For the past many months, I have been co-teaching a morning class on the weekday Amidah. We begin each class by listening to a song. Mechanically speaking, I share the sound from my computer and it seemingly magically can be heard through the participants' speakers.
This morning, for unknown reasons, the sound share worked for some students but not others. And people started to write in the chat, "I can't hear it." And then others responded, "I can hear it." I had little faith in my ability to solve this technological issue. But I did have the thought, this is feeling a lot like Sinai.
When I imagine the moment of revelation, as described in this week's parsha, Yitro, I imagine the crowd of Israelites full of anticipation and uncertainty. Some eager, some skeptical, some terrified. I imagine the confusion. The thunder and the silence. The wondering: Was that the voice of the Holy One or just a low pressure system passing through? It is so hard to trust our own experience of something so unprecedented.
One midrash tells the story this way (Shemot Rabbah 5:9):
כְּשֶׁנָּתַן הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא אֶת הַתּוֹרָה בְּסִינַי הֶרְאָה בְּקוֹלוֹ לְיִשְׂרָאֵל פִּלְאֵי פְּלָאִים, כֵּיצַד?
הָיָה הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא מְדַבֵּר וְהַקּוֹל יוֹצֵא וּמַחֲזִיר בְּכָל הָעוֹלָם...
"In the moment when the Holy Blessed One gifted Torah at Sinai, God's voice was revealed through wondrous miracles. How? The Holy Blessed One would speak and the voice (kol) could be heard from one end of the earth to the other..."
The midrash goes on to explain that the Israelites would hear the voice coming from the south and run towards it. And then they would hear it from the north and run towards it. The east, the west, the heavens, the earth. But every time they arrived, the sound was coming from somewhere else. Then the sound splits into 70 voices, in 70 languages, so that each and every person could receive Torah in their own way.
אֵצֶל כָּל יִשְׂרָאֵל כָּל אֶחָד וְאֶחָד לְפִי כֹּחוֹ
I am so conditioned to believe that if only circumstances were different, then I would have the capacity to make great changes or heed much-needed wisdom in my life.
But what if the opposite is true?
What if the revelation at Sinai can be received wherever we are in life, in whatever way we are most easily able to receive it?
What if we don't need to run beyond our reach, or wait for some better moment, or be anyone but who we are?
What if the clarity and connections we long for are in fact seeking us out, descending from the heavens, delicate as snowflakes?
This Shabbat, may we take the time to attune to the still small voice in our own hearts. And to know this too as Torah.
Rabbi Ari Lev
You can search Rabbi Ari Lev's blog below:
Rabbi Ari Lev Fornari brings Torat Hayyim, a living tradition, to Kol Tzedek through thoughts about prayer, justice, and community.