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Posted on January 20, 2022
Immediately after the Ten Commandments come to an end, the Torah tells us:
וְכׇל־הָעָם֩ רֹאִ֨ים אֶת־הַקּוֹלֹ֜ת וְאֶת־הַלַּפִּידִ֗ם וְאֵת֙ ק֣וֹל הַשֹּׁפָ֔ר וְאֶת־הָהָ֖ר עָשֵׁ֑ן
All the people saw the thunder and lightning, the sound of the shofar and the mountain smoking. Ex.20:15
This is strange — that they saw lightning and a smoking mountain we understand, but how did the people see thunder, how did they see shofar blasts? Some of our commentators solve the problem by explaining that the people saw what there was to see and heard what there was to hear. But others look at the text and say, no, at the foot of Mount Sinai, the people saw what should not have been possible to see, they actually saw the sounds. In modern terms, we might say that sound waves had become visible to the naked eye.
I would like to offer two different ways to take this. The first we might call ongoing revelation. As Rabbi Adam Mintz of NYC says: “To become a member of the Jewish nation one must recreate the experience of revelation and combine the senses of sight and sound. One must envision the majesty and miraculous nature of the moment and also be able to listen to the sounds of Jewish experience.” The reaching towards God continues even in our own day.
On the other hand, there are occasions when we see things that we should not be able to see, things that we should not have to see. And we learn to look for things that may not be easy to see: the pain beneath the surface; trust and mistrust; loneliness and community; connection and willful disconnection. Then we have to decide what we are going to do with what we see. How can we help heal the pain, how can we help build trust, how can we forge community and connection?
When we hear the Ten Commandments tomorrow, let us think about both approaches; let us think about how Mount Sinai was the beginning of God’s revelation to the people of Israel and the beginning of Israel saying yes to God. And let us think about community, connection, and trust.
The Shabbat after Pittsburgh we came together in shul to grieve together. Please join us for Zoom Havdallah on Saturday night at 7:00 PM on our regular davening link so we can process together. It will be a time to reflect, to cry, to ask questions, to hear from the Gentile community around us, to pray. My sermon tomorrow is called “After Colleyville: A Message of Hope”.
B’vrakhah, Rabbi Spitzer