Yitro: Sinai Inside 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 invetro-souls 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 quandary – 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 quandary is more complex – do the king and his minister also eat of the grain and join the people in their dementia 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