“The difference between the right word and the almost right word is really a large matter. It’s the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.” (Mark Twain)
A few years back on TV I saw a group of rabbinical students sitting around a table in a room reading from Hebrew holy scripture, aloud. Each seemed to be reading a different passage and so the sound of their reading was an incomprehensible sound between a mumble and a roar. I did not understand what the meaning behind this exercise was, but now I believe I know. I discovered it while reading David Abram’s “The Spell of the Sensuous”, aided by my having briefly studied that language in graduate school. It seems that Hebrew has a single word for both ‘spirit’ and ‘wind’ — the word ‘ruach’. Thus spirit and wind are very closely related in their religion. The very first sentence in the Hebrew Bible, the “Torah”, states:
When God began to create heaven and earth — the earth being unformed and void, with darkness over the surface of the deep and a wind (ruach) from God sweeping over the water. . .
At the very beginning of creation, before even the existence of the earth or the sky, God is present as a wind moving over the waters. This idea exists also among the Navajos, and can be found among other primitive groups as well. And breath. as we learn from the next section of Genesis, is the closest link we have to the divine. For after God forms an earthling (adam) from the dust of the earth (adamah), He blows the breath of life into the earthling’s nostrils and the human being awakens. The Hebrew term for breath of life is not ‘ruach’ but ‘neshamah’, which denotes both breath and the soul, the more personal, individual aspect of wind, the breath. In this sense, it represents conscious awareness. As we find in the Emerald Tablet and also in Meister Eckhardt, “Words derive their power from the Original Word.” (more…)