Weekly Kabbalistic Bible Study: CHAOS & DEFINING YOUR REALITY
Shemos, the second book of moses, means “NAMES”. Often times it is translated as Exodus.
In kaballah, there is a verse that’s cited “go out and look/see/examine the wonders of hashem, who has wrought chaos / devestations/emptiness/disordiliness on the earth.” The sages say, do not read “devastation” (chaos), but read “names” [ שְׁמוֹת = shemot = names — change the vowel from tzeri to kametz = shamot: chaos/destruction].
So what does this mean? If you read the text in the actual torah, vowels and cantilation aren’t shown… Because the words in the actual torah do not contain any vowel that the word is bound by, you can easily see multiple meanings of the text by different interpretation… a lot could be said of that. In order to prove that the fundamental reading is “this” and not “that,” the sages must first show that there is a logical link. Lots of depth here.
If you can understand why the fundamental understanding of “who wrought devastation” should be changed to “who wrought NAMES on the earth,” the whole meaning of the the entire book is revealed.
Human beings attach meaning to thinks by the virtue of naming. By naming reality we are CONSTRUCTING reality. For example, without naming the “forest” there is just a random collection of trees, plants, birds, and animals. Imagine reality without the concept of a “germ.”
Right after his creation, Adam was given the task of NAMING creation… defining reality. Adam even goes so far as to NAME GOD: Hashem. Adam names god and we’re taught, thereby, draws god into reality.
The way we typically read the end of the translation of the naming is: whatever Adam called it: that WAS its name. But the LITERAL reading is: whatever adam called it: he IS his name.
The first interpretation is saying that Adam just placed a label on the thing. So he called his dog Joe as opposed to Jim… big deal…
The second understanding is much deeper. It is saying that the name Adam gave was the essence of the thing he named. There are 2 ways of looking at this. One is that he was good at calling things what they were… the other is that he was DEFINING what the thing was. The critical theorists among us can tell us all about that…
In Gammatria: “he is his name” = 318. 318 = Messiach, the golden age of Eden. Messiach can be broken down to: Shame Heim — meaning “the living name.” Hmmm…. !
What is the Messianich era about? it is about the collective evolution of all things — from the mundane to the holy…
There is the physical and spiritual aspect to naming. For example, our physical name can be our taxonomy… or our DNA, which names every cell in our body. The spiritual aspect works backwards — moving from the outward in… Naming something GOOD or BAD can absolutely change what it is. For example, the psychology of marketing is filled with examples of this — changing perception of something into something completely different. How were black pearls, a bomb in the market, finally sold? By being sold at a high rate. How were potatoes adopted by the french peasantry after being mercilessly rejected? They were outlawed and grown only in the royal garden… etc.
One note — when god makes “Adam,” he is naming both Adam and Eve at once. There are many meanings to this. Adama means EARTH, physicality. Edama means “I will BE LIKE / I will resemble” — as one verse says: I will resemble the supernal one.
The fact these two meanings come from the same name means: there is the physical dimension and abstract dimension of our lives.
1: There is a physical element to our lives: we are connected to, dependent, and influenced by physical reality. We need food, air water. There is a law of cause and effect, action/reaction. We have bodies.
2: I can resemble something that isn’t CONCRETE or QUANTIFIABLE. So when we think of abstract reasoning, we’re talking about principles and ideals that may not actually be in front of us: like when someone chooses to turn the other cheek amidst hostility. The fact that someone can pursue abstract ideals despite the profluence of contrary values means that they are able to abstract themselves.
At any given moment it’s our choice to emphasize the Adama (physical reality) or the Edama (spiritual/abstract reality) — the subjective and absolute — or, in other words, the appearance and the essence. We don’t choose what happens to us, we choose how we respond: more like the ANIMAL (Adama) or more like the ANGEL (Edama).
What does this say? A lot can be derived from a name!
If devastation/chaos is one phenomena, shamot (naming) is the opposite. If you want to PREVENT the drive of chaos, NAME your reality… if you want to live fulfilled and experience life on your own terms instead of the world’s: NAME your reality. Either way: name your reality.
In Kabbalah it is said: the first thing that happens when you pass through this reality is you’re asked: What is your name?… or WHO ARE YOU! More on this later.
So now, we look at shemos/exodus side by side. We now see the following: the process of NAMING something is how we transfer it from CHAOS to ORDER.
The first the torah does is name the tribes which all of us come from. We each have the battles we need to face (friendships, financial, enemies, shadows, etc.). The only thing we need to remember is: if you want to transform chaos/dissimilarity into similarity/order, you have to recognize it’s FUNCTION… then you have to name it.
The talmud asks the question: who is a wise person? He who learns from EVERY OTHER PERSON. Keep an open mind, keep a mind open.
The baal shem tov says each and every person is a mirror. If you find something faulty with another person, there is SOME SHADE of that quality in you.
When I engage reality in a reactionary way: WHY ME! WHAT DID I DO! OH NO! Then I’m looking at it more in terms of Shamot: chaotic phenomena. I have no rooting, no trajectories, etc… so me reacting to unrectified reality in terms of “why me” is Shamot….
me reacting to reality in terms of: okay, this has happened — now what? How can I take this as a spring board for higher and higher levels of accomplishment–that’s called NAMING: shemot — the naming phenomena.
Exodus describes the Jewish people’s enslavement in Egypt, receiving the tora…
the whole book describes the Jewish people moving from CHAOS to ORDER… DARKNESS to LIGHT…
even the darkness itself has a NAME — and if I use it correctly I can transform DARKNESS into light…
the only free choice I have is: DO I CHOOSE SHAMOT or SHEMOT: chaos or naming.
Who is the leader of the jewish people? MOSES. When you read it in hebrew backwards, it reads: HASHEM (God)… So this leader of names helps others discover who they are at the core.
when the Rebbe lost his wife he was asked, how do you deal with this pain? He said he could choose to INTERNALIZE it or to EXTERNALIZE it… meaning: he could choose to take that pain in and let it shame, guilt, destroy, and confuse him… or he could use it as a drive to DO GOOD in the world. Shamot, Shemot….
The true goal is discovering WHO and WHAT I am.
There is an ancient Kabbalistic practice of waking up and asking “who am I?” There is a teaching about “nullification” — like with acid and bases, who we are in the world and what the world is a constant interaction with each other. There are MANY circumstances where people in the world have “lost who they are” — either to social pressures, trauma, or education. Because of that they feel NEGATED… they feel empty… lost….
The minute something has a name, however, the Torah says that NOTHING can negate it. As long as you have a name, you cannot be negated. So, the practice goes, no matter how bad things get: remember your name.
This means: CERTAINTY. It means KNOWING who you are… and not letting the world or other people define who you are — to be “existentially titrated” like a acid in a base.
If it’s nameless, it’s amorphous, its intangible. To give something roots and strength and certainty: NAME it. Of course, your essence is nameless… but if you don’t name it here yourself in this reality other people will do it for you — Man, Woman, Joe, Bob, Beautiful, Ugly, Stupid, Talented, Capable, Powerful, Happy, Useless, etc.
The principles from this are: (1) Remember your name! (2) work all day to convert chaos into order. Saying YES. HELPING PEOPLE.See godliness, PURPOSE, in all things.
Thank you Rabbi Gaines for this wonderful lesson!
If you liked this, check out my meditation on certainty
And my last Kabbalistic Bible Study Post: What’s the Deal with Joseph and his Technicolor Coat?