“one thing i ask, that i shall seek“
many of you have been saying/singing/praying this fourth verse of Psalm 27 since the beginning of Elul, as have i. and now that we are mid-month, perhaps we can learn something new from this piece. we’ve said already that t’shuvah is a response, return, reintegration, even restoration in our relationship with haShem, and thereby with all that we know here in the realm of yesh, the realm of stuff, as i like to think of it, or as more commonly translated, the realm of something/somethingness. yet the prayer that is Psalm 27 seems to work somewhere between the horrors of yesh (much talk of being surrounded by thugs and other assorted enemies) and the aspiration for its opposite, the realm of calm and no-thing-ness of ayin (the desire to be ‘at home’ with G’d, a place we assume to be empty of thugs and cares, etc.). Psalm 27 is considered to be deeply involved with the realm of t’shuvah, as are the kabbalistic concepts of yesh and ayin.
perhaps we should take a little time with ayin/yesh so as to understand not only the Psalm we pray, but also because the understanding is foundational to t’shuvah in many views. we will keep it simple.
Creation posits somethingness that came out of nothing. this is yesh. it is the world we all seem to think we know and can touch and can share. on the level of human souls, the yesh can be understood as something like self-consciousness of self as an independent, separate thing. the ego, as we know it, is a fixed self-image…and as all fixed things in Creation, can exist only in the past as it flows up to the present moment. the ego is an experience, but not an experiencer per se. ego is not our innate self, but a construct we use in the Creation.
by contrast, ayin is the no-thing-ness that both preceded somethingness and also underlays it in the present moment. ayin is the consciousness of our integral wholeness, our simple being-ness, and our true self, which is completely compised in the Source. to be entirely in the moment is to be in ayin, for the ego of yesh can only ruminate about the present as a sort of shortened past…making a spur of the moment story of the moment. it writes a present that is a projection of predictable future.
ayin is no story. it is silence. it is hearing, but not speaking. ayin holds when we stop being m’daber, the “speaking one”. our ability to hear the Sh’ma’s message relies on our tapping into ayin. so long as the Sh’ma is heard in yesh consciousness, its message is just a puzzle, for in yesh absolute oneness has no standing. so we come up with metacommentary about “listening” and its importance….we call the Shema the “fundamental faith statement of Judaism” and other such prattle. the point of Shema is to simply hear in ayin. all the rest is, as they say, commentary, but it is not worth the study.
only in no-thing-ness can we get to deep levels of t’shuvah as reintegration, retransformation, and thoroughgoing revolution, for in ayin nothing is determined out of the past and nothing is reified for the future. in ayin, one simply is.
but for our purposes, we must understand that ayin is the state in between an old yesh and a new yesh in t’shuvah. it is the primordial state after we have cleared ourselves out of our old ways (past) and have not yet proven forth our new, improved ways (future). we are in between ways of being in the world outside ourselves.
think of it as something like a self-imposed, and much desired time out…or maybe like a catnap that purges what came before it. you know you were in it in part by the sense of disorientation you have as you come out of it, if you will. realizing that change is possible comes in the ayin of t’shuvah.
there is another transformative state that dwells more in the yesh, and that some of you may know well. it is the transitional place called mikvah, the ritual bath in living waters that separates a state of tumah (blockage) from the state of taharah (flow). the time of actual being in the water, letting go of blockage, but before emergence into free flow is no-thing-ness. and it teaches us paradoxically an important idea about directionality in no-thing-ness. as R’ Pearson points out, mikvah shares its root in the word kaveh, “hope” (you hear the root in “haTikvah”). we come out from the living waters of hope into a new state of possibility. hope emerges from the silence…not from the noise of the Creation all about us.
when G’d sought Adam and Chava after they had eaten of the Tree forbidden to them (Genesis 3:9), he called out simply, “where are you”? when we step up to t’shuvah, that is the question we hear from haShem. it is a call to reveal, and a call to ascend, as it is from on high. t’shuvah is our answer
here i am. here am I, with ayin consciousness, PRESENT, ready, accounting for myself before You, Holy Blessed One, ready to walk the Walk beside You.
let’s go back to Psalm 27 now, and that famous 4th verse with which we began, “one thing i ask, that i shall seek”. we seek in the ask. we do not seek in knowing, but in no-knowing. we do not ask in construct or conception, but rather in no-conception.
“and you shall seek haShem from there, and you shall find Him”
the Kotzker interprets this verse (Devarim 4:29) in light of the ayin state of t’shuvah, “the seeking is the finding”. to be in a perpetual state of no-thing-ness is to be in the seeking, it is to be in the hope always….”all the days of my life…to always seek You in every time and place”……..
let’s go out in an alternative translation of Psalm 27:
Yah! You are my light.
You are my savior.
Whom need I dread?
Yah, with you as my strong protector who can make me panic?
When hateful bullies gang up on me, wanting to harass me, to oppress and terrorize me
They are the ones who stumble and fall.
Even if a gang surrounds me my heart is not weakened.
If a battle is joined around me my trust in You is firm.
Only one thing do I ask of You, Yah:
Just this alone do I seek, I want to be at home with you, Yah,
All the days of my life.
I want to delight in seeing You.
Seeing You when I come to visit You in Your temple.
You hide me in your sukkah on a foul day.
You conceal me unseen in Your tent.
You also raise me beyond anyone’s reach
And now, as You have held my head high despite the presence of my powerful foes
I prepare to celebrate and thrill, singing and making music to You, Yah!
Listen, Yah, to the sound of my cry
And, being kind, answer me!
My heart has said, I turn to seek you.
Your presence is what I beg for
Don’t hide Your face from me.
Don’t just put me down, You who have been my helper.
Don’t abandon me, don’t forsake me, God my support.
Though my father and my mother have left me
You, Yah, will hold me securely.
Please teach me Your way.
Teach me Your way and guide me on the straight path.
Discourage those who defame me
Because false witnesses stood up against me belching out violence.
Don’t let me become the victim of my foes.
I wouldn’t have survived
If I hadn’t hoped that I would see, yet,
Your goodness, God, fully alive on earth.
So I tell you, my friends: you too hope to Yah! Be sturdy!
And make strong your heart. And most of all, keep hoping to Yah.