Torah from Dixe leftbar.gif [] [] [] [] [] [] [] [] [] [] []    [top_xxx.jpg]


by Rabbi Dov Ber Weisman    
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer    

"The entire people saw the thunder and the flames, the sound of the shofar and the smoking mountain" (Exodus 20:15).



"The entire people saw the thunder and the flames, the sound of the shofar and the smoking mountain" (Exodus 20:15).

The closing section of this week's Torah portion vividly describes the scene as the Jewish people stood at Mt. Sinai, making final preparations to receive the Torah. Remarkably, in recounting Hashem's revelation to them, the above verse relates that they "saw the thunder and the sound of the shofar." Rashi, the fundamental commentary on the Torah, stresses that the simple reading of the verse is the correct one - they saw things that are normally only heard. What is the significance of this aspect of Hashem's revelation?

If you think about the senses of sight and sound, sight is the more physical of the two, as the aphorism "seeing is believing" suggests. We see concrete objects. With hearing, on the other hand, we don't actually see the words or the sound waves. As such, hearing is a more spiritual sense. We generally relate better to the physical; what we can see has more of a reality to us. Conversely, spiritual concepts tend to be vague and distant, and our knowledge of their existence is, to a great extent, based on emunah, faith.

At Mt. Sinai, the Jewish people experienced such an intense revelation of Hashem's presence, that they achieved the heightened level of spirituality of actually seeing sounds. This means that the spiritual realm of existence became a reality to them, just like physicality is to us.

Today, thousands of years later, we find ourselves in a state of hester panim, when G-d's presence is hidden from us. Our period in Jewish history was described by the sages in the Talmud as ikvata d'meshicha, the generations leading up to the coming of the Mashiach (Messiah). The term "ikvata", meaning "heel", is aptly used to describe our situation today. If all of history could be compared to the figure of a person, the generation that received the Torah would be represented by the head, the highest and most outstanding part of the body. To extend the metaphor, our level of spiritually might be compared to the heel, the lowest point on the body. We don't "see the sounds". As such, we might think that whatever service of Hashem we are able to do means nothing to Him, since our mitzvot and prayers and Torah study are on such a low level. However, as we will see, nothing could be further from the truth.

The latter prophets, seeing that the spiritual level of their generations had dramatically declined from the earlier ones, sought to highlight some basic foundations and concepts on which the nation of Israel could focus. First there were eleven of these fundamental concepts, but that soon became too much, so a later prophet cut the number down to seven. That also got to be too much, so a later prophet again cut it down, this time to three. Finally, the prophet Chabakuk came and said that we must focus on just one thing - to live by emunah p'shutah, simple faith.

It is true that we are the heel, the lowest part of the body. But it is precisely because we are in such darkness that any blessing we recite, "amen" which we say, or mitzvah that we do is so important and dear to Hashem. A little light banishes much darkness. If each of us would just commit to getting up every morning and saying six words - Shema Yisrael Hashem Elokeinu Hashem Echad! Never belittle what you are doing.

Let me recount to you an amazing Midrash: Moses is shown a vision of all future generations of the Jewish people, and he sees our generation, the ikvata d'meshicha, and he declares in wonder: Amidst all the social and spiritual chaos, and the rampant immorality, materialism, chutzpah, and propaganda that the secular society panders - there are still Jews studying the Torah and performing mitzvot! Faced with this remarkable scene, he declares, "What am I! - Can I ever live up to the remarkable accomplishment of that future generation!"

What a time we live in - what a test it is, yet what a great opportunity! We don't see the sounds, but that is precisely why our service of Hashem is so sacred and precious to Him. We live by emunah, faith. We pray three times a day for the Temple and Jerusalem of old to be rebuilt, for the Mashiach and resurrection of the dead to come - and the truth is that we have very little concept of the significance and deeper meaning of what we are praying for. Do we really understand what the rebuilding of Jerusalem means? Do we understand the ramifications of having Mashiach in our midst? Do we have any idea of what it is to have the Temple in Jerusalem, a holy place where we can gather together and relate to Hashem? If not, then why do we pray for these things? There is only one reason - tzadik b'emunah tichyeh - the righteous live based on their faith. One who does so is a true servant of Hashem.

We may not "see the sounds," but doing the will of Hashem when we don't have a complete understanding of His purpose means that we are more spiritually attuned in desire and heart than those who could "see what was normally heard." Above all, we must always remember that Hashem desires that we put our heart into everything we do. Our pure intentions and best effort is what Hashem asks from us.


Rabbi Dov Ber Weisman writes from Atlanta.

You are invited to read more Parshat Yitro articles.

Would you recommend this article to a friend? Let us know by sending an e-mail to

butombar.gif [] [] [] []