It was my maiden journey, my first full-blown foray into Israel, into Torah-learning in a proper Seminary. I was post-college, Jewishly unpolished, but with promise…
This particular night was my first bus ride down to the far reaches of Eilat. It was a midnight-on-the-Oasis type of trek through the desert in the darkness. Bumpy as a camel’s back and yet I slept.
Upon arrival I tumbled out of the bus to greet this pristine expanse of fresh black star-specked sea. The Red Sea, Reed Sea, aqua green Sea. Of course all pitch black to me. But entirely alluring, even demanding. After all, I was in my still-rowdy early twenties & it was my custom to throw myself into warm bodies of water on a whim. So I set out straight for the sand. Threw my bags down on the soft shore and entered, simply entered, that epic expanse of water.
Entered like I was Nachshon or Miriam or the fulfillment of some ancient promise. Fully-dressed. Breathless. Careless. Called in. Swimming like a dolphin. Like a child. Pulled into the mother waters. Swallowed by the dark-liquid-everything of that mythic sea. With an overwhelming sense of fearless, teary, well-melted, unity.
A glorious experience to say the least.
But all of this is really just a prelude. The point of this story is not the glorified midnight swim. It was what happened – quietly, dreamily – thereafter….and what that means for all of us who call ourselves students of Torah or pursuers of higher truth.
For later that night, finally settling in to sleep, in the misty space-bar between wakefulness and dream, I heard something. With perfect auditory clarity. Heard a voice. 12-inches above my head. It spoke a word I had never heard. It said, “Tehora“.
“Te-ho-raaah. Wonder what that means?” …as I sank into sleep.
The next morning I shared the experience with my breakfast companions to see if anyone could tell me what this mysterious word could mean.
One particularly scholarly friend blinked at me excitedly and launched in, “Tehora!Tehora is the Hebrew word for pure. You’ve heard of a mikveh right? It’s thecornerstone Jewish ritual of purification…through immersion in water. Just like your midnight swim! When a woman comes out of the waters she becomes officially Tehora– Pure.”
“But there’s more.” He gushed on, “I heard a Kabbalistic teaching from Rav Eliyahu, Chief Sephardi Rabbi of the State of Israel, that when a woman takes a mikveh a Bat Kol – literally a Daughter Voice – comes down from heaven. It calls out audibly above her head that her mikveh was kosher. — Seems to me like you just had your own personal Bat Kol!”
Seriously?! There is a Jewish thing called a Daughter Voice that makes heavenly pronouncements? And I got to hear it? And there were zero drugs involved? And this bat kol thing has been blatantly talked about in our sources for millennia? And why didn’t they teach me this in Hebrew School?!
Surely my Red Sea mikveh was as kosher as they come. Okay, I was fully clothed, but I was utterly, mystically, one with that water. My ignorance of the Hebrew language made it all the more undeniable. This must have been the real deal. And wow, if that was so, and if this is what Judaism is about, then sign me up! Because if there was one thing my long-searching soul wanted it was this – vital, undeniable, encounters with something Divine.
If I could experience a bat kol independent of reading about it in a book, then what of all those other Jewish phenomena, Torah tales, prophecies. What if they were all descriptions of actual factual spiritual realities…simply out of our normal mortal reach? My mind flung open to the swirling possibility that there are endless spiritual ACTUALITIES out there just like this bat kol, and that Judaism could teach me, lead me, breed me, to hear them, learn them, live them.
And yet, when I returned to my seminary classes a few days later, all lit up and turned on, there was little mention of such modern-day mystical occurrences. When my teachers talked about ‘the sources’, the mekorot, they were always referring to wordy descriptors cloistered in ancient books. Not robust living realities available NOW.
I had not shlepped myself across the globe for an intellectual tour through the sources…I had come to Israel to immerse in the Source! I had already paid my dues in academia. I was done with talking about it. I wanted, needed, to live it.
Finally I learned I would just need to carve out my own course in pursuit of such mystic experiences. And that is what I have spent the last 15 years doing, with wondrous results, gifted teachers and many a good conversation with what I can only call a breathing and intimate voice of Hashem.
Now what does this have to do with you…with all of us?
It seems undeniable that we are deep into some frightening, thrilling, paradigm-shifting, times. Times when a new reality seems to be seeping in, shifting the ground beneath our feet. In such unsettling times we can no longer be satisfied simply gleaning from the Tree of Knowledge, the Tree of Someone-Else’s-Knowledge. We need to feast on the Tree of Life, the Tree of OUR Life. And spiritual Judaism teaches us how to do just that.
There are hordes of seekers out there simply famished for the mystic teachings stored neatly away on the outskirts of our tradition. It is possible – I dare say mandatory – that we as a people return to the sources by experiencing the sources first-hand…and by talking about the otherwise secret Jewish sources out-loud.
Enough with Torah-learning relegated to books & surfaces. Our sacred literature gifts us with guidance beyond compare. But let us not confuse the guide book with the journey. Let us not be satisfied studying the map when we could be out there – or rather, in here – exploring the terrain. Let us not educate future generations on the surface of things, but rather let our teachings reach down below the visible audible strata of reality. To the places where bat kols speak.
We have returned to the Land of Israel, to the very soil that sprouts immediate access to Divinity, to vision, to prophecy. It is our task to learn the mystic teachings & to listen intently for the bat kol – the voice of the Divine – in everything; to honor & augment that which we can not plainly hear & see.
So for those of you who have lived moments of mystical truths, by all means, pleasetake the time to talk about them – LOUDLY! These world-shaking experiences need to be upgraded from whispers and wary mysteries to well-articulated realities, shared at our tables, in our seminaries, our families, our Universities. Let the secrets no longer be secreted away. But rather shared and plumbed and pursued doggedly!
And for those of you who have not yet known such first-hand revelations, then please, save your wariness for another day. When you hear others share, listen with curiosity, with awe for the unknown. Perhaps hearing of someone else’s spiritual encounter could be the bat kol intended for your very own ears.
Let us savor each other’s tales of heaven coming home to earth and ear. May these sacred stories be like a bat kol – finally heard and SHARED!