Crown of Self

Dear Friends,

Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav, a unique Chassidic mind, a manic-depressive, who taught in wild creative parables, roosters, princes, and magic jackets – today he teaches us about inwardness. As the ancient Hebrew often does, surface language contains a treasure house of meaning. The Hebrew word for inwardness [pnimiut] is drawn from the word for face [panim] – inwardness is your face, all the many faces one can make on the inside. Inwardness – our thoughts, feelings, dreams, the conscious and unconscious mind, the world that belongs uniquely to us as individuals which the world outside can only intuit by our face.

Nachman begins with a wonderful claim, a chain of symbol associations. He says that faith and soul are nearly identical, and that neither are entities that one must accept without substantiation. By exploring our inwardness with intention we can meet our own soulfulness and feel for ourselves the root of faith.

He says that we learn about inwardness from the Ten Commandments, which begin “I am the Lord your God.” Have you ever stopped to ask what it means for God to say “I?” If you’ve made it past spirituality 101, then you’ll know we are not talking about the divine with a subjective ego, like Zeus or Poseidon. What does it mean for the all, the infinite, the vast interconnectedness of the universe to say “I?”

Then Nachman quotes a few tasty sources. The Talmud says that “I [Anokhi]” is an acronym, each letter a word, and it means, “I give you my soul in these words.” The words of the Torah become vessels to contain god’s “I,” god’s being, god’s soul – the words of the Torah, all language, reveals inwardness, just like a face.

The other source is from the Zohar, which reminds us that there are two Hebrew words for “I,” the one we learned already, Anokhi, is the grander form of, Ani, the two words distinguishable only by the letter, kaph [כ]. Why are there two ways to say, “I?” Every time we say “I” or experience ourselves there is a vastness of identity from which we are capable of speaking. There is an identity which some call the ego, and for the most part it reigns over our being. The ego is established by all that we perceive in the world outside. We see a body, waking, walking, eating, communicating with the world – this is the “I” of Ani.

But there is another way to experience the self. What happens when we speak ourselves into being from within? This is the “I” of Anokhi. The world within us is incredibly vast, inwardness ever onward without measure, doorway upon doorway. And all those who have journeyed there before will tell you that the “I” who speaks from that place knows wholeness, fearlessness, and love absolute. Inwardness is the crown of our identity. Who are you? I am father, I am rabbi, I am teacher, I am comforter, I am blessing-maker – but before all of that, I am the thoughts feelings images ideas prayers that compose my being at night like silent music only I can hear.

There is one letter that distinguishes “I” Anokhi [אנכי] from “I” Ani [אני], the vast world between ego and soul marked by the letter kaph [כ], which stands for the symbol of a crown [כתר]. Inwardness is the crown of the self. What is a crown? It is the symbol bestowed upon the one who has made the journey inward. That person has found the inner point where all souls touch, the jewel on her head, an outward sign of what her inwardness contains. It’s written all over her face, yours, mine.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zach Fredman


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