Ten women share a heady excitement this Mother’s Day morning in the Upper West Side home of a friend and I am among them. For the past two years we have been studying Avivah Zornberg’s. Murmuring Deep: Reflections on The Biblical Unconscious. As our completion of the book coincides with Dr Zornberg’s annual U.S. lecture tour, she has agreed to join us for an at-home siyyum or traditional celebration.
For the past two years, we have been on a collective journey; by studying Zornberg together, we have acquired navigation skills. We begin with a query raised by the Biblical text or the fate of a character, we look for clues in language, then bring in a wide scope of traditional commentaries. We overlay it all with an indispensable psychoanalytic lens. Then we redistill the message of the midrash and marvel at the expression of a similar thought somewhere in the repository of world literature. Only it is much more of a freely-associative flow than a precise formula.
If this were but an elegant and intricate exercise of the mind orchestrated by a leading Biblical commentator of our day, it would suffice. But the Zornberg journey has an inescapable personal component. It awakens a parallel inner quest, calling for self exploration, and beckoning the baring of souls. We are a diverse group, but we have bonded through this shared study and now we are welcoming Avivah into our midst.
Our guest settles in a high-backed armchair as a blossom-scented breeze arises from the river. I recall how she once described a blessing as a fragrant aroma, something ethereal and invisible, yet potent like perfume, leaving a trace, capable of shifting dispositions and prompting new awareness. A blessing, like a teaching, is a catalyst of personal refinement. We are, appropriately, in the period of the Omer, leading to Shavuot and revelation.
As requested, we have sent her questions in advance, but she lets us know she prefers to dispense with formal structure. Unmoored, I push the wrong button on my tape recorder leaving us without a historical record. But in keeping with the tone of the day, we have a potpourri of notes, a treasury of murmured insights, an assemblage of shorthand suggestions, the sort of intimated insights and glimpsed gems that always give Zornberg her unique sparkle.
On the eve of the Shavuot holiday when the heavens are auspiciously aligned, I recall how in all that she said there were whispered hints about increasing receptivity. In the season of revelation, she was diffusing infinite longing for a fullness of being. I decant from our notes so that we might share Avivah Zornberg’s teaching along with the blessing blowing on the scented breeze.
Seven Blessings for Shavuot:
Avivah Zornberg learned Torah from her father beginning at a young age. He had two daughters and he taught each of them at home, daily and separately. Share your learning with another, one on one, so she gets to know why she is unique and the many ways in which she is fully human.
God speaks to us through human beings. Therefore there is a great urgency for us to clear out anything that does not allow us to become our truest, most conductive selves. Take a few deep breaths as neshima is the Divine inspiration of the neshama, the soul.
Erotic energy informs and animates everything. Love of another, or of God, love of this life, or of the spiritual life is the remaining adventure. Rapture .. desire.. seduction… all these speak of allowing ourselves to be plucked up and transported somewhere else. Even as things change, let life be informed by desire.
Communication takes place on the unconscious level. This is the realm of the midrash, of disturbance, provocation and ambiguity in the real world. The more we let that in, the richer our lives become and the closer we move to real understanding.
Women reside in the hidden sphere, the realm of soulfulness murmuring deep. The rush to compete out there and the willingness to attune to inwardness… each of these has a different quality. Women would do well to know the difference and move with grace between the two.
To be fully human we have to acknowledge the despair, the terror, the anger, the fear, the resentment of God. Reconciliation arises in stillness, in the nearly inaudible whisper of the heart.
Where might a human being stand? How do we hold the center with so little certainty, so much instability. Where is our platform? In the search for certainty we risk self-deception. Abiding truth comes to us as fragrant whispers, there is no need to proclaim.