aleph symbol with title UNSONG

Chapter 57: Now Taking On Ahania’s Form…

The word of the LORD is a great deal of research activity in this area, and probabilistic algorithms have been fruitfully applied.

Evening, May 13, 2017
Citadel West

Sohu asked whether I wanted to help her with the error correction process. It was the highlight of my life thus far. It was like getting asked to debate philosophy with Aristotle, or play one-on-one against Michael Jordan. Did I want to study the kabbalah with Sohu West? My heart leapt at the thought.

So we walked through sunless streets until we reached a building on the perimeter, right up against the stone wall of the mountain. Sarah came with me, of course, I couldn’t help that, and Sohu led us up a staircase and down a long corridor to her study. Everywhere in the citadel seemed equally dreary, lit by fluorescent lights and built to exactly the sort of utilitarian specifications you would expect of a bunker, but Sohu’s study was full of books and a big oak table, and for a moment it reminded me of a hundred libraries and synagogues and classrooms I’d been in. The life of the mind was the same everywhere.

We started working. Usually the hardest part of these things is to add up the gematria value of all the different subsets of letters, but of course Sarah did it instantly. The second-hardest part was figuring out which chapter of the books had the equations you needed, but Sohu had a photographic memory and would think for a second, pull a volume off the fourth shelf on the far wall, open it up to chapter sixteen, and put her finger halfway down the first page.

“Um,” I said, trying to think quickly, “maybe if we see which Goldblum subsets are invariant under a temurah transformation, we could…” But Sohu interrupted. “For a non-supernally based Name like this one, that’s equivalent to a basic transformation of phonetic triplets,” she said. “Maharaj, 1992.” And before I could ask how she even knew that applied here, Sarah announced to us that all of the phonetic triplets checked out. By that point Sohu’s attention had been lost, and on she went to the next book, the next theory. “Any corresponding Psalms?” she asked, and before I could even remember exactly how many psalms there were Sarah shook her head and said that none of them corresponded.

“Sarah,” Sohu finally said, “how carefully did you confound Aaron’s memory?”

“What do you mean?” Sarah asked.

“I mean,” said Sohu, “that if someone randomly went in and switched a few letters, we would have corrected the Name twenty minutes ago, the first algorithm we tried. If someone really skilled in Kabbalah very carefully altered the Name to make sure that their victim could never correct it again, well – ” she gestured to the growing pile of books abandoned on the table ” – then it might be a little harder.”

“I knew Aaron was a kabbalist,” said Sarah. “I didn’t want to make it too easy for him.”

Sohu groaned.

“Okay,” she finally said. “We’ll reconfigure the sephirot into partzufim and try it that way.” She started calculating furiously. “Lose the ayin,” she muttered to herself, “carry the tav, and…”.

Sarah interrupted. “And it just stays the same.”

“You know,” said Sohu. “If I wanted to confound a Name this badly, I’m not sure that I could.”

I thought I saw a sort of triumphant grin flash over Sarah’s face, but it disappeared quickly.

“We need some of the original building blocks back,” Sohu said. “Aaron, will you let me read your mind?”

“You can do that?

“I’m not good at it. What happened to you with the Drug Lord, I’m sure he was better. My father was better still. But it’s worth a try. I have a little training in chashmal.”

The overt meaning of “chashmal” is “electricity”.

The kabbalistic meaning is also “electricity”, but it’s complicated.

The prophet Ezekiel described certain angels as being chashmal, or surrounded by chashmal, or radating chashmal. Nobody entirely knew what he meant, but the translators of the Septuagint ventured a guess of “amber-colored” or “amber light”. Fast forward eighteen hundred years, and the original Zionist Jews were trying to reinvent the Hebrew language and needed a word for electricity. One of them, probably a kabbalist, pointed out that the English word “electricity” is generally believed to come from the Latin word “electricus”, meaning “amber”, because amber gave off a sort of static electric charge. But other etymologists believe it comes from the Phoenician word “elekron”, meaning “shining light”. Well, Hebrew already has a word meaning both “amber” and “shining light”, and that word was chashmal. So they stuck it in as “electricity” in the first Hebrew dictionary.

I once read an atheist tract that asked why God didn’t prove His omniscience by putting predictions about science or technology in the Bible. The answer is that He did and they’re just not thinking kabbalistically enough to notice. Any Israeli schoolchild can open up the Book of Ezekiel and see a 6th century BC prophet describe the angels he encounters as “glowing with electricity”.

Maimonides put a different gloss on these chashmal angels. He said that it was a compound word made of “chash”, silence, and “mal”, meaning speech. So these angels were actually radiating “silent speech”. Even more specific: “chash” is the root of “chashva” meaning “thought”. So the angels were radiating “thought-speech” at Ezekiel. No wonder that when future generations of kabbalists discovered the secrets of telepathy, they called it “chashmal”!

There are deep connections here. The brain runs on electricity, each thought producing an electric impulse that jumps from cell to cell, inspiring further sparks, creating a computational web. Our minds are electric machines just as much as Sarah’s; to speak by thought is to speak by electricity. The Hebrew language encoded all of this thousands of years ago. So did the English, for that matter: our own word “speak”, derives from an older German word sprech, and the further backwards you go, the more alike “speak” and “spark” start to sound, until finally at the root of all things they converge into the primal electricity.

I let Sohu look into my eyes, felt my defenses slowly weaken. It wasn’t the sort of overpowering invasion of the Drug Lord. A gentle teasing-apart, quiet, humble, but pushing forward like an explorer penetrating a jungle. I don’t know how long we waited there, staring at each other awkwardly, but after an indeterminate time in a pleasant trance, I was awoken by Sohu snorting. “I’m really not good at this,” she said.

Sarah seemed just a little too happy. I started to wonder how honest she was being with me. Had she really just not bothered remembering the most important Name ever discovered? Or was she holding out?

“Sohu,” I said, casting the dice, “there’s a way to get you into my mind easier.”

She raised an eyebrow.

“It’s called Sacred Kabbalistic Marriage of Minds,” I said. “Uh, SCABMOM. My friend Ana discovered it hiding in the later additions to the Gospel of John. A combination placebomantic-kabbalistic ritual. First you draw a magic circle, then you say a Name you derive from John, then you say these vows about how God is one and we are one. After that you can…”

I wasn’t prepared for Sohu to start laughing.

“Sacred kabbalistic marriage?” she asked, in between giggles. “Really?”

“That’s just what my friend Ana calls it!” I said quickly, trying to defend myself. “There were parts of the text that simplified into the word ‘marriage’, but you can think of that as symbolic! It’s just this brief ritual – ”

Sohu quieted down. “I wasn’t laughing at you,” she said. “And I already know the ritual.”

“You do?!”

“Yes. I, uh, I’m familiar with it. I should have thought of it myself. I’ll get supplies so we can draw the circle.”

My head spun. She knew about SCABMOM? Then another thought. “Wait,” I said. “I’m already kabbalistically m – I’ve already done the ritual with somebody. Does that complicate things?”

“Doubt it!” said Sohu. “Solomon had seven hundred wives, remember?” She giggled again. “Kabbalistic marriage…I’ll go get supplies.”

She vanished in a flash of light.

“YOU CAN’T MARRY SOHU!” Sarah shouted at me the instant Sohu disappered, tears running down her face. “YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO BE MARRYING ME!”

Oh, right. I should have predicted this. I put my arms around her, kissed her cheek. The longer I put this off the harder it was going to be, but I wanted all four Cometspawn around when I broke the bad news. “Sarah,” I said, “this isn’t real marriage. This is just a kabbalistic ritual called marriage. It’s like how how the doges used to marry the sea, or how a businessman says he’s married to his work. It’s just a word.”

“If it doesn’t matter, if you’ll do it with anyone, then do it with me first. Do it with me now, before she comes back.”

“We don’t even have a magic circle.” It was the best excuse I could think of, but I didn’t want her in my mind forever. Now that I thought about it, I wasn’t sure I wanted Sohu in my mind forever either, but that couldn’t be helped.

“When we get a magic circle, you’ll marry me, right?”

“No, Sarah. I’m not going to perform a dangerous kabbalistic ritual with you just because it has ‘marriage’ in the name.” I barely avoided adding “get a life”. She already had – thanks to me – and look how that had turned out.

Sohu mercifully chose that moment to return with the supplies. Sarah turned her face into a mask, better than any human could have. We cleared out of the way as she started drawing the magic circle from memory. It was the same one I had seen Ana draw. I took a piece of chalk and joined in. No help for it, I figured.

“I, Sohu West, in full knowledge of the consequences, call upon the symbols and angels of the world…”

“I, Aaron Smith-Teller, in full knowledge of the consequences, call upon the symbols and angels of the world…”

And so we went, with Sarah staring at us motionless outside the circle.

“For God is One”

“For God is One”

“And His Name is One”

“And His Name is One”

“And we are One.”

“And we are One.”

“And it is done.”

“And it is done.”

The circle flared brighter and higher than I’d ever seen before, probably because Sohu had constructed it ten times better than the quick job Ana and I had done back in her bedroom. Sarah still just watched, but looked like she might snap at any moment. I sat down at the table, rubbed my temples.

“We’ll try this again,” said Sohu. “Look into my eyes…”

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