See I place before you today blessing and curse. (Devarim 11:26)
Hear O’Israel Hashem is our G-d Hashem is One! (Devarim 6:4)
Hearing is not comparable to seeing! (Talmud Rosh HaShana)
We see that sometimes the Torah shouts “LISTEN” or “Hear” and sometimes we are told “LOOK”- “SEE”. We know that the Torah is both read and heard. There is an Oral and a Written Torah. When the Talmud wants to invite us to inquire and to study more deeply it states, “Ta Shma” – “Come Hear” and when the Zohar wants us to delve deeper it says, “Ta Chazi” – “Come see”! Sometimes it’s an appeal to the ears and sometimes there is an invitation to the eyes. What is the difference between the way we learn with hearing and the way we learn by seeing?
The answer may be in these familiar Torah instructions, “You should know today and return it to your heart that Hashem is G-d in the heavens above and on the earth below. There is no other!” (Devarim 4:39) How is that done?
That we know there is HASHEM may be the easier task. Moshe is speaking to the generation that experienced firsthand and witnessed the plagues in Egypt, the splitting of the sea, and the giving of the Torah. He is also speaking contemporaneously to us, “know it today”.
Since that date we, as a nation of individuals and families have not gone a day or a week or a year without doing something that hearkens back to and reverberates from those cosmic events. They are on our lips in the reading of the 3rd paragraph of Shema, twice a day. They are scripted on to the Tefillin that we don daily. Every Shabbos we mention at Kiddush that all of this is a reminder of the exodus from Egypt. Every year we dive deeply again and again into the entire event. Sukkos too is in order that our generations should know that HASHEM housed us in Sukkos in the desert when we left Egypt.
Knowing it even today is something that can be accomplished with patient thought and utter honesty. Yet even after knowing this well, there is much work to be done. What does it mean to “return it to your heart? That seems to be a separate task.
Rabbi Yisrael Salanter had said, “The distance between the mind and the heart is greater than the distance between the sun and the earth!” To get what we know into our hearts is giant job and when it is done it is a humongous accomplishment. How does that job look? What we hear through our ears is processed as intellectual knowledge. The advantage of hearing a thing is that it can remain in cold storage in our minds for a long time, like thousands of years long. That is the beauty of listening and hearing O’ Israel. The facts don’t change whether we are in a good mood or bad or if the economy is doing well or not. It’s money in the bank! It’s a steak in the freezer.
The only problem is that sometimes money is not always liquid and a frozen steak is inedible. A person can remain emotionally starved and be led to live in violation of what he truly knows if he cannot get his heart engaged. The heart is like a barbecue grill, a fire pit. There is a fire in the heart! The heart is less responsive to hollow words and more reactive to pictures and images. Sometimes picture words can excite images in the mind and awaken a fire. When we take what we know intellectually out of the freezer of our mind and place it on the heart then we are having an authentically edible Jewish experience.
We don’t act on what we know! We act on what we feel! Feelings, however, are reliably unreliable, spontaneous, and short lived. The challenge is that the world around us wants to impress their pictures on our minds and turn feelings into facts, as if feelings alone are holy. The Torah mandates that we take what we know to be true and create richly colorful pictures that will begin to inspire that inner fire. Then noble ideals become a holy reality.
Madeline Hunter wrote a book on the elements of instruction. It shows how to make great lesson plans. She says that when a teacher employs both audio and visual cues then it is like teaching a student to catch a ball with two hands. There is more likely to be a clean reception. It only makes sense then, that at the greatest lesson of all time, the giving of the Torah, the best teaching methodologies were employed. The verse testifies, “The whole nation saw the sounds”. We saw what could normally only be heard. We heard and saw simultaneously. This breathes new meaning into the saying, “Yiddishkeit is not taught, it is caught”, with two hands!