How We Can Learn to Hear God
Do you really think God talks to us?
We read in Torah that God talked with Moshe like you and I might talk. But Torah also states that Moshe would be the last to talk directly with God. The Prophets had to get their Word thru visions and dreams – and then the Talmudic sages declared that the door had closed and prophecy was finished.
Look around you. It seems pretty clear that we’re in control here, we, the human species. Is God telling us to commit genocide or ignore global warming or create mega-corporations? Are our rulers divinely inspired, or is their religious sensibility just another tool for self-aggrandizement?
For most religious people, it’s difficult to accept that God doesn’t actively manage this world, so they hold to a religious vision that they inherited (and that they believe has worked in the past). But, just like individuals, the species is growing up, in spite of much resistance. We’re coming into our teenage years, and we’re beginning to question what our parents taught us.
Consider: About 350 years ago, Baruch Spinoza was excommunicated for questioning the Divine basis of some of the Torah. Today, the principles that drove his Torah analyses are the very foundation of Conservative and Reform Judaism – and not a small portion of Orthodoxy, as well.
Or consider this: Virtually in our lifetimes, the idea of crimes against humanity and an international court of justice came into being for the first time in history.
Indeed, we are growing up – and just like teenagers, many of us now are not much inclined to talk with our Parent. Nonetheless, our Parent continues to communicate with us.
In the past, we derived that communication from the Torah, mixing in our own opinions liberally and calling it God’s Word. But as teenagers, we need to become more critical about how Torah communicates with us, if we are to derive any Divine communication from it at all.
Let me suggest a start.
The Torah is composed of about 80,000 words, but on a higher level, we can think of it as just One GodWord that we mere humans need to break into 80,000 pieces to begin to understand it.
Neither could Moshe, or a collection of editors 500 years after him, have written this One GodWord without Divine help. It vastly transcended the data and the information that were available to anyone in that time. However it came to him, it also had to have come from beyond him.
One example: The creation story tells a clearly and specifically evolutionary progression in relativistic time (re: Genesis and the Big Bang by Gerald Schroeder). Those two essential details make it unlike any creation story that pre-existed Moshe, or any creation story that could have been written before Darwin and Einstein. Yet this book is at least 2,500 years old.
Do not imagine God is not talking with us. But we, now, as teenagers, are required to learn how to listen. We never had to do before. Children listen to their parents and accept their opinions as truth. Then, suddenly, they transition to teenagers and begin to understand the vast sweep of history and the complexity of the world. That’s where we are now as a people and as a species.
We must now learn how to hear God. We must learn how to distinguish the Divine from all our hopes and dreams and fantasies and illusions; from all the emotions that boil up inside of us; from our egos and from the egotism warping the world around us. We have to learn how to distinguish between our personal wisdom, derived from personal experience, and the Divine Presence that transcends us, while, at the same time informing us.
This is not easy work, and we don’t have a map or a knowledgebase to work from - not yet anyway. In many ways, it’s like listening to a conversation thru a wall, with a lot of background noise, in which most of the details are unclear and garbled. The wall that we’re listening through is our body, and the background noise is our nervous system.
The Divine Presence is incorporeal. We can’t hear it with our ears or see it with our eyes. We might imagine it as operating in many dimensions beyond our three-dimensional world and in infinite sequences unconstrained by time. Yet this God is able to understand us, where we are, within our drastically limited mental and physical abilities. This is the God that has sent our souls down to this world, clothed them in matter, and inspires us moment by moment to awaken.
I urge you to begin your own conversation with God. It is the only way you’ll develop the ability to hear the Divine Voice that is shaping our world.
Stephen Berer is the education coordinator Shirat HaNefesh Congregation in Chevy Chase, MD, where he is also a member. He is a writer and Jewish educator with a love of Judaism that shapes much of what he thinks and does. He is married to his beshert (soul mate) and has two beautiful sons.