Shabbat HaGadol the Shabbat Before Passover “Redeeming Dibbur” 2023
One of the core themes of Passover is liberation from exile, especially the liberation of the Israelites from exile in Egypt. The masters of Kabbalistic and Hasidic teachings saw the this-worldly exile of the Israelites from Egypt as symbolizing the redemption of the divine word that is in exile.
In the spiritual psychology of the Kabbalah, the “Kol,” the “Voice of the Divine,”
is at the heart of the system of the 10 Emanations that symbolize the mind of God. In the Kabbalah, the Voice of God is a completely mystical idea. The Voice of God in the Kabbalah refers to the Voice of Torah, the meaning of Torah, before it becomes a text.
Hasidic psychology takes Kabbalistic ideas and directs them toward the human being. What does this idea of the “Voice of God” or the “Voice of Torah” mean for the inner life of the human being?
The Voice of God within does not mean a voice that one hears or the things we say. The Kol does not even refer to the meanings behind our words. Think of the number of times you said exactly what you meant to say, but then as a way of retracting you say, “I didn’t mean to say that.”
To be more precise, you could say, “I meant exactly what I said but I should not have even meant that, and therefore should not have said it.” In this preamble to an apology, we become aware that we are not just apologizing for what we said, but also the thoughts behind what we said.
We know that our thoughts can go wrong, and therefore our meanings can go wrong, and therefore the words that we say can go very wrong.
This is a small part of what the spiritual masters meant when they said that just as the word of God was in exile in Egypt, the word of God was in exile in each of us. The spiritual masters of Judaism often use the term “dibbur” when they speak about the word of God in exile. The “dibbur” can be understood as an intermediary between divine consciousness and our consciousness. But the dibbur can be hijacked, imprisoned, enslaved.
Arthur Koestler captures the idea brilliantly in his Darkness at Noon (from Job 5:14, “They encounter darkness by day and grope at noon, as if it were the night.”) Koestler writes from the perspective of an accused staunch Communist party loyalist, apparently during the Stalinist purges of the late 1930’s. The accusations are fabrications. In his interrogations, language is completely inverted. He must confess to falsehood. Everyone knows it’s false. No matter.
A grim Stalinist era joke comes to mind. A prison guard in Siberia asks an inmate what he’s in for. “Serving 20 years, for absolutely nothing.” The guard says, “Let me investigate that for you. ‘Absolutely nothing’ usually gets you only 15 years.” The theme is sharpened by George Orwell’s 1984, and many other masterpieces. We know this: the first thing that ideological tyrants do is pervert the meaning of words. Regular tyrants want power over what you do. The thought police want power over your words, so that eventually words will mean what the thought police and inverters of language will say they mean. Eventually they have power over your thoughts.
Recall Alice’s conversation with Humpty-Dumpty in Through the Looking Glass: “‘When I use a word,’ Humpty-Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.’
‘The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’
‘The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master—that’s all.'”
Holy Words, such as Love, Justice, Truth and Beauty, are uttered by the Heart of the Universe into human consciousness through the agency of the “dibbur” – the intermediary that translates God’s meaning into our meaning. When we speak authentically, we speak those meanings. These words don’t mean what we want them to mean. Holy words arrived with meaning. Holy words are rooted in pure Divine thought. The words are emanated into the filter of human consciousness. Our work is to form our speech, as much as possible, as an image and likeness of the Divine.
From an inner life perspective, there are destructive forces within us that want to vitiate the meaning of Holy Words and replace them with our own fabrications. The Yetzer Ha-Ra becomes the master. The Yetzer HaRa has its own thought police.
I think it terrified the Hasidic masters to contemplate the idea that the problem is not just how we behave and how we speak, how we think and what we mean. The problem is rooted in the substratum under all meaning, a substratum imprisoned in a darkness at noon.
In their moments seeing into the shadow, the Hasidic masters saw through the darkness at noon. They could see the dibbur imprisoned in an exile, a wasteland of semantic inversion. For the Hasidic masters Passover was, at its core, about redeeming the dibbur from exile.
The dibbur is in exile in each one of us. Passover is a yearly reminder that there is a darkness at noon in each of us yearning to be redeemed with the light of God.