Feb 13 2020 Dvar Torah


Rabbi Helen Cohn

This morning I am meeting with a group of adults who are training to become Spiritual Directors. People in this group are mainly Christian so the training includes an introduction to other spiritual and religious practices, to help give a broader context for various people they will be working with.

I’ve done this teaching before. I will, as in the past, begin with the basics of Jewish rituals, texts, holidays, names for God, etc. But this year I am trying something new. I want to give them a taste for how we tend to encounter the world. I believe the centrality of Torah and Talmud study, the imaginative influence of Midrash, and the tradition of studying with a partner have all contributed to the Jewish inclination to be inquisitive and questioning. To give the students a taste of this, I am going to let them study a challenging text!

This week’s Torah portion contains the giving of the 10 Commandments. Here is the verse that immediately follows the last commandment:

15 All the people saw the sounds and the lightning and the sound of the shofar and the mountain smoking…

“Saw the sounds”?! What could this mean? Here are the instructions I will give them:

- Sitting with a partner, read the text aloud.

- Take a minute in silence to ask yourself: what strikes me? what catches my attention? what questions arise out of the text?

- One partner shares one thing from these questions, as the other partner listens closely

- The other partner shares his/her one thing of interest

- Discuss. Be imaginative! Consider what might be happening that the text hasn’t told us. It’s ok to disagree.

Fun, huh? And so Jewish!

I am eager to hear what the members of this group come up with. The more scientific of them might think of what we now call synesthesia, “a condition,” Google says, “in which one sense (for example, hearing) is simultaneously perceived as if by one or more additional senses such as sight.”

The group will hopefully enjoy exploring various ideas, but for this first time they probably won’t go as deep as the Hasidic masters, whose interpretation of Torah focuses on our inner, spiritual experience. For example, the Sefat Emet says that when each Israelite heard “I am the Lord your [singular] God,” then “with their very eyes each one saw the part of the divine soul above, that lives within.”

That is, each Israelite heard the Divine voice, and at that moment each saw how their individual soul was connected to the holy.

We can consider for ourselves: what would it be like to stand at Sinai and see/hear the Divine voice? What in our own soul is touched? How shall we live, having heard/seen the Voice? Be imaginative!