taba, bisha, lakhma, dama
Try to imagine yourself in the Galilee in the first century…
The smell of apple, almond, and sycamore trees in blossom. The sight of riotiously colorful wildflowers in bloom on a hillside above the Sea of Galilee. the sound of thousands of variegated waterbirds–egrets, herons, and cranes–following their intricate and beautiful migratory patterns up the Jordan River rift valley, just at the right time. The black basalt hills above the Sea of Galilee, providing rich, dark, but very thin soil upon which to sow. The strong winds blowing in from the Mediterranean at particular times of the day.
In such a setting, timing was essential for success in planting. In Yeshua’s day, the whole area of Galilee was much wetter than it is now–virtually a jungle in many areas. Water buffalo and lion roamed about. To travel safely through this wild landscape depended on knowing when certain areas were flooded, when animals that might be dangerous to humans were present, and when and where one could find edible food.
Yeshua experienced all of these sensations of the natural world around him as it followed the rhythm of Sacred Unity. To describe this ryhthm of rightness and ripeness, the Aramaic language uses the word taba, usually translated “good.” (from The Hidden Gospel, Neil Douglas-Klotz)
The people of 1st century Galilee, just like people today living in agrarian and subsistence cultures, were intimately connected with the rhythms of nature, of the turning of the globe, night and day, the circuit of the moon through its phases, the slow progression of the seasons. They lived close to the earth, they could hear its heartbeat and depended on its pulse for their very lives. To be in harmony with the land’s rhythm was certainly”good;” it was critical to maintaining their lives: when to sow, when to reap, when to go out, when to come in. But we as modern, industrial people don’t understand this anymore. We can spend years of our lives completely isolated from the rhythms of nature, in hermetically sealed, air-conditioned cars and houses, never seeing a sunrise or sunset, our bare feet never really touching the earth–even electrically isolated from the ground by rubber-soled shoes. To us, “good” means something else entirely.
When Yeshua said taba, good, he meant ripe, ready, mature, at the right place and the right time. In harmony with and capable of flowing seamlessly with everyone and everything. This is “good.” And so then, the opposite of all this, is bisha, usually translated ‘bad” or “evil.” But not evil as we think of evil, bisha simply means not ripe, not ready, immature, out of harmony and rhythm.
Let the significance of these words wash over you for a moment and really sink in.
When we think of being a good person, we think of someone who does “good” things, right things. But a good person is not someone who simply does the right thing, but someone who has learned, is ready and capable of seeing the goodness of true relationship, the goodness of really being as one with someone else, in unity with God and each other. And as a result, will do everything and anything in his or her power to foster and protect that unity and those relationships. If this seems a subtle difference, look deeper; it makes all the difference in the world. Being “good” is not about behavior, about following codes or rules, but about being in love with unity, loving being one with someone else, and living accordingly.
Being “bad” then, being evil, is also not about doing bad things, but about being incapable, unready to see the possibility of unity anywhere, of being too unformed to see the goodness, the necessity of true relationship in life. The actions of such a person are random with respect to relationship building–harmful, hurtful, even catastrophic, because they aren’t ready to see what is really good. Everyone wants the best for themselves, but the ripe person understands that the best, the taba, is centered in unity, and the unripe person searches everywhere else, leaving a swath of destruction in their wake.
Yeshua said, “Be perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect.” This saying either fills us with dread, because no one is perfect, and how can we ever hope to be…or we just let it pass over and through us as one of those incomprehensible sayings that doesn’t have a lot of meaning in the real world. But Yeshua is saying something critically meaningful and doable here. The word for perfect doesn’t mean perfectionistic or without mistakes, but complete and whole, mature, ready…ripe. It’s the same concept. We can be as whole and complete as our Father in heaven is, in the sense that we can also see the goodness in being at the right place at the right time for each relationship and moment in our lives.
This is how God continues to love us even when we are following unlovely ways. Committing unlovely acts. God sees beyond the actions themselves to the seed of ripeness that lies within each of us, the possibility of bearing ripe fruit that we all carry with us, no matter how immature we may be at the moment. No matter how how much we don’t understand that our unripe actions are directly defeating the purpose of having the completion that each of us desires in our lives. And when we act unlovingly, Yeshua says, “Forgive them, Father. They don’t know what they are doing.” And this is literally true.
This is why Communion is so important as a symbol of the Christian faith. For two thousand years, it’s been the primary focal point of the faithful. Firstly, it’s a time of gathering and community, where we sit around a common table and eat as one with a common minds and hearts. But something more. Yeshua uses bread and wine to get his point across. Bread, lakhma, in Aramaic doesn’t just mean bread, but as it shares the same roots with hokhmah, the word for wisdom, it means the source of all sustenance, physical, emotional, spiritual–the very wisdom of God, everything we need or will ever need. Yeshua is saying that that wisdom, that provision, is his body. He and the Father are one. Everything that the Father is, Yeshua is–it has become part of himself. So he invites us to eat, to take it in, and become one with him just as he is one with the Father. To become “perfect” as he and the Father are perfect. Take this and eat, make it who you are as well.
And at the end of the supper, he took the cup. The cup of his dama. His blood. But dama doesn’t just mean blood, but also juice, sap, essence, in some contexts, even wine. To the ancient Jews, the blood was the life force; it was what carried life, and so was sacred. It was literally the essence of all that a person was. Yeshua says to drink. Take this life force, this animation of who he is and make it who you are as well. The wine, the Jewish symbol of joy and celebration mixed with the essence of Yeshua’s life is the powerful symbol Yeshua is using to bring us to taba. And when we eat and drink, we remember Yeshua, as he asked us to, in the fullest sense of that word. We remember not just by thoughts in our minds, but by every action, choice, and the living out of each relationship in our lives. Every moment of our lives.
Taba and bisha–ripeness and unripeness. Lakhma and dama–wisdom and essence. These are the words and symbols Yeshua used to help us become complete. But words lose their meaning with time and translation. And symbols lose their ability to point to truth as they devolve into ritual. It’s up to each of us to keep the meanings written on our hearts. Not to simply follow cold rules and forms, but to see the goodnes in each face and life we encounter. And because we have eaten the lakhma and have drunk the dama, to take our place as a taba people, a complete people–full of ripe fuit–ready, willing, able, at the right place, at the right time to celebrate the unity we experience with God and each person who shares this moment with us.