Michael S. Diamond
Torah Obscura

Chapter 11: Krishna’s Singularities

Vintage engraving of Passage of the Israelites through the Red Sea
Crossing the Red Sea

Whereby Rav Krishna explicates the paradoxickal Nature of The Passover and exposes the dire peril under which humanity has been placed that day at the hands of the newly launched AI’s. It is also the day of his son’s birth. As recalled by the new father’s former Neuropathologie mentor at Oxford Universitie.

The Reader is reminded that this is a continuation of Undivided: the Redemption Inquiry. The 11th chapter of the novel and the first of…

Part the Third—Zeitgeists: In which The Right Reverend Rav Krishna declaims to his followers, in the visitors suite of the maternity ward, the long and tortuous history of the descent of Humanity’s Soule and Its Darke Twin, The Other, through the four levels of the soul as defined in the Lurianic Kabbalah. It falls out that the turning points in said history coincide precisely with the years—1309, 1925 and 2009—in which The Blessing of the Sun doth intersect with The Festival of the Passover, each year illuminated by a barroom fracas. The Soule of Humanity hath ascended, in the telling, to the realm of Creation, the realm from which the seeds of the Future seek their womb in the world.

*     *     *     *     *

When the noise stops, when the sound of traffic ceases, when the military planes have dropped their cargo and buzzed off, all that’s left is pain, discrete packages in various stages of wrapping and unwrapping. And diffuse background pain. The red light throbbing in the sky. Pain, our signal that entropy is doing its job, that everything is leaving us at an ever hastening rate. In just over one millennium, the Exodus cycle and the Creation cycle crossed paths three times. Thirteen ought nine, 1925, and 2009. With each occurrence, the sun rolled back to its initial conditions at the time of Creation. Entropy is reversed and we stand once again at the tipping point of universal liberation. The liberation of human beings from the hell of every type of enslavement we impose on one another. In 2121 the Blessing of the Sun has once again intersected Passover, but this time on the seventh day. A singular event whose horizon is now.

In the Diaspora, it is the eve of the eve of the Feast of the Messiah. We stand once more as we did three thousand years ago on the shores of our future, Pharoah’s thundering horde at our rear, a vast sea before us. This time the stakes are higher. Our future AI overlords are preparing for their incarnation as we speak. By tomorrow there will be no turning back. What is the potentiality of the Messiah? Nothing less than the release of the human mind from bondage.  Bondage at the hands of its own distorted projection onto the material world. Tomorrow, Wednesday, April 9th, the 21st of Nissan, 5881 on the Hebrew calendar, is the dawn of the Technological Singularity. Ray Kurzweil was wrong. The Massive Multiplex Matrix evolved over the course of 138 years from mankind’s most sophisticated tool into a self replicating juggernaut, the assembly of assemblies. The Impatient One incarnate. I am speaking to you here and now in this hospital visitors lounge, but by the time my prophecy is fulfilled, you and I will no longer exist, your consciousness and mine, a fleeting thought of the Creator.

Krishna takes a breath and stares at the sea of expectant faces. They are accustomed to his poetical meanderings. They love him. I loved him, ever since he was my student at Oxford. And he knows, senses, that the neshama of the holy Ovstrovster Rebbe is present, hovering in anticipation of Geulah on this most auspicious of days. Krishna continues. In some way every parent secretly hopes that his new child, this raw little ball of baby flesh, will be the future Messiah. If not to redeem humanity, then at least its own poor besotted parents. Maybe he’ll chart a new path, won’t make the same mistakes, pick up the work where we’ve left off, ease the pain. You can feel the burn of that expectation just hanging like smoke in the air. New life thrown into the mix to break the bonds of enslavement to what is, what appears to be. Sita smiles and coos at her as yet unnamed baby boy Katz, who nurses discreetly at her covered breast. As she sighs, so does baby boy Katz. And so do the two hundred odd well-wishers crammed into the hospital visitors lounge. Sita and I are no different from the millions of parents of children born today, yesterday, and every day for the last five millennia.

Although Krishna’s face glows with even more than his usual luminosity, his shoulders sag, pulled down by the weight of a hidden burden, the heft of dark things hiding in corners. He senses the air going out of the room, and without missing a beat, he leaps from Sita’s side, flings his arms out to the crowd and sings, hopping from one foot to the other, the timeworn hasidic refrain: Moshiach, Moshiach, Moshiach, aye yai, yai yai yai yai yai. The room explodes. Every man, woman and child leap and dance and sing the Rav’s bliss. Ten minutes of unbridled freilach, Yiddish for both joy and its dance. Then, as if on cue, everyone crash lands back in their seats for the all-nighter with Rav Krishna. For tikkun leil shevii, the repair of the seventh night. But before he can part his lips to speak, someone in the crowd bursts forth with a loud chorus of Siman tov and mazal tov and mazal tov and siman tov, siman tov and mazal tov and mazal tov and siman tov, siman tov and mazal tov and mazal tov and siman tov, yay hey la-a-a-nu! With little provocation the trope takes hold again, a crowd of neo-hasids immersed in endless round of clapping and grinning and dancing and belting out the karma-shifting vibe.

When the chaos of bliss strikes, Krishna cannot help but recall his favorite sicha, a hasidic fireside chat, given by his father’s father a few years back at Purim, the holiday of orderly disorder, discordia concors to the Europeans of the Renaissance. The slippery dolphin on the heavy anchor, Mohammed Ali floating like a butterfly. Krishna’s freakish eidetic memory held every word, every gesture, every sigh. The sage and wickedly funny Mumbai Zaydie had a delivery style unmatched on the Indian subcontinent, possibly in the whole Chabad universe. Krishna can see him now pontificating before him. He channels his grandfather’s every word and gesture. His grandfather would begin with his face stretched wide as possible from top to bottom, white furry eyebrows launching off his forehead, his mouth shaped in a permanent O of surprise:

In the beginning there was chaos and void. The world of Tohu v’Vohu. Huge, uncontrollable energies that defy description. De-scribe. Carve out, remove something, and thereby reveal form. The chaotic muscularity of creation yields to the world of repair, the world of order. Tikun Olam. The cheap psychological trick. Take the monsters out from under the bed and put them in a book. Works every time. Except it doesn’t. We buy the illusion of repair, of orderliness, of one thing at a time. And while we play with our little plastic figurines those real imaginary monsters attack each other, devour each other, the trampled face of the planet. Minds stilled, we play with our toys.

So we find ourselves in adulthood with a number of technologies at our disposal for tapping into and harnessing the cosmic background energies. We make nuclear bombs, magic potions and mystical enchantments. But it all seems so puny in the face of what we know in our hearts to be real. I feel myself vibrating into a thousand replicas of myself. Each with a thousand different points of view diffusing outward and inward, interlacing myself with the ten thousand things. I see the childlike face of my young niece, who straddles the threshold of my office door, arms raised in exultation, thrilled with the sound of a thousand jackhammers below my office. Tohu v’Vohu!, she might as well exclaim. She is actually happy in this particular form of chaos. I struggle to remain undisturbed. I wonder if there is a term for the opposite of disturbance—euturbance. The positive connotation of chaos. The zeitgeist of each of our little planets, the disruptor come to inform us of the Universe’s alternative plan. Sometimes the whispered breath of the neshama, the shooshing of the shen.

Somebody or something just stomps into my life, kicks down the door and blows the whole thing up. And I find myself sailing. And as soon as I say that, I realize we’re all sailing, whether any of us realizes it or not. There goes Icarus. The invisible splashdown in the middle of a busy harbor. Life goes on. The surface of the water seals over the breach, leaving a few ripples that hint at the cataclysm. The world of form is pretty good at cover up. Webs within webs within webs. All that connectedness makes for seamless transitions from one form to another. Except it’s not so, there are breaches, there are holes. There is structural damage, and repair is a noisy process. The bigger the breach the more the noise. Scaffolding, jack-hammers, pneumatic drills. It all seems quite normal when you drive by a construction site. Not so much when you’re living in it. Chaos is the new normal.

The world of repair is most active just at the places where the world of formlessness and void punches through. Sometimes we celebrate those holes punched through all of our careful ordering of things. We can not seal over the hole, so we decorate around it, make it part of the motif, build a shrine, set up altars. The noise will not stop. We sit on the rim of the void while celebrating our sacred occasions, smoke rising from the barbie as is the custom in the West. We drink intoxicating beverages and inhale the vapors of hallucinogenic plants. And by this means the background radiation of the universe speaks to us in discernible voices.

What will you see in the night sky on Independence Day? The firmament explodes with a shower of artificial stars and seems to bend down toward us, to bow out like the thinning side of a bicycle tire. We rehearse the end of things. Scripture says it will come in fire. Meanwhile sit back and enjoy the show. It’s so funny how we celebrate with noise and flashes of light. We celebrate an occasion, an achievement, a life’s passage, an institution. How? With the closest thing to chaos that we can muster! Our sages tell us that the entire universe is being destroyed and recreated every instant. I wonder if this is a smooth and continuous process, seamless in the transition between one incarnation and the next. Or, if you slow down the speed, is there a space, a pause, a blank spot between the destruction and re-creation? The power of sitting on that edge must be enormous. I think it underlies the thrill we feel at crashing waterfalls, ocean spray, and the yawning gaps of great canyons, sudden cataclysmic change, the transition from nothing to something and back to nothing again.

As Krishna’s words cease, the spell breaks. He smiles a genuine albeit weary smile, sits down and nestles into Sita, for a microsecond. Chaos, unavoidable, to be embraced. It was not the weariness of a newly minted poppa who’d stayed up all night with his laboring bride, although he had done that for sure. Sita’s water broke just before the seventh day of Passover, as foreseen. The parting of the Red Sea! That was why all these people were staying up with them all night for a spiritual shmooze rather than simply wishing the new family well and leaving them in peace. Thousands of years of tradition had it that this was the very night that the miraculous cataclysm burst forth before the eyes of the six hundred thousand escapees from Pharaoh. The birth of the non-dual, by Krishna’s reckoning. Pretty heady stuff. Krishna has a knack for bringing this weighty material in for a landing. His backgrounds in Neuro-ethics, rabbinics, Hasidus, Sanskrit and cybernetics all stood at the ready. But it’s a tough go. Though unquestionably the most joyous day of his life, Krishna cannot shake the melancholy that clouds his vision of the future. He is reaching for bliss. I want to help him get there. We all do. There is so much riding on the little newborn creature.

There he is, the burbling bright-eyed future seventh lineage holder of the Katz dynasty. A Gathering of Strangers has just borne its ultimate and strangest fruit. I zipStreamed from London to be there in my capacity as the former neuroscience mentor, and chevrusa, of this remarkable young father. My study partner, my protege, my friend. Sita is no slouch herself, at twenty six already making a name in cyber-ethics and Matrix legalities. I love them both beyond words, and will surely love Rav Katz #7 for as many years as might be granted me. My ample chronobiologic portfolio is already bulging with years. I know the immense range of the young poppa’s intellect, having overseen his ambitious, though seemingly failed, Mind-the-World project. But this is something else, this proposed romp through 813 years of human and cosmic history. He billed the sicha, his spiritual chat, “Strangers in a Strange Land Meets A Gathering of Strangers: When Birkat HaChama Falls On Passover.” As a Neuropathology professor I am more than ein bissel obsessive. Occupational hazard. But I have nothing on the range and depth of this young hasid’s scholarship. I sit back to wait for his obsession to pull us all into its grip.

*     *     *     *     *

CONDENSATES. There is a place, right at the level of the throat, where the energetic channel narrows, where floating and sinking coincide. You can feel it if you circle your arms in front of you, palm over palm facing in, embracing your invisible partner as she fills the space you have opened for her. She is dense as water near the ocean’s bottom and yet she floats like vapor in your arms, with every lilting movement threatening escape. She is knowledge, she is ether, she is the gateway to the lucid dream that you are dreaming. How long can you hold her in that place? Do you cradle her head? her neck? her waist? You are surprised when her warm breath caresses your face. She is both animal and spirit. She is a presence from a higher realm that bleeds into your voice. Her womb gives birth to your heart. And all that you can do is celebrate her. She is your window to the sky and you are the pedestal upon which she chooses to rest. The arc of her being, unbearable pleasure. [from The Wisdom of The Mumbai Zaydie: The Rigged Veda]

*     *     *     *     *

Chevre, Krishna says to his fellow spirit travelers. We gather here on the verge of the fourth and final spiritual phase of this millennium, the descent in toto of the Spirit into the World of Created Things, the World of Making and Doing. Let me share with you ein bissel history, ein bissel philosophy, ein bissel poetry and ein bissel hasidus. You can feel it, we are right now standing on the shore of the Sea of Reeds, Pharaoh’s stallions breathing down our necks and the roiling waters of the sea in front of us. Impossible. Boy don’t you wish you’d learned to swim in gym class? Rav Krishna raises one eyebrow and glances around the room. A single chuckle. The Rav closes his eyes. Maybe if we speak to each other using only intransitive verbs, maybe then we’ll get past symbolism. The idea of X doing something to Y and therefore meaning Z. I could just sit here and smile like a Cheshire cat because there’s really nothing to say. But where’s the fun in that? Language doesn’t have to enslave you.

Any word, any verb, transitive or intransitive, has an energy. When you experience that word, what you experience is its energy in you. It’s already there. But the word calls your attention to that energy. It’s a shift in attention. And when the word is hooked up to a physical object and you hold that physical object in your hand…The Rav pauses as he lifts his hand in front of his face, turning it slowly, staring at it as if it were a rare plant form or relic of an ancient civilization. It redefines your hand. Each of your five fingers and your palm suddenly aware of the vibration of this object and its name. You can close your eyes and take that hand with you but it’s no longer your hand. It’s a hand or maybe the hand. An energetic vessel. A tuning fork. The tendrils of a sea anemone. This is a dangerous business, the holding of objects and the meditation upon their names. At the Passover Seder we are in a constant state of danger. Danger, loss and celebration. Crank up the transmogrification, Scotty. Gotta love that old school sci-fi. The Rav’s gestures waxed broad and dramatic, a one man Kabuki theater. How many realities can you hold in your head at one time? Sometimes it’s fun to drill down to the tiniest, physical, atomic detail just to see what’s living there. I got drawn into a vortex this year at the second seder. It was a weird night. A crackling edginess was in the air. The eccentricity of many little worlds.

Political farce broke out at all sides of the table, threatening to poison the conversation with partisan invective. Two long time congregants on opposite sides of the electoral circus were yelling insults at each other. A crafty grandpa, accompanied by his sweet little granddaughter and one of her little friends, looked me right in the eye and demanded, “But haven’t the Israelis been doing the same thing to the Palestinians for the last two hundred years as the Egyptians did to us?” And before I could formulate a response to his challenge, the earnest young bucher at my right elbow piped up. He was wearing an impressively retro double-breasted navy blue blazer, the lapel emblazoned with a pin declaring him for the Ayn Rand Society, an obscure two hundred year old self help group. He cleared his throat and declaimed for all who cared to hear, and even for those who didn’t, “We of the Rand Society have no need for a belief in God. We simply listen to the voice within ourselves for the answers to all of life’s questions.” What indeed was that voice from within? But the sacrament of Passover is incorruptible, no matter the drama. 

*     *     *     *     *

PARTITIONS. In 2009, the last time The Blessing of the Sun and Passover crashed into each other, a German man who fancies himself King Marduk I claimed Sealand, a zany micronation that occupies Roughs Tower, a disused Maunsell Sea Fort in the North Sea, as its native turf. He claimed it  as part of his very own nation, the Kingdom of Marduk, of course. Other territories Marduk currently claims for his eponymous kingdom (called, in some references, New Germania) include: much of the eastern Alps, including Austria’s Vorarlberg state, the Italian region of South Tyrol, Liechtenstein, and parts of Switzerland and Bavaria around, and including, Lake Constance (Bodensee); various localities in the Swiss cantons of Schaffhausen and the cities of Basel and Bern; the entire former Kingdom of Württemberg; the Dogger Bank, the German island of Heligoland, and the artificial island Langlütjen, all in the North Sea; Hamburg and, by extension, the Baltic Sea; the island of Rockall, between Scotland and Iceland (and itself once the location of a publicity-stunt micronation called Waveland); Vatican City; the micronation of Seborga, on the border between Italy and France; parts of Ticino, in southern Switzerland; Jerusalem; and—why aim low, right?—all outer space. [from Springtime of Nations]

*     *     *     *     *

At my instruction we all built ourselves our own private transmogrifiers or time machines, AKA seder plates, with ingredients spread before us. The table was strewn with ‘instruction manuals’, haggadot and other holy s’forim, of varying levels of detail. I picked up one obscure Talmudic tome and found an explanation that intrigued me, that I hadn’t stumbled upon before. The bitter herb, maror, is dipped into the charoset, that sweet, sticky mixture of wine and fruit and nuts that’s supposed to be the mortar made to hold the bricks of the Egyptian pyramids in place. Why do we dip it? To detoxify the ‘kappa poison’! The sweet builders and the bitter betrayers all in the mix. Turns out all bitter roots contain cyanide compounds. Who knew?! Imagine being the first person to eat manioc. Imagine being the second one, after the first got sick as hell. So somebody discovers that the juices of fruits with red skins contain enzymes which break down these organic cyanide compounds and release the poison to dissipate harmlessly into the air as a gas. Wow. Jewish fugu. You must eat the delicacy proffered you by your host knowing that improperly prepared it could kill you, or at best make you dangerously ill. That’s a trip. Not your average suburban seder. I don’t know if you can feel the danger in that. Death and transfiguration right there at the seder table. It may be so literal as to render it meaningless. We don’t worry about such things anymore. It’s all symbolic. And with that the entire seder table collapses under the weight of its own symbolism, brought down to floor level. Food for dogs. No wonder we wandered forty years in the desert. Too scary to bear the weight of reality directly. Dog and Lead Man, Caleb and Joshua, were the only two of the twelve spies who were game for the challenge.

*     *     *     *     *

PARTITION. Symptoms of acute cyanide intoxication appear four or more hours after ingesting raw or poorly processed cassava: vertigo, vomiting, and collapse. In some cases, death may result within one or two hours. It can be treated easily with an injection of thiosulfate (which makes sulfur available for the patient’s body to detoxify by converting the poisonous cyanide into thiocyanate). Chronic, low-level cyanide exposure is associated with the development of goiter and with tropical ataxic neuropathy, a nerve-damaging disorder that renders a person unsteady and uncoordinated. Severe cyanide poisoning, particularly during famines, is associated with outbreaks of a debilitating, irreversible paralytic disorder called konzo and, in some cases, death. The incidence of konzo and tropical ataxic neuropathy can be as high as 3% in some areas.

Brief soaking (four hours) of cassava is not sufficient, but soaking for 18–24 hours can remove up to half the level of cyanide. Drying may not be sufficient, either. For some smaller-rooted, sweet varieties, cooking is sufficient to eliminate all toxicity. The cyanide is carried away in the processing water and the amounts produced in domestic consumption are too small to have environmental impact. The larger-rooted, bitter varieties used for production of flour or starch must be processed to remove the cyanogenic glucosides. and then ground into flour, which is then soaked in water, squeezed dry several times, and toasted. The starch grains that float to the surface during the soaking process are also used in cooking. The flour is used throughout South America and the Caribbean. Industrial production of cassava flour, even at the cottage level, may generate enough cyanide and cyanogenic glycosides in the effluents to have a severe environmental impact. 

A safe processing method used by the pre-Columbian indigenous people of the Americas is to mix the cassava flour with water into a thick paste and then let it stand in the shade for five hours in a thin layer spread over a basket. In that time, about 83% of the cyanogenic glycosides are broken down by the linamarase; the resulting hydrogen cyanide escapes to the atmosphere, making the flour safe for consumption the same evening.

The traditional method used in West Africa is to peel the roots and put them into water for three days to ferment. The roots are then dried or cooked. In Nigeria and several other West African countries, including Ghana, Benin, Togo, Ivory Coast, and Burkina Faso, they are usually grated and lightly fried in palm oil to preserve them. The result is a foodstuff called gari. Fermentation is also used in other places such as Indonesia (see Tapai). The fermentation process also reduces the level of antinutrients, making the cassava a more nutritious food.

 The reliance on cassava as a food source and the resulting exposure to the goitrogenic effects of thiocyanate has been responsible for the endemic goiters seen in the Akoko area of southwestern Nigeria. People dependent on cassava risk cyanide poisoning and malnutrition diseases such as kwashiorkor and endemic goiter. [from Wikibot article, ed. Shaevagh, Laird, Consuming the Poison of the World: a brief history of comestible biotoxins]

*     *     *     *     *

The Rav stopped. He closed his eyes, swayed with  his arms out to the sides, palms down, and began to incant a talking blues: 

Black limousine pulls up to the Sea of  Reeds
in time to catch two titanic columns of water, apposed.
A vast expanse of dry land lies exposed.
A man in dark glasses and a fedora gets out .
Unassisted, he falls prostrate on the wet sands.
His body is taken up by the newly exposed aquatic plant life,
a piece of him in every plant that populates the surface.
So I ask you, in this case, has he crossed the Sea of  Reeds?
A woman steps into the sea on one shore and emerges on the other.
Is it the same woman? Do you know her by the timbrel she plays?
Step into danger. 

The Rav opens his eyes and continues. You say that energy and matter are the same. The evidence is indirect. You never see them at the same time in the same place. Very suspicious. You can attenuate the poison of the world so that you can consume ein bissel of it everyday. Maybe it will protect you from parasites or maybe it will cause paralysis. It depends on the dose. It depends on you. It is a daunting heuristic. We must seduce our students to draw close to annihilation. How many would sit at the seder table if they knew what was in store. No thanks, I’ll pass on the fuguPause, muted laughter.

Yet that is exactly what we are asking everyone to do, everyone who cares to keep the order, the seder, of Passover. Sometimes I can barely contain myself for the excitement, so much happening all at once in a single night at the seder table. The order, the order. He pauses again in contemplation as the matrix of Passover appears before his eyes. I fully expect one year I may sit at the table and not return at all. Gone. I’m not sure what that would look like. Maybe nobody would notice. Maybe it wouldn’t look any different than any other year. But I would know. It would smell different. That smell would permeate every cell in my body, from the well of the bubbling spring to the place of a thousand meeting points. It will be hard, nigh on impossible, to stand up from the table. My four limbs fused with the legs of the table, my head poking awkwardly out the middle. But as I said, it’s likely no one would notice. Yes, I would be circumspect, wait for a propitious moment to sidle out the door, the leftover vittles on my back. Thanks, lovely evening. Next year in Jerusalem.

Oh and how could I forget. That would only be after all of the delightful paradoxical songs at the tail end of the seder, all those cutesy songs we teach our children that are really about death and transfiguration, to be sung after midnight. Can you believe we actually do that? It’s impossible, and that’s why I enjoy it so much. One impossible year after another. Grief and elation simultaneously. Feel it? Ramp up to maximal cognitive dissonance. The lead up to the Feast of the Messiah tomorrow night, speedballing the seder into the world of Redemption. The eve of the machines spinning out of control. Leviathan, Behemoth and Zyz uncaged tomorrow to wend their way in the world. Just read the headlines, chevre. What greater poison can you imagine? And yet my son, my personal Redeemer, has split the womb today. Go, little man. You are our hope. Rav Krishna pauses abruptly, turns his face from the crowd. His tears are the tears of the Ovstrovster, and of those who hope in every generation. 

♠     ♠     ♠

 The reader is instructed to proceed directly to Chapter 12: Pecuniology. 

About the Author
Michael Diamond is a writer based in the Washington, DC area. He practices psychiatry there and is a doctor of medical qigong. He has published verse, fiction and translation in Andrei Codrescu’s journal, The Exquisite Corpse; in the journal Shirim courtesy of Dryad Press; in the online journal for Akashic Press; in New Mexico Review, The Deronda Review, The Atherton Review, The Blood Project, Ars Medica and in The Journal of the American Medical Association. He lives in the suburbs with his wife, an artist and illuminator of Hebrew manuscripts, their dog, two cats, a cockatiel named Peaches, a tank of hyperactive fish and ten-thousand honeybees. He has had a strong interest in Torah since first exposed to traditional stories as a child. Over the course of his life he has run the gamut of spiritual exploration of many world traditions of meditation and mythology. For the last several decades he has landed squarely in the traditional Jewish world. His writing is informed by all of this experience, by his curiosity about today's world and by his desire to mine the Jewish experience for its hidden and revealed wisdom. Torah Obscura, a glimpse of an otherwise invisible world afforded by a small aperture for light. All materials herein copyright © 2018 Michael S. Diamond. All rights reserved.
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