Torah Nondualism

The Letter Shin

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Torah Nondualism
Nondualism in Hebrew Scripture
The Egyptian Origin of the Sefirot
The Secret of the Hebrew Letter Shin
The Egyptian God Thoth
The Secret of the Divine Name Yahweh
The “Hand” That’s Really a Hebrew Letter That Changes the Entire Torah
The Secret of the Hebrew Letter Alef
Scribal Magic (the Letter Alef Revisited)
Inside the Holy of Holies of the Jerusalem Temple
The Secret of the Divine Name El Shaddai
Fractal Geometry
Fire Sacrifice in Image and Intuition
The Secret of The Blasphemer
The Secret of Moses’ Sin at the Rock in Kadeish
The Broken Peace That Is the Reward of Violence
Judaism Before Josiah
Broken Time
Children’s Story:
The Great Escape
The Secret Soul of Svaha
A Mystical Haggadah
About the Author
(Jay Cumming)


The Torah frequently tells us the names the ancient Israelites chose for their children. (See, e.g., Numbers, chs. 1, 2, and 26.) When we look at these names, we see that they included the divine reference “El,” not “Yahu,” indicating that the Israelites who were following Moses out of Egypt worshiped God as El, a Canaanite name for God, not as yhvh. This observation is consistent with yhvh's comment in the book of Exodus that “[with] my name yhvh I was not known to [the Patriarchs].” (See Exodus 6:3.) yhvh was a name of God from Egyptian culture, but Moses the Egyptian incorporated many Yahwist ideas into the Israelite's El religion, and he syncretistically associated his god, yhvh, with El. Thus, the monotheism for which Judaism is so widely admired is a monotheism based on syncretism, not one based on cultural chauvinism. In ancient Judaism, monotheism took the form “there is one divine power that underlies all gods,” not the form “my god is the true god; your god is false.” But Hebrew scripture also uses the name Shaddai for God, particularly to indicate God’s fierce or punitive aspect. (See Isaiah 13:6, Joel 1:15, Job (passim), Ruth 1:20-21) Therefore, to more fully appreciate the syncretistic relationship between yhvh and El, we must appreciate the complementary syncretism that characterizes the relationship between yhvh and Shaddai.

The Kabbalah teaches that one who wishes to understand the Torah must read the white space surrounding the Torah’s black letters. Rabbi Levi Isaac of Berdichev (1740-1809 c.e.), among others, explained this point:

But the truth is that also the white, the spaces in the scroll of the Torah, consist of letters, only that we are not able to read them as we read the black letters. But in the Messianic Age God will also reveal to us the white of the Torah, whose letters have become invisible to us, and that is what is meant by the statement [“a Torah will go forth from me” (Isaiah 51:4)].[1]

So what happens when we read the white spaces of the Torah? The illustration below shows the Hebrew letters beit (“B”) (on the left) and pei (“P”) (on the right), written according to scribal rules. Study the white space inside the pei. Notice the small white beit.


Thus, every pei of the Torah can be read as a beit, and every beit can be read as a pei. Neither letter can be written without also writing the other, just as light cannot exist without darkness. In the book of Isaiah, yhvh declares: “I form light, and I create darkness; I make peace, and I create evil; I, yhvh, do all these things.” (Isaiah 45:7.) That verse, like the negative identity between the letters pei and beit, points to a fundamental philosophical dilemma concerning the existential impossibility of light without shadow, good without evil, male without female, and, yes, God without . . . Non-God.

For a selection of Bible verses that emphasize the principle of nondualism, click here.

In the book of Job (Job, chs. 1 and 2), yhvh permits Satan to afflict Job, and Job later refers to this same afflicter by the name “Shaddai,” the God of the Patriarchs. (Exodus 6:3.) Shaddai’s full name is sometimes abbreviated with the single Hebrew letter shin (“SH”). Take, for example, the scrolls that pious Jews attach to their doorposts. (See Deuteronomy 6:9.) On the outside of the rolled scroll, the letters shin-dalet-yud (spelling Shaddai) are written, but the outside of the box containing the rolled scroll has only a single letter shin, which is also a reference to Shaddai. Pious Jews place similar scrolls on their foreheads while praying (Deuteronomy 6:8), and again the outside of the box has a letter shin embossed on the leather, signifying Shaddai. But on one side of this box, the shin is written with four “heads” instead of the usual three.


According to tradition, this four-headed shin depicts the way the shin was written on the tablets that Moses received at Sinai. Significantly, the same four-headed shin — again representing Shaddai — is also depicted in the positioning of a Jewish priest's fingers when giving the priestly blessing. About this finger positioning, yhvh tells Moses: “[The priests] will place My name upon the descendants of Israel, and I will bless them.” (Numbers 6:27, italics added.) Thus, the four-headed shin is yhvh's name (or one of them).

The real significance, though, of the priestly finger positioning is not the fingers themselves — which depict the four-headed shin of the name Shaddai — but the blank space between the fingers. Consider the following verse from the Song of Songs: “My Beloved. Behold, there He stands behind our wall, gazing in at the windows, peering through the lattice.” (Song of Songs 2:9, italics added.) The ancient commentary states as follows:

“My Beloved . . .”
      The Holy One, blessed be He . . .

“. . . Behold, there He stands behind our wall, . . .”
      Behind the walls of the synagogues and schoolhouses . . .

“. . . gazing in at the windows, . . .”
      From between the shoulders of the priests . . .

“. . . peering through the lattice.”
      From between the fingers of the priests.[2]

This commentary directs our attention to the blank space between the fingers of the priests, saying that the blank space somehow depicts God (“The Holy One, blessed be He”), just as the fingers themselves depict God (the shin of the name Shaddai).

Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook (1865-1935 c.e.) also discussed the significance of the four-headed shin in terms of the blank space surrounding the black letter. He wrote:

Some commentaries connect this peculiar [four-headed] shin to the [traditional] description of the Torah’s transmission to Israel via black fire engraved on white fire. What does this mean? . . . [¶] [This means that] the white parchment around the letters is an integral part of the Torah . . . . In fact, the white space is a higher form of Torah. It is analogous to the white fire of Sinai — a sublime, hidden Torah that cannot be read in the usual manner.[3]

Rabbi Kook is telling us not to read the letter itself, but to read the white space surrounding the letter. Below is a depiction of the four-headed shin, shown as fire engraved on water:


Now, focus on the water immediately surrounding the four heads of the shin:


The water depicts the name yhvh.


In short, the four-headed shin — which signifies Shaddai, Job's afflicter — conjoins perfectly with the name yhvh to fill the two-dimensional space of the parchment on which these two names are inscribed; yhvh is the negative of the letter shin (Shaddai), and the letter shin (Shaddai) is the negative of the name yhvh. “Sitting in the hidden place of the Most High, he will lodge in the shadow of Shaddai.” (Psalms 91:1.)

The theological implication of this scribal trick is awesome: The part that must be removed from Infinite Presence in order to reveal a merciful God (yhvh), the discarded part — that too is God (Shaddai). Each member of any pair of opposites is implied in the very existence of the other member, and duality is unreal — two are always really one. A further example of this Jewish non-dualism can be found in the Hebrew word for the “heavens” (SHaMaYiM), which is a contraction formed by combining the words for “fire” (AiSH) and “waters” (MaYiM) into a single word.


Thus, the secret of the word “shamayim” (“heavens”), like the secret of the four-headed shin, is that perfection is realized in the alchemical unification of opposites.

A leading text of the Kabbalah, the Bahir (12th century c.e.), records the following mystical dialogue:

“The letter shin is like the root of a Tree.”

“What is this Tree that you mentioned?”

He said: “It represents the [two] Powers of the Blessed Holy One, one above the other.”[4]

The “Tree” mentioned here is the eitz ha-chayim, the “Tree of Life.” The “root” of this Tree is the four-headed shin (Shaddai), and the branches are yhvh. Together the Tree comprises “the [two] Powers of the Blessed Holy One, one above the other.” The Bahir, therefore, is describing the presence of yhvh in the blank spaces of the letter shin, like tree branches supported by a root. But consider also how one writes the word for “Tree” in Hebrew:

            ע ץ

Now read the blank space surrounding the letters of the Hebrew word for “Tree”:


Once again, we encounter the name yhvh, this time hiding between the branches (intentional pun) of the Hebrew letters ayin and tzadi, which spell “Tree” in Hebrew.

The Song of Songs commentary teaches that yhvh is “peering through the lattice” — that is, yhvh is shining through the blank space “between the fingers of the priests” that depict the four-headed shin of God’s name Shaddai. And likewise yhvh is shining between the pointed branches of a tree, and likewise between the crests of the mountains that rise on the distant horizon, and likewise between the upraised arms of the Jerusalem temple's gold menorah — the menorah that miraculously shines spiritual “Light” to the world for eight days during the darkness of mid-winter’s moonless nights (Hanukkah). (On the astrological implications of the Hanukkah festival, click here.)


Shaddai is the fierce afflicter of Job, but evil is implied in the very existence of good, and a fierce and punitive god (Shaddai) is implied in the very existence of a merciful god (yhvh). And there is one bit of folk wisdom that does not change even when spelled backwards: “Dog as a devil deified lived as a god.”

What then does it mean to believe that God is One? It means to praise God equally in the face of suffering as in the face of good, knowing God to be the ever-wise author of both. “This is from yhvh; it is a marvel in our eyes. This is the day that yhvh made; let us be glad and rejoice in it.” (Psalms 118:23-24) God didn’t just make a universe way back in the hoary past; God made this moment right now, whatever it may hold. If a person does not believe that God is the God of Holocausts and earthquakes, then that person does not believe in God’s sovereignty in this world. Instead, that person believes there is a second force in this world that is in competition with God, a force that is the cause of suffering, and that sometimes gets the upper hand. But the Torah teaches about yhvh that “he is the gods, [there is] nothing else besides him. . . . [I]n the heavens above and upon the earth below, [there is] nothing else.” (Deuteronomy 4:35-39) According to nondual thought, the present world, with all its ups and downs, is the world God created. To imagine a different world, one without evil, is to imagine a different god who could create such a world, and thus it is the essence of idolatry — i.e., the worship of an imaginary god of one’s own making. For a selection of Bible verses that emphasize the principle of nondualism, click here.

The Babylonian Talmud relates a story about the death of Rabbi Akiva ben Joseph (1st and 2nd centuries c.e.) that is on point. (Berachot 61b.) Rabbi Akiva was martyred in a most cruel and painful way, but while he was dying, he was repeating the Sh’ma prayer (“yhvh is One.”) in a peaceful manner. His students asked him how he could pray calmly under such unjust conditions. He said: “Usually, I declare God’s unity with my heart, but now, in the face of an unjust death, I can witness to the truth of God’s unity with the faithful offering of my own soul.” In other words, what we mean when we say that “yhvh is One” is that even in the face of a cruel death, God is sovereign over all that occurs. There is no second power, outside God, in competition with God, purveying evil in the world. In fact, evil only exists if we view it as something outside its proper place of integration.

Satan Watching the Endearments of Adam and Eve
by William Blake

The Ishbitzer Rebbe (Mordechai Joseph Leiner) reads the description of Adam’s sin in the Garden of Eden as a teaching that evil must be integrated, not rejected, and then it is seen to be good. Keep in mind that the Torah has no punctuation. The Ishbitzer punctuates the famous Torah passage describing God’s instructions to Adam in this way: “From all the Trees of the Garden [as a group] you may surely eat, and from the Tree of Knowledge of Good. And evil [by itself] do not eat.” (Genesis 2:16-17) In other words, all the “Trees,” taken together as an integrated whole, are nothing but good, and evil exists only when it is isolated from its place of proper integration. Adam, in fact, never sinned according to the Ishbitzer. He never ate “evil.” Rather, the evil was a phantasm of Adam’s fragmented way of perceiving the world.[5] What is perceived as evil, viewing the world in tiny fractions of time and space, is really good when viewed holistically. (See Job chs. 38-39) “And you, you intended upon me evil,” declares Jacob’s son Joseph, but “God intended it for good.” (Genesis 50:20) Most people are not ready for such a radical faith that embraces the divine origin of what they perceive as evil, so they settle for dualism. For a selection of Bible verses that emphasize the principle of nondualism, click here.

The Sabbath is a day that honors the fierce aspect of God called Shaddai. The Sabbath, a day of joyous non-action, is the appropriate way that these fierce forces within the nondual God should be sanctified, for non-action is the surrounding blank space of action, and the blank space surrounding the fierceness of Shaddai is the mercy of yhvh. On finding unity in the various ways of observing the Sabbath, click here.

The book of Exodus says: “yhvh made the heavens and the earth in six Days, . . . and he rested on seventh day, therefore yhvh blessed the Sabbath day and sanctified it.” (Exodus 20:11.) Consider, however, that the reference to “Days” in the creation story is an allegorical reference to divine powers (sefirot). Consider also that the Hebrew verb used in the just-quoted text for “rested” is not the verb meaning “to cease,” but the verb meaning “to alight upon.” In other words, the text is saying that yhvh alighted upon the Sabbath “Day” — upon Shaddai — and sanctified it, as shown in the illustration:


[1] ’Imre Zaddikim, quoted in Gershom G. Scholem, On the Kabbalah and Its Symbolism (Schocken 1969), p. 82.
[2] Jacob Neusner, A Theological Commentary to the Midrash: Volume Three: Song of Songs Rabbah (Univ. Press of America 2001),p. 97.
[3] Chanan Morrison, Gold from the Land of Israel: A New Light on the Weekly Torah Portion from the Writings of Rabbi Abraham Isaac HaKohen Kook (Urim Publications 2006), pp. 179-180 [from Shemuot HaRe’iyah IV].
[4] Bahir, Nos. 118-119, translated in Aryeh Kaplan (translator), The Bahir (Samuel Weiser 1989), p. 45 [Kaplan’s translation has been slightly modified].
[5] Betsalel Philip Edwards, Living Waters: The Mei HaShiloach: A Commentary on the Torah by Rabbi Mordechai Yosef of Isbitza (Jason Aronson 2004), p. 23.

The foregoing is an excerpt from Torah Nondualism: Diversity, Conflict, and Synthesis in the Pentateuch.

To read the entire book, please click here.

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Copyright © 2011 James H. Cumming