The bible isn’t just a history book, although it seems to describe events that happened in the past. It isn’t just a geographical book although it mentions names or places, rivers and mountains, cities and prairies which also appear on our world maps. Last but not least, the bible isn’t just a novel or poetry book, although some might say that in it we find some of the best poetry humanity has ever conceived.
So what is the bible? According to the ancient Hebrew sages, legends and lore, it’s a road map for the human soul that travels through time and space of “this world” (in Hebrew: “olam ha-zeh”), this limited world which we can hear, see, smell and touch – and which to some of us is all there is. It’s this world where trees, birds, fishes, people and even planets have an expiry date, a world that constantly changes its form, from winter to spring, summer to fall, where water turns into ice, ice into water and water into steam.
Why do humans need a road map for traveling through this world one might ask? And the answer is simple, because whenever we go to a place which is not familiar to us, we use a map – to visit friends in a foreign county, to reach a wedding on time, to find an administrative office and so on. But why do the ancient Hebrew sources claim that this world, the one measured and cartographed by countless maps and satellites is not known to us?
What mysteries remain when we can type in everything we want to know into a search engine? Science has shone a light on many areas that were previously dark, and it has brought great progress and convenience to humanity. So it’s only natural to assume that – in due time – everything else as well will be clarified and measured, ripe for the picking.
That’s how we look at the world when the physical universe is our furthest horizon. But what if a person suddenly remembers – whether through a strange turn of events, a sudden tragedy, adventures in love and longing, or just a silent feeling, like a soft knocking on consciousness’ door, that not long ago he was part of something bigger than himself, and that what he experiences now in many ways is achingly narrow and limited.
Thus, for example, when the bible talks about the world of Egypt (in Hebrew: “mitz-raim” from “zar” – narrow, suffering, form) it doesn’t actually refer to a physical place, but first and foremost to this feeling of the soul being locked in the material world, where the human spirit is enslaved to the laws of time and space.
Now, when a person suddenly remembers where he comes from – even if this remembrance appears in his life like a great restlessness or suffering, because the true source of this feeling is still unbeknownst to him – and he starts looking for a way out of this narroness, he will definitely need a road map, because this life in the form, in “Egypt”, is so different from that greater freedom and unity his soul is longing for.
And it is at that point when the bible becomes more than just a book for academic purposes or pietous hours, because it shows the wondrous ways in which spirit became entangled in the material world and how it can become liberated once again.
And from this new perspective, all the stories, characters and stations of the bible begin to chart the epic journey of the human soul from eternity to this world and back again. It is at that point that the biblical events don’t seem that disconnected anymore – we don’t have to invent different authors and historical periods to account for all the wildly different storytelling styles and settings – because it all refers to the same journey: the movements through the six days of creations, its experience in the big flood, the voyage from Ur-Kasdim, out of Nimrod’s fire into Haran, and walking to the land that will be shown (later known as the land of Israel), and so on.
So as an example, let’s just look at this episode with Abraham and king Nimrod for a second. In this case the human soul appears in the name of Abraham (from Hebrew: Avram, from “Av” – father, “ram” – high, .i.e. his “father”, his “source” is the Higher). Since the soul has the element of grace which in nature appears as water, King Nimrod wants to erase Abraham in the fire, so that the element of grace will cease to exist. And yet, somehow Abraham manages to escape the inferno of king Nimrod and goes out to Haran, to a place where the element of anger is governing (Haran, from Hebrew “charan” – anger, is a place where everything is burning). There, in in this strange land, God says to Abraham: “Go from your country, your homeland and your father’s house to the land I will show you.”
Now, this dialogue where the divine is talking to Avram, is actually constantly taking place within every human being. It’s the divine constantly “talking” – not necessarily in words, but in feelings, thoughts and moods – telling us, to go out from our country (in Hebrew: “eretz” – land, from “ratzon” – will, desire), our homeland (in Hebrew: “moledet” – birthplace, i.e. the circumstances of our life story, the narrative we tell ourselves about ourselves) and from the home of our father (our body and physical conditions and appearance) and then comes the big promise: “I shall make you a great powerful people”. This means that when all the different parts of the body are aligned with the potential of the soul, a person receives a new sense of purpose and meaning because the source of his motivation is not derived from the material, limited world anymore but from the Eternal. And this is why the divine speaks to Avram, speaks to us constantly, not just in the past, but in every single moment, extending an open invitation to embark on this magnificent human journey.