrahuman.
For an instant, I am infinite, containing in one enormous self all the worlds of fact and meaning.
These instants are themselves a single instant, infinitely unfolding: they last for
just a flashing moment, it stretches out for all eternity.
All time, all space whirls like a Moebius strip through a vast expanse curved in an
unspeakable dimension— while it holds but one surface and one edge.
I tremble, topple, fall to ground that disappears beneath while its textures enter every inch of blazing, open skin.
I am the shaking earth, all my skin is quivering, unending one-great-quivering-shudder
Stop stop how can I stop forget how can forget, I need forget, how can forget
I see too deep, I stand too big, I must forget, how to forget?
Our body quivers; I taste the world, the world is tasting me, is touching all my skin, and inside too: inside our mouths, my belly, every opening filled and every limb outreaching to fill whatever is empty in the world.
Back and forth, I am/ we are All All There Is—Anokhi, "I"—and Everything is all there is, we/ I am part of everything and less than nothing,
Anokhi I a cell of great Anokhi of the world come conscious.
I stand inside God's skull, behind the face; I look out through God's eyes, my face in Face, I see myself, ourself. Anokhi.
And reeling, stunned, I fall, roll, stumble away from the Mirror in the Mountain, I close all eyes and shriek to see that I can still see Everything.
I close our ears, I hear the Voice still ringing in my bones, I back away and try to blot it out, forget. To not be "I" or “we” or any one.
And gradually I can become a separate "thou." Gradually I can/ we can/ you can/ they can begin to hear the "I" expand, contract, become —
"I YHWH your God Who brought you out . . . "
The whole book is available from The Shalom Center by emailing Office@theshalomcenter.org