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Hearing God’s Whispers

Hearing God’s Whispers

Back in January, I spent the better part of a long Sunday afternoon at my parents' house going through the contents of my mom's desk and her wallet. Among the keepsakes I found in the wallet was a small newspaper clipping:

Torah Haiku
by Ron Kaplan

Va'ethanan

Even dead, Moses
can't enter Israel. Sad
fate for a great man.

That my mother saw fit to carry this clipping in her wallet not only speaks volumes about her love of Torah, Jewish learning, and Moses, but also demonstrates how she truly took to heart Rabbi Ben Bag Bag's imperative about Torah: "Turn it, and turn it, for everything is in it. Reflect on it and grow old and gray with it. Don't turn from it, for nothing is better than it."

My own study of Torah, which began in earnest only after her death several years ago, follows minyan each Shabbat and helps me stay grounded in Jewish time and seasons. More than that, some weeks the hour-long journey to an earlier time and place provides a much needed escape from the hectic pace of my crowded life. At other times, it dovetails so seamlessly with 21st century life that it's nearly impossible not to exclaim, "Gee, God, how'd You do that?!"

Parashat Haazinu in the Book of Deuteronomy reflects well the seamless integration of our ancient texts with our modern world. Not only is the parashah read in early fall, near the anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, but the text itself, Moses' poetic pronouncement to the Israelites just before his death, appears in two tall, parallel columns, eerily evoking the fallen towers.

This year for the first time, I participated in a text study session on Tishah B'Av and another one on Rosh HaShanah. During our Tishah B'Av study, I learned that many believe that on this day God is furthest from the Jewish people. Although this mournful occasion falls during the hottest season of the year for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, it can feel like a spiritual winter, with God's axis pointed away from God's people.

As the High Holidays approach, so, too, does God draw closer until we reach the spiritual summer solstice of Yom Kippur. On this day, God's axis is pointed directly at us, so close that we can hear the Eternal One's whisper. This image was especially palpable to me when, during the Rosh HaShanah study session, I read Rabbi David Wolpe's interpretation of the Unetaneh Tokef:

And so a great shofar will cry - t'kiah.
A still small voice will be heard.

The call to prayer is the shofar, whose piercing, plaintive notes grab our attention. But on the heels of the shofar is this whisper of sound. The message of prayer is in the stillness and silence of a whisper. God does not speak in thunderous pronouncements, but in a small, insistent tone. God will not take away our choice by forcing us to listen. We can ignore that voice if we choose, the voice heard in a whisper, in the frail prodding of law and conscience. On Yom Kippur we attune our ears and our hearts to really listen to God's call, so easily ignored, but so overwhelming once we attend to it.

Indeed, with each study session throughout the year, I find myself further grounded in Jewish time, more deeply connected to our ancient texts, and with increasingly keen hearing, putting me within earshot of God's whispers - and those of my own heart and soul.

Jane E. Herman , a.k.a. JanetheWriter, is the senior writer and editor at the Union for Reform Judaism. She is a graduate of Lafayette College in Easton, PA, and holds a master's degree in public administration from the School of Public Affairs at Baruch College, part of the City University of New York (CUNY) system. She grew up at Temple Emanu-El in Edison, NJ, and now belongs to Temple Shaaray Tefila in New York City. A proud New Yorker, she loves books, fountain pens, social media, Words with Friends, mah jongg, and all things Jewish. She blogs at JanetheWriter Writes.

Jane E. Herman

Published: 10/04/2013

Categories: Learning, Torah Study
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