Look down from Your holy dwelling, from the heavens, and bless Your people Israel, and the ground which You have given to us, as You swore to our forefathers a land flowing with milk and honey. This day, HASHEM, your G-d, is commanding you to fulfill these statutes and ordinances, and you will observe and fulfill them with all your heart and with all your soul. You have selected HASHEM this day, to be your G-d, and to walk in His ways, and to observe His statutes, His commandments and His ordinances, and (L’Shmoah L’Kolo) to obey Him. And HASHEM has selected you this day to be His treasured people, as He spoke to you, and so that you shall observe all His commandments, and to make you supreme, above all the nations that He made, [so that you will have] praise, a [distinguished] name and glory; and so that you will be a holy people to HASHEM, your G-d, as He spoke. (Devarim 26:15-19)
There is so much here that requires deeper understanding and yet there is more that is stated so clearly and plainly that it needs no further explanation. This is the nature of Sefer Devarim- Literally “Words”. Our Sages say, “Words that go out from the heart enter the heart. “These words from the heart of Moshe go directly into the heart of the Jewish People. Let’s highlight some obvious and not so obvious points.
Much is always lost in a translation and maybe we can make up for some of what is at risk of being lost. “You have selected HASHEM this day, to be your G-d, and to walk in His ways, and to observe His statutes, His commandments and His ordinances, and (L’Shmoah L’Kolo) to obey Him.” The translation “to obey Him” is actually quite good in the final analysis. However, the literal term is to “listen to His voice”. This is tricky. How does that translate into obedience?
We begin the year, every year, with an appeal to the ear. Before blowing the Shofar on Rosh HaShana we make a blessing. The blessing oddly is not ‘that You have Commanded us to blow the Shofar”. We can understand that the people who are listening are not blowing, but even if one is blowing without a listening audience, he still makes a blessing like this: “That You have Commended us L’Shmoah Kol Shofar” – to hear the Kol- the Sound of the Shofar. So, we are meant to hear the Shofar. What is added to the equation by saying that we are hearing the KOL the sound of the Shofar. What does that add? It adds a lot!
There is an Aramaic translation written by Onkeles that accompanies the Torah. Sometimes the translation is exactly aligned with the Hebrew words and sometimes there is a dramatic departure that breathes new meaning into the verse. Wherever the word “SHEMA” – “Listen” is used throughout the Torah the Targum, Aramaic translation is “SHEMA”- exactly like in Hebrew. However, when the phrase, “SHEMA B’Kol” -Listen to the Voice” is employed, which is quite often, the Targum translates it to mean, “T’Kabel L’Meimra” to accept what is being said.” That is a huge difference!
Applying this to the blowing of the Shofar on Rosh HaShana, it would seem that not only are we meant to tend our ears to hear a certain sequence of sounds but rather we are opening our hearts and adopting a posture of readiness to accept our mission, in general, and in detail, and with a commitment to the very end. That is what is implied in hearing the KOL, of the Shofar, to accept and be receptive, to understand well the message embedded in that wordless series of sounds.
Now when blowing the Shofar, we are left with an open question. Whose voice is calling out to Whom!? Is HASHEM calling us or are we calling HASHEM? Looking at those verses, an answer comes echoing back. “You have selected HASHEM and HASHEM has selected you”. We are as much the Chosen People as we are the Choosing People! We choose HASHEM and HASHEM chooses us! Ani L’Dodi V’LDodi Li- I am to my beloved and my beloved is to me. We are looking for each in this dusty universe. HASHEM is calling out to us and we are calling out to HASHEM, like a father calling out to his lost child and following the lead of his responding voice. The KOL is the voice of HASHEM searching for the receptive heart of Israel while Israel is seeking out HASHEM! What can be heard in that word is truly beyond words.