The Soul Speaks (from Hymn on the Fate of the Soul)by Nachmanides (Moses ben Nachman)
English version by T. Carmi
Original Language Hebrew
From the very beginning,
before times long past,
I was stored among His hidden treasures.
He had brought me forth from Nothing, but at the end of time
I shall be summoned back before the King.
My life flowed
out of the depth of the spheres
which gave me form and order.
Divine forces shaped me
to be treasured in the chambers of the King.
Then He shined his light
to bring me forth
in hidden well-springs, on the left and on the right.
He made me descend the steps leading down from
the Pool of Shelah to the garden of the King.
|-- from The Penguin Book of Hebrew Verse, Edited by T. Carmi|
There are a few elements that catch my attention in today's poem. First, the references to light. "Then He shined his light / to bring me forth..." Light is one of the primary metaphors in sacred poetry, suggesting the Divine not framed within a mental concept. For genuine mystics, this light is not a mere concept; it is directly experienced.
This sense of light is more than a brightness one might experience on a sunny afternoon. This light is perceived as being a living radiance that permeates everything, everywhere, always. This light is immediately understood to be the true source of all things, the foundation on which the physicality of the material world is built. In other words, it is the light of manifestation and self-awareness. It is through this light that we are "brought forth from Nothing," from the great, still womb of unmanifest potential, into manifest being and self-consciousness.
Light has a particular significance within the esoteric teachings of Kabbalah. The Zohar, one of the central texts of Kabbalah, emphasizes the radiance or splendor of God beyond qualities. The "steps" and "spheres" are references to the Sephirot that form the Kabbalistic Tree of Life, through which the Eternal expresses an array of qualities that connect the transcendent with the manifest.
That final sentence -- "He made me descend the steps leading down from / the Pool of Shelah to the garden of the King." -- What does that mean? This can be understood as the passage from heaven ("the Pool of Shelah") to earth ("the garden of the King"). Once again, the journey of the soul's coming into being.
For some, this notion can feel like one of separation. The soul has left the heavenly and become engaged with the physical. But this vision can offer us more than that. By directly witnessing our shining Origin, we begin to the see the soul as a bridgeway. The individual becomes a channel through which the light and hidden waters pour out into the manifest world. In this way we each can become a humble but conscious participant in the ongoing divine act of creation and harmonizing of the realms.