G-D IN THE PRESENT TENSE...ALL OF US CAN "HEAR SINAI"AT THIS MOMENT
(Courtesy: Rabbi Douglas Goldhamer)
One of my favorite rabbis of the world of Chasidut is Rabbi Levi Yitzhak, otherwise known as the Kedushat Levi. “Kedushat Levi” is his major text and it is a classic collection of Chasidic philosophy arranged according to the weekly Torah portion.
Rabbi Levi Yitzhak, also called the Berditcher, had a wonderful understanding of the Kabbalah, and often would weave the threads of nistar together with nigela, producing a garment of beautiful Torah thoughts. In this week’s Torah portion, Ki Tavo, Kedushat Levi comments on the text of Deuteronomy 27:9-10, “Moses and the Levitical Priest spoke unto all Israel, saying ‘Keep silence and hear O Israel; this day you have become the people of YHVH your G-d. Listen to the voice of YHVH your G-d and observe His commandments and His laws, which I command you this day.”
Kedushat Levi writes, “Rashi comments on this verse: ‘Every day they should be in your eyes as if they were new.’” Kedushat Levi, in trying to understand Rashi, writes, “How is it that we can experience each day as if it were new -- through our beliefs that, with each and every breath, we receive renewed vital force from G-d. Thus, with each breath, we are made a new creation. Through this faith, we can merit to hear each and every day (the sound of the giving of the Torah at) the foot of Sinai.”
Now, if we can hear Sinai, then it makes sense for Moses to say in verse 10, “Listen to the voice of YHVH, your G-d. That is, without the experience of being renewed each day (and so standing at Sinai) then we will not actually be hearing the voice of the Lord, only the words of Torah. But if we merit hearing in each moment the sounds of Sinai, then we will also merit hearing the very voice of the Lord our G-d.”
Rashi makes the argument that “this day” means today, right now. Even as we read these words, we should not allow the old commandments to become old hat and routine. We should experience them as if they were brand new.
The covenant between us and G-d is not an artifact with a past; we should seek to experience a relationship with G-d as renewed each day.
Levi Yitzhak understands that it is possible to hear G-d’s voice -- the voice of Sinai -- beyond merely the voice of Torah or the commandments. But to do this, we have to experience the newness of the Covenant and the commandments each day.
What we try to do in our seminary, Hebrew Seminary of the Deaf, is to encourage and teach our students how to hear the voice of G-d. We believe we can hear G-d’s voice not only through reading the holy texts, but we can also experience Ruach Kodesh by studying and practicing the kavvanot or meditations of Chaim Vital, Isaac Luria, Moses Cordovero and other giants who also teach that we should seek to experience our relationship with G-d as renewed each day by listening to His voice through the practice of kavvanot.
It is such a joy to see the rabbinical students in my classes seeking to hear G-d’s voice, seeking to wrap themselves around with the Torah, with the full knowledge that this Covenant is not an artifact stuck in the Holy Ark, but a living document that, when read and studied and practiced properly, allows us to hear the voice of G-d.
As we approach these holy days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, we need to remember that, at Sinai, Israel was at the apex of enlightenment and awareness of G-d, gadlut of the highest order.
I believe Levi Yitzhak, together with Rashi’s teachings, are suggesting that it is possible for us, in this moment, on any day, every day, indeed this day, to become present to G-d, without distraction, without self interest, only G-d awareness. This is so exciting. When I study this and recognize this insight, I want to jump on every rooftop and shout and dance that YHVH, our G-d, is as alive and vibrant today as He was at Sinai. Just pay attention Israel.
And as we approach Yom Kippur, I have a further thought for you. The implications of this sort of Divine experience for teshuvah, for real self-transformation, are amazing.
Rabbi Douglas Goldhamer is senior rabbi of Congregation Bene Shalom (Reform) in Skokie and president of Hebrew Seminary of the Deaf, Skokie