The voice is there, even when you think you cannot hear it.
G-d speaks to Man constantly. He speaks at all times and under all
circumstances. He speaks to the whole person, and to each of his parts.
Part of our responsibility as Jews is to listen carefully to that voice,
and to detect what it is telling us.
A famous mashal illustrates why it must be so. A king sends his beloved
son to a distant part of the realm, a place frequented by the king’s
mortal enemies. The king understands all too well the danger his son
faces – the struggles and obstacles with which he must deal. The son
occupies a prominent place in the king’s mind. He thinks of him always,
and makes it his business to remain in constant touch.
The Jewish neshamah stands in place of the son. It is sent on a mission to
a hostile and dangerous place. A Jew must realize that the King insists on
keeping open lines of communication, and speaks with us constantly. Even
when the message is not so much to our liking, we must understand that it
comes from our dearest Friend, our compassionate Father. Nothing can be
worse for a Jew than to feel that Hashem has turned from him and cast him
aside. He must believe instead that Hashem cares deeply about him in all
situations and circumstances, and reaches out to speak with him.
The Besht pointed out one example of the effects of Divine speech.
Chazal2 tell us of a Heavenly voice
that each day proclaims, “Woe to people for the shame of the Torah!” None
of us, however, seem to have ever heard such a voice. And if no human
hears it, why bother having it speak in the first place? The Besht
explained that the bas kol’s proclamation is no soliloquy. If it were not
heard, it would not speak. In fact, the bas kolis very much in hearing
range. We are often seized by spontaneous thoughts of teshuvah. Those
thought are our response to the bas kol that we sense on some level. The
voice is there, and we hear it – even when we are not aware of it.
The opening pasuk of our parshah can be read in this vein. “Listen well, O
heavens, and I will speak. Let the earth hear the words of my mouth.”
3Heaven and earth coexist within each
of us. Parts of us mimic the angelic; other parts are more animal-like.
The pasuk tells us that both our heavenly selves – our minds and hearts –
and our more earthly selves – the parts that pull us in the direction of
lower desires and mundane activities – should pay careful attention to the
words that come from Above. The messages are finely tuned to suit the
different components, because no common language will serve both. (It is
quite possible that a person should soar with his more elevated self,
while remaining quite degraded in his lower being.)
The Torah differentiates between the two messages by employing dibur in
connection with the Heavens, and switching to amirah in regard to earth.
Hashem calls to us with very different approaches. The Yesod Ha-Avodah
found an intriguing allusion in the words of Mishlei 4 “Mussar b’ni al tim’as.”5 It could be read as follows: “The best mussar is to recognize
that you are my son! Therefore, do not make yourself despicable. Do not
act in a way that will bring disgrace to a prince, the son of the King!”
This high-minded appeal can only resonate with our higher, more noble
By contrast, our lower selves require very different treatment. They need
to hear of Judge and judgment, of reward for our good deeds and
consequences for our misdeeds.
The Heavens are mentioned first, because in most cases the body is drawn
after the head. As the Besht pointed out, neither keeping in mind the
certainty of our appointments with death, nor consciousness of Divine
retribution will inspire our hearts to His service. 6 Only a deep longing to attach ourselves to G-d
awakens us to His service. The pasuk thus suggests that when our more
elevated selves respond to the lofty call to devekus, the call to
experience a form of joy unparalleled in any other human endeavor, our
lower selves follow along, and are also moved to His service.
Dibur and amirah have specific connotations. Chazal tell us that dibur is
often harsh, while amirah is usually softer and gentler. Our higher
selves need to hear the unvarnished truth. At times, this means dwelling
on harsher aspects of Hashem’s relationship with us. Because our minds and
hearts are more elevated, more is expected of them. On the other hand,
our coarser selves sometimes have to be lulled into cooperation with
pleasantness. This parallels the offering of the Torah to Bais Yaakov
(i.e. the women) in a gentler tone than to the men.
The Heaven-earth dichotomy suggests other important distinctions in our
lives. Most of us will inhabit both the Heavenly and earthly realms in the
course of our lives. We will enjoy periods of heavenly clarity,
expansiveness and light in which we sense HKBH in all His Being. We will
also endure times when we feel low, confined and limited as if trapped in
a narrow place whose contours hem us in on all sides. In all of these
times, Hashem speaks to us, albeit in different ways.
Some of these times are fixed into the calendar itself. Hashem guarantees
us times of Heavenly elevation, making it easy for us to feel His
immediacy and closeness. Shabbos allows us a time each week to feel the
power of His Divinity, to return to our Source and rejuvenate ourselves as
new beings. The Yamim Nora’im afford us an opportunity to purify
ourselves. At both of these times, we hear a message very different from
what we hear at times of relative concealment. At such times, we find
ourselves estranged and discontented. But it is crucial to remember at
such times that His voice is still calling out to us, albeit with a
We ought to be especially attentive to the Divine voice at this time of
year. The Shalah HaKadosh pointed to a verse in Amos. “A lion has
roared! Who will not fear?”7 The word
for lion – aryeh – can be taken as an acronym for Elul, Rosh HaShanah, Yom
Kippur, Hoshanah Rabbah. Those days roar to us, stirring us from our
The two great lights 8 among all days
are Shabbos and Yom Kippur. “You will proclaim Shabbos a delight, and the
holy [day] of Hashem honored.” 9 The
Zohar 10 understands the holy day as
Yom Kippur. Between Shabbos and Yom Kippur, a Jew finds the source of
kedushah to illuminate his entire year. Through both of these, he learns
that all earthly delights pale by comparison to a sense of closeness to
The verse continues with, “Then – az – you will delight in Hashem.” Az can
be expanded into alef, or the day that occurs but once a year on Yom
Kippur, and zayin, the day that comes once every seven. Now Shabbos we
readily understand to be a day of delight. Yom Kippur, however, is a time
of overwhelming awe and reverence. In what sense is it a time of delight?
We find the answer in a verse in Tehilim. “My soul is sated as if with fat
and abundance when my mouth gives praise with joyous language.” 11 We deny
ourselves five pleasures on Yom Kippur; they are matched by the five
tefilos of the day, instead of the usual three. This is no coincidence.
Yom Kippur allows us to experience even yirah as pleasurable! Our stomachs
may be empty, but we gorge ourselves on yirah, and find it satisfying as
fat and abundance – a pure delight!
When a Jew puts these special days of Shabbos and Yom Kippur to good use,
the power of these most Heavenly of all days transfigures the earthly,
allowing all the ordinary, earth-bound days of the rest of the year to
speak eloquently the words of Hashem.
1 Based on Nesivos Shalom pgs. 216-218 2Shemos Rabbah 41:7 3 Devarim 32:1 4Mishlei 3:11 5Literally, “My child, do not despise My discipline.” 6 I..e.although Chazal in fact advise us to keep both of those
in mind, their utility is limited to preventing us to succumb to
temptation. They are not effective in moving us to a better general form
of His service 7Amos 3:8 8 An allusion to Genesis 1:16 9 Yeshaya 58:13 10 Zohar 2:47A 11 Tehilim 63:6