reflection by Dr. Mira Neshama Niculescu
Bereshit. Right there.
The sublime is sometimes in plain sight. In fact, most of the time it is.
This is one of the deepest teachings which we can find in Parashat Bereshit: at the beginning of the second chapter, the verse recounts a second creation narrative of the Human being. Only this time, it doesn’t happen through divine intentions and words. This time, God’s hands get dirty: it is with God’s body, so to speak, that the human being (nefesh) comes to life:
וַיִּ֩יצֶר֩ יְהֹוָ֨ה אֱלֹהִ֜ים אֶת־הָֽאָדָ֗ם עָפָר֙ מִן־הָ֣אֲדָמָ֔ה וַיִּפַּ֥ח בְּאַפָּ֖יו נִשְׁמַ֣ת חַיִּ֑ים וַיְהִ֥י הָֽאָדָ֖ם לְנֶ֥פֶשׁ חַיָּֽה
“And the Lord God formed the human of dust from the ground, and God breathed into its nostrils the soul of life, and the human became a living soul.”
While we tend to look for mystical experiences outside and beyond, they are often waiting for us in plain sight. This is the very reason that too often, we don’t see them, as one of my favorite teachers, Rabbi Alan Lew Z’l says in his version of the story of the treasure “in” the oven.
This verse is reminding us that we can meet the divine right here and right now, within us, with every breath we take.
And it brings us full circle. Towards the end of Parashat Devarim, Moshe was reminding bnei Israel that the divine teaching wasn’t to be sought outside and beyond: “it is very close to you,” “in your mouth, and in your heart”( 30.14).
At the opening of Parashat Bereshit, the torah similarly invites us to turn within, and towards something as simple, obvious and palpable as the breath.
This is what the Midrash, in Bereshit raba (14.9), invites us to see with a play on words:
“kol ha neshama tehalel ya”, kol ha neshima tehalel ya”.
“The whole soul will praise god”: “the whole breath will praise God.”
Every time we breathe mindfully, we come in contact with God. A Mystic’s dream. And it is available not only in the pshat, the surface level of the text, but also in the pshat of our bodies: in our breath. She faithfully stays there, moving in and out through us, inviting us over and over again to experience the most intimate contact with the divine.
May we be blessed to remember this gift, and to (re)connect to it.