Seeing the Sounds - יתרו

Friday, 25 January, 2019 - 12:10 pm

S.jpgSeeing the Sounds

As the Jewish people gathered at the foot of Mount Sinai they heard the voice of G-d speaking the Ten Commandments. The Torah describes the awesome experience:  

And all the people saw the voices and the torches, the sound of the shofar, and the smoking mountain, and the people saw and trembled; so they stood from afar.

What is the meaning of the words “and all the people saw the voices”? How can voices be seen? The Midrash tells us that there is a disagreement regarding this verse. Rabbi Yishmael believes that the Jews did not see anything unusual. They saw the torches and heard the voices (The word “saw” in the verse refers to the the word “torches”). Rabbi Akiva, however, insists that the verse must be read literally: “the people saw the voices”, they actually saw the voices. In the words of Rabbi Akiva: “they saw that which is usually heard, and they heard that which is usually seen”.

According to Rabbi Akiva, the experience at Sinai was much more than just receiving ten moral instructions for life; Sinai was a spiritual revelation which changed the way the Jews perceived the meaning of existence. In general the world can be divided into that which is “seen” and that which is “heard”. The concrete, physical needs, desires and experiences are “seen”, they are experienced as the ultimate reality. While that which is “abstract”, theoretical and spiritual, is “heard”. The intangible spirit is not something we can see with our naked eye. To experience it we need to “hear” and “listen”. We must use our mind to discover truths that are not obvious to the observer.    

According to Rabbi Akiva, at Sinai they “heard that which is usually seen”, the physical matter, which is usually perceived as absolute reality, as the most important thing in life, became an abstract idea, while spirituality, “that which is usually heard”, was “seen”, it became real and obvious.  

The experience of Sinai was not merely a one time event. Everytime we study Torah, we are recreating the revelation of Sinai. We are not only hearing the words of G-d being spoken directly to us, but studying the words of Torah also enhances our perception as to what is meaningful and worthy of pursuit. When we study Torah, our priorities are realigned, The sublime ideas in life; meaning, holiness,  transcendence, become real and tangible. For each time we study Torah we are standing at Sinai, and “seeing the sounds”.

(Based on the teachings of the Rebbe, Lekutei Sichos Yisro, vol. 6 Sicha 2.)



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