“It was through Torah…that God created the world…Since the power of the Creator remains in the [thing created], Torah is to be found in all things…Since God and Torah are one, the life of God is present in all things…all of Torah is the name of God.” [1]

What does it mean for the Chernobyler Rebbe and others to say that “Torah is the name of God?”

To “name” something means to experience it. 

Sometimes, we hear someone describing a feeling they have that they can’t define clearly. Then, they say, “I can’t put a name on it.” When they have been able to define the feeling, they have “named” it. Much of psychotherapy, for example, can involve “naming” the feelings we’re having, in order to be able to work with them more productively.

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who brought Transcendental Meditation to the West, always emphatically distinguished between “understanding” something (by intellect alone) and “experiencing” it:

“It appears that former commentators exposed the meaning of the [Brahma] sutras mainly in terms of [intellectual] understanding. Therefore, it was vital for the justification of the great knowledge contained in these Sutras that the phase of experience [now] be brought to light.” [2]

Mrs. Tehillah Lichtenstein made the same distinction between mere intellectual understanding and the experience of God to be found in prayer:

“…God cannot be perceived through the mind [i.e. intellect] alone. If you would know God, do not seek merely to prove His existence, but turn to Him with your heart; affirm your union with Him, affirm His responsiveness to prayer, pray to Him. If you actually turn to God and speak to Him in your heart, you will be astonished to find how close He is to you, you will feel His nearness, you will have found God.” [3]

What Maharishi declared regarding commentators on the Brahma (or Vedanta) Sutras is no less true of commentators on Torah. They have almost always emphasized the understanding of Torah — its details, implications, levels of meaning and so on — without providing a way for us to experience Torah. The very phrase “experience Torah” as meaning something other than understanding it would be puzzling, perhaps even suspect, to most people. 

Yet, the Zohar says:

“As soon as the Sefer Torah is placed on the shulchan [reading-desk; which corresponds to the Divine Throne] the whole congregation…should assume an attitude of awe and fear, trembling and quaking, as though they were at that moment standing beneath Mount Sinai..” [4]

“…standing beneath Mount Sinai” means receiving Torah as a direct personal experience:

“The Ishbitzer Rebbe told one of his prize pupils, Reb Zadok HaCohen, after the two met for the first time and engaged in Torah study, that ‘one who studies Torah must feel that he is standing at the foot of Mt Sinai and he is hearing the Torah from the mouth of the All-Powerful One’.” [5

So, we say “B’rich Sh’mei.” “Bless the Name…” when taking the Torah out from the Ark, to say “Bless the Presence of God. Bless the experience of God.”

As relevant as this is to any time that Torah is read publicly — especially on Shabbat — it’s particularly relevant to Shavuot, which commemorates the giving of Torah at Mt. Sinai. 

I would also say that when we learn Torah, even privately, we should not confine our learning to facts and comments about Torah, although there can be great value in that. 

Rather, we should also imagine ourselves being spoken to by God, as if we ourselves were Mosheh on Mount Sinai, receiving Torah at that moment! 

Whatever we are reading on a given day is something through which God is speaking to us personally; individually.

God might be revealing something to you about the text. But God might also use your attention on the text to speak with you about something in your own, personal life. I don’t speak here of any kind of “allegorical” interpretation or clever homily that you can make, like the end of one of Aesop’s fables. I mean that through your attention on Torah, God can speak a truth about yourself to you, much like God spoke to the prophets. 

Learning Torah should open up the experience of God to you.

Hag Shavuot Sameach.

Hag Sameach Sh'vuot

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[1Rabbi Menahem Nahum of Chernobyl; Upright Practices; The Light of the Eyes; Green, Arthur, trans.; Paulist Press; © 1982 (and later); p. 49 & p. 94
[2] Katz, Vernon, ed.; Conversations with Maharishi: Maharishi Mahesh Yogi Speaks about the Full Development of Human Consciousness; vol. I, p. 169-70
[3] Lichtenstein, Tehillah; Applied Judaism, © 1989; “Can We Prove That G-d Exists”; p. 96;
originally part of her essay”How Shall We Find G-d;” Jewish Science Interpreter, June, 1940; p. 4)
[4] Zohar; Vayaquel, p. 206a (Soncino edition, vol.4)
[5] from a Facebook post by Rabbi Sam Intrator of 5/16/18, entitled: “Shavuos With Reb Shlomo [Carlebach] & A Teaching On What A Mt. Sinai Jew Is”