“Faith & Utterances 2 – One Ark” by Archpriest Alexander A. Winogradsky Frenkel (Patriarchate of Jerusalem)
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Could we speak of unique memory and mesmerizing consciousness that has been passed down through the generations from ancient times, from the time when there was a longing for unity? 

 Such a unity today seems unreal in the world of our generation but remains an idea stored inside of ourselves since its initial creation.

We should be obsessed with reaching, returning to unity, unification, reunion, and reunification in utopian processes, even while reality shows breaches, splits, rejections of souls and dangerous absence of tolerance between nations, citizens, all peoples.

The Jewish calendar in September entered the year 5780, switching the Hebrew decade from the seventies to the eighties. Jewish tradition will reach out to the Nations during the 58th century of their calendar that is based on the Sumerian calculation of ages and times.

In the Hebrew tradition of Gematria–interpretation of the alphabet–the letter “ayin/עין”  symbolizes “Seventy – ע. It is linked to the concept of the seventy nations that existed by the time of the Tower of Babel. The Jewish calendar just finished a decade of the seventies. Now we are in the new decade of the “Eighties – פ”. The number eighty in Gematria is called the letter “peh”. It is written ” פ ” in Hebrew and ” ܦ ” in Aramaic (Serto chart). In Hebrew, it is connected to the two-consonant radical “Peh/פה = Mouth”.

In Hebrew, “peh” refers to an aperture, an orifice, a hole that is here and/or there, location, compact and precise. It is of course also “mouth,” as the word is most commonly used today, but also because the word opens the possibility of speech (Hullin 142a). The mouth suggests physical and technical capacities to speak and utter sounds. As said: “On can speak in one way through the mouth and in another way through the heart” (Pesachim 113b). The heart is the other place where sounds are expressed by ideas, concepts, meditation, emotional life, mental awareness and reflection, creativity.

The Talmud has more: the opposition between “written things” and those “said by the mouth” as “Written things must not be recited from memory, verbally transmitted words (al peh/על פה) must not be recited from writing” (Gittin 72b ss.). Thus, the Oral Law that obligatorily accompanies the Written Law or texts of the legible Biblical corpus is “Torah shebe’al peh/תורה שבעל פה- שבעל”פ” – the Oral, Verbally uttered, memorized and transmitted, living and life-giving Law” (Ketubot I,6).

It should be noted that the interpretation of the Hebrew word “peh” does not refer to any legal or jurisdictional aspect.

The interpretation, born in Jewish tradition, focuses on an educational, birthing process and body of utterances. It is a corpus, which can refer to the body or a mass, or a collection of words or phrases or writings. The mouth–or its utterances–should be driven to teach how to transmit a vigorous and transgenerational “élan vital,” a vital force of life: רוק ביתך הפה = the spittle in the mouth is a euphemism for the blood in the orifice of the matrix” (Niddah 16b). The “mouth”, in this sense, depicts either the orifice that shelter the tongue and/or the orifice that allows birthing, both realities being considered as parallel and implement the process of life.

We are in dire times of fractures between people and nations. We can use this time for startups, for new ways of creations and communications, networks, connections, ideas, intuitions, to transmit love of the other, unity, instead of division.

Oneness is the goal and the dream, against the backdrop of broken flashes of life force split from their source and in search of wholeness, identity.

The wordד oneness “echad/אחד and “etzem/עצם comes from the radical word, “sameness”. But obviously no person can be “the same” as anyone else. In our generation, we can also say that the adjective “same” can describe moral opinion or conduct or immoral behaviors, according to changing ethical views.

Genesis relates to the concept of sameness, oneness. 

The first day of creation is not “first” in the Hebrew text. It is the “yom echad/יום אחד” = “Day one”. Not “one day”, not the en-tête, initial day, principal day”. It is a full, plenty, mature and unique day. It is the sole, singled-out day. Singled-out, extraordinary and only day in its plenitude. It is quite amazing that the expression of oneness stands out in the text.

Day One means that there was only one commencement – not a beginning but THAT the work of creation was launched only once. From nil to being, the “at the head of the line” process, as the Hebrew and the Aramaic Onkelos translation (targum) suggest, there was only one step from the Creator to the shaping of the galaxies. Creation had one specific initial target date that introduces the essence of being, substance, chronology and history.

The second occurrence of the word “unique”, “special”, “one”, or “single,” relates to the linguistic pre-Flood idyllic situation. The Biblical account states in the first verse of chapter Genesis (11:1):

וַיְהִי כָל-הָאָרֶץ, שָׂפָה אֶחָת, וּדְבָרִים, אֲחָדִים. 1 And the whole earth was of one language and of one speech.

This passage deals with “language” and “words, utterances, sayings, spoken objects/subjects that were one, specific and unique, a plural reality. It also suggests unity.

There is no need to focus on “devarim/דברים” that in this case seems to mean “words”. Devarim can also have other implications. But it here refers to audible or legible units of communication, including all words, single or several in a row. 

Hebrew defines “word” as being as substantial as a “tool, an object = davar/דבר is. Before technology allowed us to record a voice, a sound was substantial, but apparently remained immaterial. In the Semitic traditions and reflections, sounds are material, real, physically present and they are stored both in memories and in a cache or a storage in our brains, bodies or souls that we can hardly fathom.

The point is that these words are mentioned as being “akhadim/אחדים”. Akhadim means “a few” but is based on the word for “one.” The translations suggest that there was only one speech. True, it deals with speech but also underscores that the words that composed the one language were not only one, but unique in a plural way. This draws our attention to the fact that the “language is a “safah/שפה”, i.e. a tool expressed by the “lips” as in the saying: “His lips should cleave to each other = he must not greet or answer greeting” (Moed Katon 15a). In specific contexts, the mouth should keep closed or, on the contrary, the lips may move because of the need to greet. It refers to greeting as a sign of peace and blessing from High.

The mouth is defined as being the main expressive aperture and the lips are described as  binding the sounds together into a coherent set of utterances that can be heard and then understood, or accepted as making sense. The speech was thus unique because of the sounds and the etymology. This readily built a logical, consistent and intelligible discourse that linked the Master of the universe with His creatures and human beings as a particular lineage in the development of His work. It also linked human beings with each other.

A unique language here does not focus on the specificity of human speech. But it was easy to understand the environment as centered on humankind and the mystery of its shaping.

Uniqueness is connected with the exceptional aspect of the Divine Author of life who created all human beings “betzalmo/בצלמו in God’s image. God shaped the human body with  brains, mind, body, soul, mouth and lips that allow reaching out to “the other” with true dialogue.

It is impossible to trace back the unique sounds of the original speech that once allowed the people to communicate.

Obviously, TV, computers, media, social media and DVD’s did not exist. But the design of a growing set of patterns in the creation and development of communication was already included in the instruments of human capacities.

The technical aspect of speech is usually absent from our reflection. Sounds are produced by a stunning phenomenon. This is due to the structure of or our skeletons, which with muscles and organs and body parts and our brains, gives us the capacity to stand, walk, move, look around, perceive objects and subjects, i.e. our fellow men and women, our fellow humans. Speech is not only related to sounds. Speech is the final process that appears after humans have felt, sensed, smelled, considered a person or something in the environment.

In English, the physical organ called the brain is not just the structure. It perceives, senses, relates, considers things and persons, and can initiate a slow process of caring or drawing closer. First, the neurons take imaging records –a photograph– of an object or individual or envirnoment, analyze the image, decode it, and then dispatch the data very quickly. The brain interprets all the information and selects directions to pass it forward. Speech, language, then, allows verbal communications and general connection with others.

The brain images that can be seen today on brain scanners, MRI/Magnet resonance imaging or CTs, for example, allow us to understand how unspoken thoughts do exist and travel inside our brains and bodies. 

Speech and words constitute a part of this neural and sensory box that manages limbs and verbal coherence. The real question is how, when and why sounds started to combine with each other and reached coherent sequences of meanings with precise sense, mutual understanding and a continuous stream of memorizing processes that lead to generational transmission of communications.

A newborn child is, in a sense, speechless. He can cry, shout, weep, make noise, but has not yet a structured vocabulary or ability to make phrases. In literature, the French character Gargantua, the giant who could ride Noah’s Ark in François Rabelais’ novel “Gargantua and Pantaguel” was to be an exception. Just born, Gargantua screamed: “I want to drink, give me to drink! I want to drink wine!”… This was the first book written in French. All the previous works were in Latin beforehand. Of course it was fantasy or nonsense to have a delirious giant challenge the rules of nature and education.

The French specialist of resilience, psychiatrist Boris Cyrulnik, underscored that human desires can change, influence and damage the rules of how humankind goes through processes of education and the slow bringing-up or growing-up experience. We can argue that Giant Gargantua overrode the work of creation, mocked the wickedness that led to the Great Flood. He was absurdly driven by his own power over speech and desires.

In Latin, a new-born baby is an “infans = the one who has no speech”. He or she has no “coherent phonetic order”. Old English “Babeln” (cf. to babble) refers to prattling, uttering words indistinctly, thus talking like a baby. It is the first pedagogical step of all dialogues that grows according to the specificity of local environments. When speech develops, it grows as a process of exclusion–excluding baby talk words and including or mimicking the new sounds–which is the apparent paradox of language. 

Language should encourage people to be connected. On the contrary, however, it often becomes a tool of selection and singling-out identity mechanism, breeding alienation, gossip, pain–not unity.  

“To babble”, in French “babiller”, Swedish “Babbla” is similar to  Greek: “Barbaros/βάρβαρος = (the one) who is foreign, stranger, does not hear or speak the (common) language”. Just as German “Deutsch = German because using understandable speech” versus Russian “Nemtsy/Немцы = the Germans, i.e. those who are weak and cannot speak an understandable language”.

This feature is also found in Greek “glotta/γλωττα or γλῶσσᾰ (as in “polyglot”), which means a “language, a tongue; a word of mouth, hearsay,” and also “obscure or foreign word”. Animals can organize sounds to communicate but our organ of speech consists of the strange and unique and more complex human capacity to build and echo sounds in a precise manner.

Thus, it is amazing that Indo-European radical “glogh-“ depicts the “thorn, point, which is projected”, i. e. the uvula located at the bottom of the palate. It vibrates and allows the tongue, the air, the breath, and the muscles to utter audible voices – vocals.

Rav Zalman of Lyadi expressed the matter in his “Tanya-תניא/Teaching”. He underscored the miracle that allows humans to speak because they have no physiological reason to have a coherent speech, lexicons, and languages. The oral cavity, the vocal cords, the muscle of the tongue, the palate, the lips, the mouth, the pharynx, the uvula and the lungs combine ex nihilo to create coherent sounds and phrases, without physical logic. 

This action is so “bizarre,” the rabbi argued, that it shows evidence of the substantial dynamics created by the Divine Presence. Our utterances are the utterances of the One and unique God. God speaks through the medium of the humans who are enabled to respond to Him.

The Ark, according to our monotheistic traditions, is the container of all living souls. In the Bible, it says that the “Teivah/תיבה = the ark, the box” (Genesis 6:14) could protect the HUMAN? creatures. The word is also used in Exodus, when Yocheved, the mother of Moses, placed baby Moses in a wicker basket (Teivah) in order to save him from the stormy world (Exodus 2:3). This is why words are considered as a set of alphabetic teivah-teivot – boxes, or containers– whose sounds as consonants and vowels built as a wide lexical treasure with vast ranges of meaning, emotion, experience and history.

It is our duty to be educated in such a way as to be able to use the right words. Moreover, we create the words and words do create the world. Words shape our minds and plow the fields of our brains and experience. They throw human destiny into times of prophecy.

The oneness and total unity of Divine Presence and communion with the Lord are found in the liturgical developments of the Churches, in particular, the ancient Ethiopian Orthodox rite. This is also similar to the  Jewish Written Tradition that says that the full resurrection of all the bodies and souls that will be created from the origins of the world till its fulfillment will be reinvigorated by the time of the coming of the Messiah (Sukka 62a-b). This underscores the one human identity of one unique generation of humankind.

Just as King David had danced around holding the “Ark of the Covenant” (Teivah), the Tewahedo Ancient Orthodox Church shows the Tabot – from Aramaic Tebuta – where the Messiah rests in his full presence.. 

The Messiah-Christ died and rose from the dead and the confession of the Only One begotten Son who was born, rested in a cradle, remained silent by the time of the murder of the children in Bethlehem, started to speak and preach and freely went to the full offering of his life. In the end, his words uttered achievement and uniqueness: “When Jesus, therefore, had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished (achieved, completed, ready to die, to obey to the full – Aramaic: ho mshalem – ܗܐ ܡܫܠܡ) (John 19:30a).

He “is in our midst”, implies that he is present and does not exclude anyone. He acts and comes in our midst. Comparative liturgy has linked the Tabot to the Antimension in the Byzantine tradition. Both host the Presence of the Word.

The Byzantine tradition has more: the “Kivot/Кивот, from Greek Κιβωτος = Box”. It both refers to Noah’s ark and to the Ark of the Covenant ((Slavic Kovcheg/Ковчег). This is a wooden box or vessel with a glass window where icons are protected and can be seen. The Kivot expresses the veracity of the life-giving Word and the saints who substantiate the sacred bridge over all times and spaces. The icon, as a “sacrament” in the Orthodox theology, allows our eyes and brains to catch the inner light of creation and the energizing struggle for light. It is the miracle of the photographic power of the word recorded as the speechless image of the Presence. The image, the photo is a full speech of unspoken words and ideas by itself. If we could see the work accomplished by our neurons through imaging systems, we could fathom how our dialogue with the Creator and our environment is expressive.

We may consider the intriguing correlation that links “teivah” with “word, box, ark, shelter, cradle, sanctuary, uniqueness and oneness”. This connection perhaps shows more versatility and human pride in our divine services. Could we reach out, attempt to achieve some or full understanding of our words? They evolve and can be duplicated on a limitless basis.

There was a time in the history of the Church before the Gospel–the New Testament or Covenant–was written. We have not retained any experience of this historic reality. Some theologians think that the New Testament as a Scripture – using words and sequences that are supposedly stable and fixed – testify to the faith and the shared experience of the living body of the Church.

The accuracy of the Word relies upon the witness of what we receive from the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit (feminine in Hebrew, masculine in Yiddish and Slavic) is not written, not uttered. It is substantial, essential as a part of existence.

This is why, as shown here in different examples, unity – love – divinity – holiness – can never be trapped or kept aside from any society. Even while reality shows breaches, splits, rejections of souls and a dangerous absence of tolerance between nations, citizens, all peoples, unity is not only possible, it exists within us. Sounds, words come out of a box that contains all things. The words serve all the living, without exclusion. 

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About the Author

Jivko Panev

Jivko Panev

Jivko Panev, maître de conférence en Droit canon et Histoire des Églises locales à l’Institut de théologie orthodoxe Saint Serge à Paris, recteur de la paroisse Notre Dame Souveraine, à Chaville en banlieue parisienne.

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