G-d: The Not-thing
Somewhere along the way, you feel as if you’ve misplaced G-d. One day you realize that you haven’t seen G-d in quite a while – maybe not since childhood. And it’s not just that you can’t find G-d – you also seem to have lost your sense of what G-d is…Why did this happen? If you had Him when you were a child, why shouldn’t you have Him now?
You’ve got one clue, but you missed the other. It has to do with your language. Call it “thing-fixation.”
That’s probably the main disaster of your childhood –not being weaned, not leaving behind pampers for underpants, not sitting in a desk in first grade –but when you learned about things.
The entire world has been reduced in our minds to a mass junkyard of thingy stuff. So even G‑d gets defined as a thing… I don’t mean, “you learned about things of the world.” I mean, you learned the idea of things. You learned that the world is made of stuff, objects, material goomp that’s just “out there”. Later in life, you started running after those things, accumulating them, amassing more and more mounds of things to fill your home, your backyard and your driveway. By now, the entire world has been reduced in your mind to nothing but a mass junkyard of thingy stuff. So even G‑d gets defined as a thing –and you’re trying to find the place where He fits. Because, after all, all things fit in places.
When you woke up to life as a small child, it wasn’t like that. There were no things. There was just the experience of being. Of sensing, of living, of breathing and doing. Screaming, nursing, burping. Those were all real. Those are life. Things are not real. Things are fiction. They don’t exist. We made them up.
The Birth of Thinginess
How did things come to be? Here’s my catch on it.
In the beginning, there were no things. All of humankind knew life as does a small child, even as they grew older and wiser. But then someone got it into his head to draw pictures of all the stuff he had. Eventually, pictures became glyphs, a nifty device for esoteric communication. Glyph-lovers–such as the cult-priests of ancient Egypt–created thousands of glyphs to represent all the stuff Pharaoh was accumulating. Soon the idea seeped into the spoken language, as well: the idea of a “thing”–a static snapshot of a distinct whateveritis in a frozen moment of time. Stuff was born. And the world was never again the same.
In Hebrew, verbs rule. Evidence? Because in ancient, biblical Hebrew, there is no word for stuff. Or thing. Or object or anything similar. In raw, primal Hebrew, you don’t say, “Hey, where’s that thing I put over here?” You say, “Where is the desired (chefetz) that I put here?” You don’t say, “What’s that thing?” –you say, “What’s that word?” That’s the closest you can get to the idea of thing: a word. All of reality is made of words. Look in the creation story: The whole of heaven and earth is nothing but words.
In languages like English, nouns are the masters and verbs are their slaves, with adjectives and associated forms dancing about to serve them. In Hebrew, verbs rule. Big, little, wise, foolish, king, priest, eye, ear–all of these sound like things, but in Hebrew they are forms of verbs. In fact, according to Rabbi Yeshayahu Horowitz (1560?-1630), author of the classic Shnei Luchot HaBrit, everything in Hebrew is really a verb. Everything is an event, a happening, a process –flowing, moving, never static. Just like when you were a small child.
In Hebrew, there is not even a present-tense. There are participles, but the idea of a present tense only arose later. In real Hebrew, nothing ever is–all is movement.
That fits, because Hebrew was not written in glyphs. Hebrew was the first language we know of to be written with symbols that represent sounds, not things. With the Hebrew alphabet–the mother of all alphabets–you don’t see things, you see sounds. Even the process of reading is different: when you read glyphs, the order doesn’t matter so much. You just sort of look and everything is there. Even modern Chinese glyphs can be written in any direction. With an alphabet, sequence is everything. Nothing has meaning standing on its own. Everything is in the flow.
Get The Flow
Things are not real. Things are fiction. They don’t exist. We made them up. The flow is real. Things are not real. Ask a physicist: the more we examine stuff–what they call matter–we see that it’s not there. All that’s really there is events: waves, vibrations, fields of energy. Life is a concert, not a museum.
Think of writing music, as opposed to painting a portrait. The portrait artist stands back and beholds his art, his still rendition of a frozen moment–and he beholds it all at once. Then he politely asks his model to please return to the pose of that which has now become the prime reality, the portrait. A portrait of that which is but never was.
A composer of music cannot do this. You can’t freeze a moment of music–it vanishes as soon as you attempt to do such. Like the fictional stuff they call matter: Frozen to absolute zero, without energy, without movement, it no longer exists. Because, in truth, all that exists is the flow of being.
The flow of being: now you have found G‑d. In fact, in Hebrew, that’s His name. G‑d’s name is a series of four letters that express all forms of the verb of all verbs, the verb to be: is, was, being, will be, about to be, causing to be, should be –all of these are in those four letters of G‑d’s name. As G‑d told Moses when he asked for His name, “I will be that which I will be.”
In our modern languages that doesn’t work. We quickly slip into the trap of thingness again. Who is G‑d? We answer, “He is One who was, is and will be.”
There we go with the “thing that is” business again. No, G‑d is not a thing that is or was or will be. G‑d is isness itself. Oy! The frustration of the language. We need new words: Ising. Isness. Isingness. Isifying. Isifier. In Hebrew you can conjugate the verb to be in all these ways and more. Perhaps in English one day we will do the same. Until then, we are like artists using pastels to imitate Rembrandt; like musicians trying to play middle-eastern strains in tempered C Major.
And the proof: We ask questions that make sense only in English, but in Hebrew are plainly absurd. Such as, “Does G‑d exist?” In Hebrew, that’s a tautology, somewhat the equivalent of “Does existence exist?”
There is no need to “believe” in this G‑d–if you know what we are talking about, you just know. You will know, also, that there is nothing else but this G‑d–what is there that stands outside isness?
As for faith and belief, those are reserved for greater things. Like believing that this great Isness that isifies all, that ises cares, knows, has compassion, can be related to. In other words, saying that reality is a caring experience. Which reduces to saying that compassion is real, purpose is real, life is real. That’s something you have to believe. But G‑d’s existence–like most ideas that men argue about–that’s just a matter of semantics.
Think simple: You wake up in the morning and, even before coffee, there is. Reality. Existence. Not “the things that exist” but existence itself. The flow. The infinite flow of light and energy. Of being, of existence. Of is. Think of all that flow of isingness all in a single, perfectly simple point. Get into it, commune with it, speak to it, become one with it –that is G‑d.
By Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
(Read more of Rabbi Freeman’s works at Chabad.org,where this article was originally published.)