Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Vayikra
To dedicate this lesson

Listening To God


Rabbi Berel Wein

With the beginning of the reading of the book of Vayikra this Shabat in the synagogue services the title of the book itself calls out to us for understanding what is meant when the Torah tells us that God called out to Moshe. Moshe experiences a special and unique method of Godly revelation. The Torah itself testifies to this by describing that God so to speak talks to Moshe 'face to face.' The prophets of Israel received Godly communuication while in a dreamlike trance state. But the thrust of Jewish tradition is that even though there is no longer any type of Godly prophecy present in our world and society God still communicates with humans. But He does so in very subtle means, in reflections of human behavior and world events themselves. Free will allows humans to behave as they will, yet there is visible to those who wish to see it a guiding heavenly hand in world affairs. A few decades ago two scientists won a Nobel Prize for being able to hear yet the echo of the sounds of the original birth of the universe at the moment of its creation. We all know that human hearing is possible only within a limited range of hearing wave frequencies. Judaism preaches that good deeds and moral behavior, Torah observance and loyalty to traditional Jewish values help attune and expand our hearing ability to now listen to heavenly sound frequencies which were originally blocked to us. And that is the auxiliary message of Vayikra - that God called out to Moshe and Moshe's hearing is so perfectly attuned to heavenly communication he is always 'face to face' with his Creator. That is the true indication of the greatness of Moshe, it is what makes him the most unique of all the world's prophets, teachers and leaders.

The word Vayikra as written in the Torah contains a miniature letter 'aleph.' This indicates to us that God's message to us is subtle, quiet, easy to ignore temporarily but nevertheless persistent and ongoing. As the Lord told the prophet Elijah 'I do not appear in the great wind or in earthquakes or other terrifying natural phenomena but rather in a small, still voice.' Listening to a still, small voice requires good hearing acumen and intense concentration. Casual hearing will never do it anymore. Therefore in our times the small 'alef' requires us to really listen and pay attention to what transpires in our personal and national lives. Oftentimes we, like the prophet Yonah, attempt to flee from the still small voice that continually echoes within us. But it remains persistently within us and it patiently awaits our ability to improve our hearing to the extent that it truly is listened to in our everyday lives.The Bible teaches us that Shimshon began his career as the savior and Judge of Israel when he was able to hear the spirit of the Lord beating within his heart and person. In our busy and noisy lives, with so much incessant sound exploding all around us constantly, we really have little time or ability to listen to our true selves that are always speaking to us. That inner voice of ourselves is the medium that Judaism teaches us that the Lord uses to speak to us, to call out for our attention and to give us moral guidance and courageous guidance. But it can only be of value to us if we listen to that inner voice and that requires concentration, thought and committment.

A great sage once remarked that when a Jew prays to God he or she is talking to God. But when a Jew studies Torah than God so to speak is talking to him or her. That is one of the reasons that Judaism places such a great emphasis on Torah study. As the Talmud puts it: 'The study of Torah outweighs all other commandments.' It is the proven method for the attuning of the spiritual frequencies of our hearing to enable the sound of our Creator that beats within us to be heard by us. We should make every effort to improve our hearing and enable ourselves to listen to iour Creatoe Who constantly calls out to us.
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