Last night, after spending the Shabbat with some wonderful friends, I came home, and as I stood outside my home, looking up at the stars, I was suddenly aware of the endless depth of the universe, interrupted only by the sweet scents of the evening air of late spring. Since I have been studying and engaging regularly in meditation over the past year, I stood gazing into the heavens and meditating on the greatness of Yehowah, who created both the wonders of the heavens as well as the beauty of the Earth.
It was at this point, in the stillness of the night, that I came to a very deep realization about the connection between our soul, our breath and the name of Yehowah.
If you have ever studied meditation, you know that most meditative traditions teach that the key to the soul, to the essence inside us, is through the breath. Many traditions teach that by focusing on the breath, one is able to still the endless "chatter" of the mind and enter into the expansive inner space of one's own soul.
Through this inner soul, one can find the path to Yehowah. The inner soul is the place where our essence joins up with the essence of all life, and with the essence of Yehowah. If you concentrate, you can intuitively feel that the place at which your soul "joins" to Yehowah is deep inside yourself. Therefore, wise men of all traditions have taught for millennia that Elohim is not "out there", but rather that the path to Elohim is deep inside ourselves. This inner path is the path to that which is eternal, to that which is outside of space and time, to that part of us that existed before we were born and which will continue to exist after we die.
There are certain moments when we can actually feel our "soul" being stimulated deep inside us. When we hear music that touches our very essence, when we see a sunrise or a sunset of stunning beauty, when we see a child being born, we feel that some part of our soul is being stimulated. If we try to determine the physical location of this stimulation within our bodies, we can describe it is as a place that is "below the breath" or as a place that is "deep in the lungs where the breath dissipates". This is one of the entrances from our physical bodies into the spiritual world, into the place where we connect with every other human being, with every other living creature, with the essence of life itself, and with Yehowah. 1 The next time you are awed by something that touches straight to your soul, try to focus on the physical location of this awe, and become aware that it enters into the depths of your soul through the place that is beyond the breath. Thus, when we witness a vision of beauty or awe, it is said to "take our breath away".
The breath of each and every one of us is ethereal. Like the wind, the breath is both here in the physical world and, at the same time, rarefied, not fully part of the heaviness of the world of matter. The breath is at once material, and at once "spiritual"; it is a link between the physical and the spiritual worlds. This truth is reflected in the Hebrew word רוח (ruach), which means both wind and spirit:
"Oh, Elohim, make them as a rolling wheel, as chaff before the wind (ruach)." [Psalms 83:13]
"And the earth was unformed and void, and darkness was upon the face of the depths, and the spirit (ruach) of Elohim moved over the surface of the waters." [Genesis 1:2]
Just as the word ruach can mean both wind and spirit, so the word נשמה (neshama) can mean both breath and soul.
"Stop regarding man, whose breath (neshama) is in his nostrils, for why should he be esteemed?" [Isaiah 2:22]
"So says the God, Yehowah, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spreads out the earth and that which comes out of it, who gives a soul (neshama) to the people upon it, and a spirit (ruach) to those who walk upon it." [Isaiah 42:5]
Thus, the breath is intimately connected with our essence, with our souls, with our very being alive. This is reflected explicitly in Genesis 2:7, when Elohim creates Man:
"And Yehowah, Elohim, created the Man out of dust from the earth, and blew into his nostrils the breath of life (neshmat hayim), and the Man became a living soul."
Thus, man's unique essence as a creature with an animal-like body and an Elohim-like soul began when Yehowah breathed the first breath of life into Adam. This special breath imparted not just our physical lives unto us, but also our unique human essence, our Elohim-like human soul. When Yehowah breathed into Man the breath of life, He breathed into us a part of His own essence.
Indeed, the breath is the essence of our lives. The very first thing we do when we come out of our mother's womb is take our first breath. (While we were in the womb, our heart was beating and our organs were functioning, but we were not yet breathing; we were surrounded by amniotic fluid and received oxygen through our mother's umbilical cord.) Our life on this earth begins with our first breath.
Likewise, our life continues until our last breath. While most of us, in our busy lives, rarely become aware of it on a conscious level, our bodies are constantly breathing in and out, in and out, for as long as we are alive. This continues until the day we exhale our last breath, our last day on this earth. When we breathe out our last breath of air, we leave this world of space and time and return to Yehowah.
Yehowah, the name of Elohim, like the ruach (wind and spirit) and like the neshama (breath and soul), is at once of this world and at once of the world of spirit. Like the breath, the name of Yehowah is a link between the physical and spiritual worlds. This is reflected directly in the letters of the name: "Yod", "Heh" and "Waw" (Y,H,W) are all quasi-vowels (almost vowels), they are formed by the almost unobstructed flow of the breath. They are wind. They are breath. This is as opposed to true consonants such as D, K, or V which are created by obstruction of the flow of the breath. The consonants are "heavy" and "worldly", while the quasi-vowels are ethereal; they are both wind and spirit.
The same can be said of the name "Ehyeh" (אהיה), which is mentioned together with the name Yehowah in Exodus 3:14-15. "Ehyeh", too, consists completely of quasi-vowels, of wind, of breath. (Say it and you will see.) Both the name "Ehyeh" and the name "Yehowah" are related to the verb היה (Haya), which means "to be". Thus, when Moshe asks Elohim what His name is, He responds "I am what I am" (אהיה אשר אהיה). The verb "Haya" also consists only of quasi-vowels, of wind. The lesson here is very profound: our existence is at once in the physical world, real; and at the same time it is in the spiritual world, an illusion. We are at once here, and yet not really here at all; we are ethereal, spiritual beings encased in a human body, passing through space and time, but (when we die) we may realize that our life was a sort of dream after all.
So, as I stood meditating on the stars last night, the deep realization that I came to was the relationship between our breath and the name of Yehowah. And the realization is this: every breath we take is the word "Yehowah". If you open your lips slightly, sit up straight and breathe in and out deeply through your mouth, you will notice that with each full cycle of breath, the word you are saying is "Yehowah".
Our breath consists of three parts. The first is when air is drawn in through the mouth. The lips are slightly puckered and the air flow is slightly constricted. The sound that is naturally created by this stage of the breath is "Ye". (Try it and you will see.) After the initial flow of air is drawn in through the mouth, the second stage of the breath is characterized by a lowering of the diaphragm and an expansion of the lungs. The sound naturally created by this stage is "Ho". Finally, once the lungs reach maximum expansion, exhalation commences. The sound naturally created by this stage is "Wa".
Each of the above stages can be further divided into two parts. There is an initial thrust of air which constitutes the quasi-vowel or first part (Y,H,W), and this is followed by a completely unobstructed flow of air which constitutes the vowel or second part (e,o,a). So, in the first stage of the breath, the lips are puckered at the beginning making the Y sound, and then after the initial intake of air they open a bit to make the sound of the soft vowel e. Together, they make the sound "Ye". Likewise for the other two stages, "Ho" and "Wa".
Yehowah is in our every breath. Yehowah is our every breath. The name of Yehowah is the "breath of life" that was breathed into us when He created Man (Genesis 2:7); Yehowah is the first thing we say when we are born, Yehowah is the last thing we say as we die. And, if we will only listen to it, Yehowah is that which we say every moment of every day of our lives as we breathe in and out, in and out.
Some day, each and every one of us will be lying on our death beds. As the world around us fades away into the illusion that it always was, as all our petty loves and hatreds and all our petty arguments are revealed to be the הבל הבלים, vanity of vanities (literally, "wind of winds" 2) they always were, as we unravel back into ourselves as the day we were born; when all we have left in this world is our last breaths, then we will realize that all our lives have been about, all they ever were about, was right there in our breath all along: Yehowah. The rest was vanity of vanities, wind of winds -- fleeting, uncatchable, here one moment gone the next. It is at that moment, in our final breath, that we will gain true wisdom. 3
"Then the loves [of the dead], and their hates, and their jealousies are gone, and [the dead] no longer have any portion in all that is done under the sun." [Ecclesiastes 9:6]
"The conclusion, when all has been heard, is, fear Elohim and keep his commandments, for this is the whole Man." [Ecclesiastes 12:13]
We do not need to wait until our last breaths to gain some portion in this wisdom. The breath is a key that we can access at any time and any place. At any moment of the day or night, you can focus on one deep breath and realize that, as you breathe in and out, you are saying the name of Yehowah. This instantly connects us back to the first breath we ever took when we were born, and ahead to the last breath we will ever take when we die.
And this connects us to the eternal essence that is inside us, to that part of us that remains somehow unchanged, despite all the changes that have taken place and that will take place in our bodies and around us in our lives. Through all the (mostly meaningless) trials and tribulations that we go through in this life, the undercurrent of the breath is always there: quiet, steady, consistent, waiting to be heard if only we will listen to it. By focusing on the breath, we can connect to our eternal essence, and we can connect the present moment to our beginning and to our end. Ironically, by doing this, time and space collapse into the current moment and we can travel laterally out of the current moment into the timeless realm of the spirit, the realm of the eternal essence inside us. This is the path to Yehowah. 4
Our entire life, if we become consciously aware of it, is the constant breathing in and out of the name of Yehowah. If all else were to be taken away from us -- our money, our sight, our limbs; if we were to be locked up in a dungeon in the dark, we would still have the consciousness of our breath, we would still have the consciousness of our living essence, we would still have consciousness of Yehowah; As long as we breathe, we are alive! Our breath and therefore the essence of our lives is something that no other human being can ever take away from us, until the time when Yehowah allows us to breathe our last breath, and then He gathers us back into Him.
The more you become aware of your breath throughout the day, the more you will be able to connect to your own self and to Yehowah, and the more you will be able to remain centered and balanced in all that you do in life. 5 I recommend the following: As you go through your day, stop every so often, take one conscious deep breath, and be aware that as you breathe in and out, you are saying the name of Yehowah. Instantly, you will be transformed away from the distractions of life back to your center, back to your soul, back to Yehowah. You can start this right now, this moment, and you can do it anytime, anywhere, whenever you want to or need to, whether in the car, in the doctor's waiting room, or lying in bed at night. Nobody else even has to know what you are doing. I recommend doing this ten times per day. It will change your life.
I would like to end with a quote from Proverbs 20:27, which sums up beautifully many of the ideas we have spoken about here:
"The breath of Man is a candle of Yehowah. [Through it], one can seek out all the hidden quarters in [the depths of] one's belly."
Note that the "depths of one's belly" is precisely the same place we mentioned above, the place below the breath where the breath dissipates into the soul.
May Yehowah Bless You Greatly in All That You Do,
Melech ben Ya'aqov
2"Hevel Hevalim" literally means "wind of winds". (See Isaiah 57:13 for a proof verse that הבל [hevel] means wind.) Once again, we see the theme of wind! Our entire life is revealed to be a "vanity of vanities", a "wind of winds"; it seems real, but it, and all that which we thought was so important at the time, vanishes like the wind; was it ever really there to begin with? What is real and what is an illusion? What parts of our life are truly important and what parts are ultimately not important? When we die, what parts of our lives do we take away from this world of space and time into the realm outside of space and time? Certainly not our money, nor our physical possessions. The answer: only those things which we can transfer back from this physical world to our eternal soul while we are alive, because only our soul essence lives on after we die. Therefore, the true purpose of our lives becomes clear: We are to use space and time and the physical world to transfer back to our soul as much as we can while we are alive, while we have the power to do so. What things can be transferred back to our soul? Attributes of kindness, compassion, mercy, wisdom, love. So the purpose of our lives is to do things which build and strengthen these attributes in our soul, and this is what we take to the other world as our eternal possessions when we leave this world.
3For advanced thinkers only: This specific point of entrance to the soul is between the "o" and the "W" of Yehowah's name in the breathing cycle. Specifically, it is at the infinitesimal pause between the end of inhalation and the beginning of exhalation. This is precisely the same place in the body that is felt when the soul is stimulated, when one's "breath is taken away". This point of entrance is equivalent to the gap between positive infinity and negative infinity, which is another entrance out of the physical world into the world of the eternal. By contrast, the space between the end of Yehowah's name and the beginning of the next breath of His name is equivalent to crossing zero from the negative numbers to the positive numbers. Unlike the first case, there is no discontinuity here, just a palpable, understandable, and measurable pause.
4This is the reason that when we become nervous or off-center, we are told, even in popular culture, to "take a deep breath and relax."
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