Sinai in the Womb

The highlight of parshat Yitro is Revelation at Sinai. The great receiving of the Torah.
In a parallel image of revelation, the Talmud (Niddah 30b) teaches that each of us learns the entirety of Torah while in the womb. There is a candle lit above our embrionic selves and in the drench of that lamp-light an angel teaches us Torah. At our destined hour of birth that self-same angel touches us above our lips, creating the gentle slope indention, known in anatomical parlance as the philtrum.

With that touch we forget all that we have learned in our 9-month tutorial. Life sprawls out before us as an on-going uncovering of all we have forgotten. Each piece of Torah learned is thus imbued with a striking sense of deja vu, of resonance with a truth we have seemingly always known. Torah learning, according to the Talmud''s model, is thus seen as more of a recovery, or dis-covery, than a revelation.


The Talmud makes an implicit link between the external revelation at Mount Sinai and the more internal revelations of the womb. This link can be seen hinted at in a charming play on words – for the word for pregnancy,  b''herion, is reminiscent of ''b''har'' the phrase meaning ''on the mountain''. Mother''s mountainous belly and Mount Sinai are thus parallel locals of highest revelation. 

And yet the Talmud''s image of womb revelation evokes questions. Why do we forget the vast knowing locked away in our souls? Why is life predicated on forgetfulness? And, more importantly, how can we access the store-housed knowledge of our souls?

I am reminded of the story of the ''tainted grain'' by Rebbe Nachman of Breslav. He tells of a king who is informed by his most trusted minister that all of the wheat in the kingdom has been infected by a certain type of growth that will induce madness in all who eat it. The king''s quandry – to have his people die of starvation or to have them go mad with this tainted grain. The choice is obvious, insanity over death. But the next quandry is more complex – do the king and his minister also eat of the grain and join the people in their dimentia or do they refrain from partaking and remain sane in the midst of an insane world. Their decision – to consume the grain and join their country-men in madness. With one condition. That they will both make a mark upon their foreheads. A mark to remind them of their insanity. Each time they see this marking on the other''s face they will remember that they have forgotten.

The indention below each of our noses can thus be seen in the same light. When we behold our fellow''s face we can be reminded of the Sinai of the womb, of the Torah knowledge that each of us has carefully tucked away. The philtrum reminds us of our own insane amnesia of the truth that rests within. It spurs us to seek out that wisdom and sanity again through our quest of Torah learning. 

The following poem is a prayer of an embryo in the womb. It is a prayer that she will be able to recall the Sinai lamp-light teachings of the womb. And more than to just remember, but also to find the ways to relay that inherent knowing out into an insane world so out of touch with forgotten truth.


A Sinai in the Womb -

The Prayer of an Unborn Child

Touch me lightly neath the nose
That my lips may part in prose
Let me not forget
You though
I fall into the world

Let luminescence last me still
and still my heart
With seraph quill
If I fall too far to hear
& memorize your notes

Send a script
A scrap of timber
A stub of finger
''quipped with pencil
May my new-born
have utensils
to inherit as she grows

And I will write what I have learned here
In this hollow, warm and light-filled

So touch me slight

That I may
Recite all that
the angel quill
inscribed upon my soul

And from this amniotic Sinai
I will find the voice to cry
the truth
though all the world
would call it lies

And though I fall
insane, forgetful
slap my lips and
snuff my candle
yet I will remember well
the angel
that taught me all I know

and marked thus with
I will recall
the revelation
of this loom
where God wove with love
my soul

For Sinai stands
above our lips
to tell of all
that we forget
as sure as
we are born

So let us thus pursue
Your truths
in deja vu
wrap us well in  
what we knew
there in the womb

And Sinai
will be as a mother
enfolding us to rediscover
the radiance lost in the rubble
of the shattered tablets
of Your