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Hearing the Voice

Vayikra (Leviticus 1-5 )

by Rabbi Yissocher Frand

Moses heard God's voice. The rest of the Jewish people were not attuned that frequency.

God “spoke to Moshe from the Tent of Meeting.” Rashi explains that the voice of Hashem reached Moshe’s ears, but the Jewish people did not hear it. The voice stopped at the walls of the Tent. One might think that it stopped because it was soft and faint, but Rashi assures us that this is not the case. It was a powerful voice, a voice that “breaks cedar trees.” And yet, this powerful voice came to a sudden stop and was not heard outside the Tent of Meeting. Had someone placed his ear right up against the wall of the Tent, he would also not have heard Hashem’s voice.

How could such a thing be? Was it a miracle?

Not necessarily, writes Rav Yaakov Neiman in his Darchei Mussar. It is possible that only Moshe heard the voice of Hashem because only he was attuned to it. As for the others, it passed right by them without their being aware of it.

We all know that different ears are set for different audio frequencies and that sounds heard by one species may not always be heard by another. In order to hear the voice of Hashem, a person’s ears would have to be set to a high spiritual frequency. Otherwise, he would hear nothing. Moshe was attuned to that frequency, and he heard Hashem’s voice. The rest of the Jewish people were not attuned.

The Mishneh tells us (Avos 6:2) in the name of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi, “Every day a heavenly voice (bas kol) goes forth from Mount Chorev and proclaims, ‘Woe to humanity because of the Torah’s humiliation.’” Has any of us ever heard this heavenly voice? I don’t think so. But that does not contradict Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi’s statement. He certainly heard that voice, as did other people of his stature in his times, people attuned to the spiritual frequency on which heavenly voices travel. We, however, who are not attuned to that frequency, cannot hear the heavenly voice.

Having the faculty of hearing does not guarantee that we will really hear. Having the faculty of sight does not guarantee that we will really see. The sounds and the images may reach us, but that does not mean they will make an impression on our brains and hearts. They may just be left to languish on the surface.

By way of illustration, I would like to discuss an event that most of us remember vividly and all too painfully – the Persian Gulf War of 1990. We all recall our terror and anxiety as we waited for Iraq to carry out its threat to rain Scud missiles on Israel. And then it happened. Thirty-nine Scuds landed in Israel, but miraculously, only three people were killed.

I say miraculously not as a figure of speech but as an internationally acknowledged description of what had happened. It was beyond incredible that thirty-nine Scuds should cause such minimal casualties. And if we had any doubt about it, a Scud missile struck an American barracks in Saudi Arabia and killed scores of American servicemen. These were no firecrackers. But they did virtually nothing to Israel.

We all knew we were witnesses to a great miracle, but did it penetrate deep into our hearts and minds? Was our appreciation just superficial or did it cause profound changes in our lives, in the way we thought and felt, in the essence of who we are? Did we really “see” the miracle, or did it go right by us at the edge of our superficial awareness?

Rav Eliahu Lopian once said that emunah, faith, is not manifest in the intensity of the prayers we say during a crisis but by the intensity of the praises we offer up to Hashem when the crisis has passed. To pray when in danger is a natural reaction; as the common saying goes, there are no atheists in a foxhole. But faith reaches much deeper. It reflects a profound relationship with Hashem sometimes forged in the fire of experience. But when the fire passes, is the relationship still as intense? That is the test of true faith. We may have seen miracles in our time, but did they penetrate beyond the surface and effect changes in who we are? That is the question we must ask ourselves. Did we really “see” the miracles?


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