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Friday, 6 February, 2015 - 10:46 am

One Sunday, the Priest arrived at services with band-aids all over his cheek. During his sermon he explained that in the morning he had decided to take a nice, clean shave in honor of services. “I was thinking of my speech and I—accidentally—cut my face.”

A child raised his hand, stood, and said: "Father! Next week do us all a big favor. Change your pattern: Think of your face and cut your speech!"

This week's portion of Yitro has one phrase which generates an essential discussion about the relevance of Judaism today. When Moses recounts the revelation at Sinai and the communication of the Ten Commandments, he concludes:

“These words the Lord spoke to all who assembled at the mount–out of the midst of the fire, the clouds, and the thick darkness, with a great voice, and He did not repeat it. He wrote these words on two tablets of stone, and delivered them to me.” This statement includes a very strange phrase. What is Moses attempting to say with the words “and He did not repeat it”? That after G-d concluded His powerful sermon, He did not repeat it all over again?

A child once asked his father, why when Rabbis finish their sermons, nobody applauds? The father answered: We are afraid that the Rabbi may interpret the applause as a request for an encore!

What does the above mean? The Midrash explains, “He did not repeat it” means that the Divine voice coming from Sinai had no echo. Usually, every voice carries with itself its echo. This voice, in contrast, had no “repetition,” it did not create any echo.

Why was G-d's voice echo-less? Why do we care?

An echo is created when a sound meets with a substance that resists it; instead of absorbing its waves, the substance repels them, bouncing them back to the void. Hence an echo is generated. It is very similar to a ball bouncing off a wall. The wall forms an obstruction to the forward momentum of the ball, thereby forcing it to reverse its course, and guides its momentum in the opposite direction. The wall and the ball are two separate entities; one cannot absorb the other. Their meeting is by definition a confrontation.

The voice of the Ten Commandments had no echo, because it permeated every object in the universe, and it was absorbed in the psyche of every single Jew. Any resistance we might meet in implementing them is superficial and temporary. Ultimately, the essence of every created being is consistent with, and wholly receptive to, Torah.

Torah is never at odds with contemporary life. The voice of Torah never needs to “overpower” the voice of modernity. The Torah is the voice that speaks to every age and every time with the deepest truths—the truths relevant to that time and place. G-d’s voice transcends all time and place, but because of that it also constitutes the essence of EVERY time and EVERY space.

In 1937, when the handwriting was already on the wall regarding the future of the Jews in Europe, David Ben-Gurion appeared before the Peel Commission to lobby for the immigration of European Jews to Palestine.

This is what he said: 
"300 years ago, there came to the New World a boat, and its name was the Mayflower. The Mayflower’s landing on Plymouth Rock was one of the great historical events in the histories of England and America. But I would like to ask any Englishman sitting here on the commission, what day did the Mayflower leave port? What date was it? I’d like to ask the Americans: Do they know what date the Mayflower left port in England? How many people were on the boat? Who were their leaders? What kind of food did they eat on the boat?

"More than 3,300 years ago, long before the Mayflower, our people left Egypt, and every Jew in the world, wherever he is, knows what day they left. And he knows what food they ate. And we still eat that food every anniversary. And we know who our leader was. And we sit down and tell the story to our children and grandchildren in order to guarantee that it will never be forgotten. And we say our two slogans: ‘Now we may be enslaved, but next year, we will be a free people.’

‘Now we are scattered throughout the world, but next year, we will be in Jerusalem.’ There’ll come a day that we’ll come home to Zion, to the Land of Israel. That is the nature of the Jewish people."

How is it that every Jew knows what food we ate and which mountain we stood at? Because the Torah and the Mitzvot had no echo. They constitute our very beings. You can forget that which is additional to you, you can forget where your phone or keys are, but you can’t forget your mother’s name. On this Shabbat, we come back mentally to Mt. Sinai and hear the voice once again—the voice summoning us to make this a year of more Torah and Mitzvot in our daily lives—not a voice coming from without, but the voice coming from deep within, because G-d’s voice at Sinai did not have an echo; it was absorbed in each of us. His voice and our own voice are really one.

Today, we have a choice to make. How are we going to read this verse and what are we going to make of Judaism today and now?

Are we going to choose the reading that says the voice of G-d is no longer heard? Are we going to choose the reading that the voice of G-d never ceases to impose rules upon us?

Or will we have the depth to choose the reading that G-d's voice is nothing but our own deepest and truest voice? The voice of Torah embodies our own deepest needs, yearnings, and fulfillments.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yoseph Geisinsky


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