From the Haftarah of Parshat Re'eh:
Incline your ear. Listen. This spiritual direction is central to Jewish experience and all Jewish life. It is the bedrock of our existence. It is the most famous line of our Hebrew prayers: "Shema Yisrael!" Listen, Israel. Listen, children. Listen - collectively and individually; God asks us to hear the Divine voice and define the holy way forward.
The prophet Isaiah helps us achieve holy listening, by giving us further guidance. The verse begins, "Incline your ear..." There is a physical preparation that you must do. There is an inner intentionality that we must seed, nourish and engage. Then and only then can we truly hear. And what comes with hearing? The soul is awakened!
With each Shema, Isaiah explains, there is a renewal of the covenant.
Through the cacophony of noise and voices that obscure the voice of God breaks through or quietly whispers. The ear hears, the mind discerns.
God helps those who wish to hear the echoes and catch the soundwaves from Sinai.
What is God's voice like for you, in your life? Describe it. Think of the phrase dynamically (theologically) - God's voice. How does it manifest for you when you truly listen for it? Might there be some methods or spiritual practices that help us achieve this kind of deep listening?
Do we need to quiet ourselves in a deeper way, to truly hear the echoes of Sinai or God's voice in history?
Is such silence possible for us? I find this encouragement to artfully construct a booth of silence around me, soundproof walls of sacred space. Even as I lovingly recall songbirds melodies and the rush of the seas' waters, I move myself beyond roar or rhythms of nature and the thunder of planes and all our technological wonders and creations. The goal of hearing is the goal of silencing but the voice of our Creator and Commander.
And when we do not exactly tap into the moments at Har Sinai, at the Giving of the Torah, we still channel ourselves into comprehending what we may of HaShem's voice and teachings.
Only the stubborn and rebellious do not hear! This is the message of the Torah in what is a difficult passage, if we do not read it as a metaphorical warning for all of us children.
This section of the Torah is generally known as the "wayward and rebellious son" episode. Yet, read more as a mussar text, to teach a moral lesson to us all, it is a warning about our unwillingness to listen for God's voice through the voice of the generations who came before us. The mother and father are representative of generations past. They are also, mystically, different manifestations of godliness in the universe we live in and experience. "Understanding and Wisdom" are father and mother according to the mystical map of the Kabbalists. We must embrace the understandings and wisdom of the Sages and those whose interpretations and instruction guide us along holy paths. We must listen for the Divine voice that flows through earthly channels, that stems from the lessons of the ones who love us.
As Rabbi Aaron Cohen's exploration of the haftarah of Parshat Re'eh inspired this source sheet, I turn to a source that he brought near the end of his essay "Listening for Life" in the collection by the Maggid Press called "From Within the Tent: The Haftarot." Under the subtitle "Listening to One's Innermost Self" he told of R. Elimelech Bar Shaul writing about a new yeshivah student speaking with a friend several years his elder. The novice student inquired about the nature of the soul. The young man was looking for a way to understand how we hear God in our modern age.
The mentor answered the student: We left the noise and the tumult. We left our precious surroundings and its great and small matters. We entered into tranquil expanses, into the silent night We, too, have found tranquility, our tense soul has found quiet...and internally everything is quiet, all the shutters have been closed. The noisy outside world does not penetrate, it is not heard. And then, a great, deep, full moment of silence. The soul took the permission and the privilege to speak, without a voice, or a statement or words...like the fall of dew in the morning, like the flower opening its petals...At that moment, the world was revealed to us in a new light...and so we began our conversation. The individual and the nation cannot be elevated spiritually except through momentous of silence, of inner, pure attentive listening. (Me-arkehei Leiv, 30-31)
What experience do you think the mentor is describing? Is it one experience? A series of steps or approaches to life?
If we read his reflections to the new student as making goals about listening and hearing and awakening our souls what aspirations can we define and envision?
What does is it mean to "hear God's voice" in our time and in our lives?