URJ Sacred Conversations

Breathing Through God

Did you know that when you breathe you are connecting to God? Or you could be if you were aware of what you were doing. Really.

As part of our experimental Jewish Spiritual Journey Facebook Group, one participant asked me, “Does the word SHEMA have something to do with our breath?” I love the question. Here’s how I answered him:

Shema absolutely has to do with the breathe because it twice invokes the name we call God, the four letter name Yud Hey Vav Hey which we often pronounce as Adonai. Adonai is just a euphemism for Yud Hey Vav Hey, meaning “my Lord”.  My Lord was once considered a very high honorific in human society, thus that’s what we used to call God (today we would choose something like “Celestial CEO”).

URJ Sacred ConversationsBut this four letter name of God Yud Hey Vav Hey is really unpronounceable, as it consists of four expulsions of breath from the mouth or throat. Yud occurs back where the hanging thing in the back of your throat is. There is no sound unless combined with a vowel. Try making a “y” sound without a vowel attached. Hey, twice appearing is just the expulsion of breath through the open throat. Unless accompanied by a vowel, it just is the unsounding sound of breath release. Finally, Vav stands for the “O” or “OO”, neither of which really make a sound beyond the stop and start of the breath in the mouth.

So when we twice say Yud Hey Vav Hey during the Shema, we are saying that the Breathe that makes no sound IS God, or at least where God resides. God resides in the breathe. God is the breath.

That breath is echad, one, the oneness or unity that unites all life and all creation.

So I ask all of you: Do you connect spirituality and/or breathing with Shema? Do you find yourself more spiritual when you are connected to your breath or breathing?

BTW: Our Jewish Spirituality Journey Facebook group is a closed group (meaning the answers do not appear in the Facebook pages of non-participants). Anyone can join the discussion. Just go on Facebook and ask Paul Kipnes to add you to the group. Of course, you have to Facebook Friend me first. Join in. We have already had some great discussions.

Article was also posted at Or Am I?


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Rabbi Paul Kipnes

About Rabbi Paul Kipnes

Rabbi Paul Kipnes the spiritual leader of Congregation Or Ami in Calabasas, CA. He serves as rabbinic dean at URJ Camp Newman in Santa Rosa, CA, and as vice president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis. Rabbi Kipnes and his wife Michelle November co-wrote Jewish Spiritual Parenting: Wisdom, Activities, Rituals and Prayers for Raising Children with Spiritual Balance and Emotional Wholeness (Jewish Lights). He also co-edited a national CCAR Journal issue on New Visions for Jewish Community. Under his leadership, Congregation Or Ami has won national awards for social justice programming, for innovative worship programming, for outreach to interfaith families, and for engaging family education, and for best overall use of technology in a synagogue. Or Ami also wins the hearts of its families for its Henaynu caring community, which reaches out during times of need. He serves on the Rhea Hirsch School of Jewish Education clinical faculty at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles. His writings can be viewed on his blog, Or Am I? He tweets @RabbiKip.

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