The Laziness of Lovers

קוֹל דּוֹדִי דוֹפֵק

At first blush the Song of Songs is an unlikely candidate for inclusion in the biblical canon. An apparently secular narrative poem, it describes the love between a man and a young woman living in ancient Judea, in and around Jerusalem. The language is sensual and boldly erotic, while the story-line mingles moments of passionate yearning and tender consummation with episodes of sharp grief at loss and separation. There is no explicit mention of God, Torah, or of religious rituals, Jewish or other.

Nevertheless it was recognized as a sacred text, and interpreted as an allegory of the mutual love between the seeker (either the group, Israel, or the individual) and the Divine. Some mystically inclined commentators understood the depiction of physical desire as a metaphor, a guidebook for the Journey to the ultimate Encounter, that of soul with Spirit. The surges of enthusiasm and the unexplained hesitations of the protagonists thus serve as warning markers and  good signposts.

Look, for example, at Chapter Five. The female character is lying on her couch, half asleep, day-dreaming about her most recent tryst, and wondering about the next, when she is awakened by a call.

“The voice of my beloved beckons … His hand is at the door latch… But I have already disrobed, should I put on my gown again? And I have taken off my sandals, should I soil my feet.”

She lingers lazily, and by the time she reaches the door, the loved one has disappeared into the night.

O H’, if ever again we hear that beckoning voice, if ever again you do call, may we break free from the sloth of self involvement and rush joyously into Your embrace.

@2012 Jonathan Omer-Man

Follow the Faint Traces

אוֹר זָרֻעַ לַצַּדִּיק
“The light that is sown for the seeker”

The Primal Utterance, “Let there be light,”  precedes all. Even before there was time, with its evenings and its mornings, its first days and its second days, there was light.

This first light is not the same as that of the sun and the moon, which were created only on the fourth day.  Those great luminaries are ever in flux, and with their waxing and waning they make possible days and nights and the sequence of seasons; the blazing golden rays of the one sustain all life on earth, the pale silvery reflections of the other provide the stuff of dreams and pull at many tides.

This light of the first day is constant, unchanging and trustworthy. It can guide us on our path to alignment, but its traces are subtle and faint, and are often obscured in the bright business of our lives.

Help us, H’, that we may discern that hidden light.

@2012 Jonathan Omer-Man

Too Sacred to Sing

אֲסַפְּרָה כְבוֹדְךָ וְלֹא רְאִיתִֽיךָ, אֲדַמְּךָ אֲכַנְּךָ וְלֹא יְדַעְתִּֽיךָ


“I shall describe your Glory, though  I have not seen You; I shall envisage your Face, I shall name your Name, though I know You not.”

There is an imagination, call it fancy, or fantasy, that looks inward, like a mirror, delighting in the unreal fabrications of its own psyche; there is an imagination, call it inventive, that turns outward, to the uncreated new, to the world of the potential, toward that which can perhaps be real; and there is an imagination, call it sacred, that seeks to peer through the veils between the known and the Unknowable, that attempts to draw close to that which is truly Real.

The saintly rabbi Judah of Regensburg, whose mystical words are quoted above, did not strive to compose a beautiful hymn depicting a private vision of the celestial spheres; he did not seek to build great theological systems for others to study in generations to come. But he did see the Glory, did name the Name, and of the Nothing that lies beyond he did not speak.

Let us honor his reticence and ponder on his words in silence.

@2012 Jonathan Omer-Man


That Very Narrow Bridge

“This life’s journey is like crossing a very narrow bridge; the main thing is not to give in to fear.”

Rabbi Nachman of Breslov

The bridge in that well-known hasidic song is not a wooden stucture mounted on a trestle a few inches above the ground, a plank from which any fall would be gentle and uneventful. It is more like a catwalk suspended precariously high over a windy abyss, whose distant depths are occasionally visible but more often shrouded in gloom or fog,

Rabbi Nachman is not saying that the terror below is not real — he knows that it is, and that it is palpable — but rather that there is security in holding firmly onto the handrail of faith.

The abyss is radical doubt, despair in divine providence. The bridge is certainty, trust in divine goodness and truth; it is a pathway to the Infinite.

When abyss and bridge are no longer two, but one, there is no abyss, there is no bridge, and life’s journey is a broad highway to the One.

Give us the courage, H’, to look into the darkness, to find You in your absence. Show us there a radiance that is brighter than a thousand suns.

לֹא-תִירָא, מִפַּחַד לָיְלָה;    מֵחֵץ, יָעוּף יוֹמָם

@2012 Jonathan Omer-Man



In Praise of Lingering

There are those who choose to linger in prayer, to break free from the pacing of public liturgy with its many chants and hymns. They will remain with a single blessing, phrase, word, or even a solitary syllable, embracing it, caressing it with tongue, clinging with soul to its inner lights, merging with it in joyous, silent song. These may prolong the ba- of barukh till the end of the last Amen.

Concerning these the Pious one said: “People do not pray to God. Prayer is God.”

And there are those who need to pause during the study of sacred text, to break free from the tempo of turning pages and the quick, dialogic to-and-fro of  academies. They will reflect lovingly and slowly on the holy script till “reader, reading and written are one.” These may still ponder on the appropriate timing of the evening Shma’ while their companions are debating the impurities that attach to honeycombs.

 Concerning these the Mystic hinted: “The Holy One, Torah and Israel are One.”

And there are those who without sound will call upon H’s holy name again and again and again.

Concerning these the Psalmist exclaimed: “I shall sing to your name Most High.”

@2012 Jonathan Omer-Man

Headstart (Prayer)

וּמֵחָכְמָתְךָ, אֵל עֶלְיוֹן, תַּאֲצִיל עָלַי, וּמִבִּינָתְךָ תְּבִינֵֽנִי, וּבְחַסְדְּךָ תַּגְדִּיל עָלַי, וּבִגְבוּרָתְךָ תַּצְמִית אוֹיְבַי וְקָמַי

“Shine your Mind into my mind, H’ Most High, imbue me with your Wisdom, invest me with your Virtue, provision me with your Power.”

(free translation of an intention on donning phylacteries)


Before mind is filled with self, may we be empty vessels for your Light.

Before tongue begins to explain, may we be empty vessels for your Truth.

Before right arm flexes in zeal, may we be empty vessels for your Grace.

Before left hand clenches fist in anger, may we be empty vessels for your Justice.

Before heart is darkened by despair, may we be empty vessels for your Love.

וְאֵרַשְׂתִּיךְ לִי בֶּאֱמוּנָה, וְיָדַֽעַתְּ אֶת יְיָ

@2012 Jonathan Omer-Man

A Minor Earthquake in Berkeley

ברוך מחיה המתים                                                                      ברוך שכוחו גבורתו מלא עולם

One evening last week, while I was at home dining with friends, the earth beneath us trembled, sharply, and I knew then the Terror and the Dread.  I died a little death. Though I did say yes, yes to your Strength and your Power,  I was not ready, H’, to stand naked before your Presence..

Within two or three seconds it was all over. “An earthquake,” we said nervously, “a small one, but very close.” We had a drink, and ended the evening together in closer companionship.

Praise be to H’, overturner of mountains, whose dread finger touched me!

Praise be to H’, raiser of the dead, whose sweet breath revived me!

Praise be to H’!

This Year’s (Heretical) Passover Greeting

May this Passover mark a season in which we not only leave behind our slavery but actively strive to forget it, shed its scars, erase memories of wounds real and imaginary,

let us tell no stories of personal griefs or tribal nightmares,

let us greet this day unencumbered by past burdens and future plans, remembering only:
This very day did Yah create, rejoice in it!

and let us eradicate from our Haggadah the passage, “In every generation they rise up to destroy us.”


!חג שמח

Online viewing of “Mystical Experience” Panel

Many correspondents reported difficulties receiving the broadcast of “The Mystical Experience,” a panel discussion on the nature of mysticism in which I participate together with Brother David Steindl-Rast and Maata Lynn Barron. It can now be viewed online.

If you do not have time or patience to spend an hour looking at the whole program, here are some interesting clips: Illusory God; Questioning the Mystical Experience; and The Mystical Experience & the Sacred Use of Drugs.

After viewing, you are invited to share your thoughts and observations under “Leave a comment” below.