Aspaklaria: The Looking Glass -- "Finding Our Voice"
Rabbi Menachem Creditor
In making The Prince of Egypt, a recent DreamWorks movie based on the biblical Exodus narrative, the filmmakers consulted with religious scholars for authentic guidance. They were particularly interested in God's voice – should it be male? Female? Digitized and therefore not-human? In the end, they decided that when God would speak to a character, God would speak in the voice of that very character. Val Kilmer's voice was used both for Moses and for God. Unfortunately, God only speaks to Moses in the movie, and so the theoretical female voice of God never actualizes.
Perhaps the moviemakers had learned the following Talmudic text:
"Rabbi Shimon ben Pazzi said: ‘From where do we learn that one who translates the Torah is not permitted to raise his voice above that of the Torah reader? Because the Torah says, "Moses spoke and God answered him by a voice. (Ex. 19:19)" The words 'by a voice' need not have been inserted. What then does 'by a voice' mean? By the voice of Moses. (Berachot 45a)’”
I believe that there are deeply important lessons to be learned from this text, for our precious communities, and for each of us as individuals.
1) God speaks with a familiar Voice. This is the image of a God within, not a God living far above in the Heavens. The High Holidays are replete with theological images of ‘God Above’ and ‘God the Judge’. I often wonder how those images impact each of us – are we inspired to connect to such a God? Does that system ring true? Does it serve to alienate souls hoping for spiritual nourishment? If the High Holidays Machzor (prayerbook) is the only religious text many of us enter, are we left alone with those limited images throughout the year?
2) Speaking loudly doesn’t help others hear. The text begins with a situation of competing voices, and results in the ruling that “one who translates the Torah is not permitted to raise his voice above that of the Torah reader.” There is a strong trend within the synagogue world for people to feel that “everyone knows more than me.” I’ve wondered if perhaps this is because those who have learned some Torah talk loudly, with passion. Perhaps too loudly sometimes. Perhaps there are new Jewish learners waiting for their struggles with communal/spiritual entry to be heard.
There is, I believe, a search for spirituality that requires a bit more silence than the voluble level with which we Jews are particularly skilled. Chaim Potok’s “the Chosen” and “The Promise” deal extensively with the pain and healing silence can bring, and the distinctly Jewish difficulty with its practice.
I believe that together we can continue to build our Sacred Communities of non-competing souls who strive to hear the voice of God in their own voices – and the voices of those around them. Antoine de St. Exupery, in his famous The Little Prince, wrote, "What is essential is invisible to the eye; it is only with the heart that one sees truly." Perhaps Exupery had learned Talmud, where he would have felt quite at home with this quote: “…Blessing does not inhere in anything weighed or anything measured or anything counted, but only in that which is hidden from the eye. (Taanit 8b)” If you can quantify it, it isn’t the Source. The space between two others (perhaps one might be ‘The Other’?) is the starting place for the deepest of blessings.
I believe we can achieve this vision in our special community. The synagogue is a meeting place for so many different kinds of people. Precious preschools share a home with many empty-nesters. Religious School students are sisters and brothers with Day School students. Families and individuals of all kinds know they have a rightful place in our communities.
We can discover holy things together. But only if we look inward and outward, meeting each other with open ears, eyes, minds, and hearts. Only then is God is truly Present among us. May we bring ourselves and each other to that depth of blessing in the year to come.
Shannah Tovah! A sweet, healthy year to us all!