Trying to Describe That Which Transcends Language
This was a timely read for me. Earlier today I read an article from a conservative author about why we *have* to refer to God with male pronouns, but I knew it was off from the start. Reading this piece on the sheer language-breaking power of the revelation at Sinai helped me put some of those feelings into words (ironically). Thank you for that, Rabbi!
I came to say how awesome this take is but I’m… speechless. (Very seriously reminded of “The Greatest Song In The World” by Tenacious D)
My initial experience of the Holy was while walking home from school. It continues to shape and sustain my life. I was seven years old. It took 40 years for me to speak of it. Deepest gratitude to you Rabbi Ruttenberg.
My father was a teacher of Jewish studies including Torah text for most of his adult life. Mostly to young children; he was my teacher when I was in second grade. (I say "was" -- he's retired from active teaching, but he still writes a parsha-of-the-week newsletter, which in its own way is still being a teacher.)
On the subject of the revelation at Sinai, he likes to tell a story about the time he was at a World's Fair and saw a science exhibit involving a computer that would take sounds, usually voices, and display them in realtime as a visual rendering on a screen. Which isn't anything particularly striking now, but at the time it was mindblowing. And for the first time, my father says, he felt he might have some dim understanding of what the text means when it says that the Israelites "saw the sounds."
A lot of synchronicity going on here, as I am reading Rabbi Danya's brilliant midrash as I am in a Hebrew Bible II class with Rabbi Dr. Rachel Mikva. I sometimes wonder whether we should simply accept that Rumi was write when he wrote, "Silence is the language of God; all else is poor translation."
It does indeed transcend language.
All I can manage is Thank you. I have to go sit down and think.
Joy is part of what Jews do at Purim. Because this is a leap year in the Hebrew calendar, Jews are celebrating Purim Katan today, the full moon of Adar I. I hope the commentary linked below spreads a bit of joy your way today. The next full moon, in Adar II, will be the big Purim proper celebration.
Hebcal / Purim Katan 2022 / 5782
Minor Purim celebration during Adar I on leap years
begins at sundown on Mon., 14 Feb. 2022 and ends at nightfall on Tues., 15 Feb. 2022.
Here's some beautiful learning from a previous Jewish leap year:
"The Purim Without Purim" by Rachel Barenblat / Feb. 13, 2014 / Velveteen Rabbi
"... -- it's just like Big Purim, except that we don't read the Megillah or give gift baskets to friends or the poor, which is to say, we don't do the activities which characterize Purim proper at all. Or, as an amnesiac Kermit the Frog put it in an advertising slogan in The Muppets Take Manhattan, "It's just like taking an ocean cruise, only there's no boat and you don't actually go anywhere."
happy purim katan
Rabbi Ruttenberg has given us a lot to think about, as usual.
Seeing the voices at Sinai reminds me that Sinai/Horeb was a multi-sensory event for the average participant. I’m sure there are a lot I missed.
Seeing - Lightning, Smoke, watching Moses going up and down the mountain, a lot of people
Hearing - Thunder, Shofar, scared animals, a lot of people
Feeling - Earthquake, Thunder, jostling crowd
Smelling - Smoke, Fire, the encampment
Tasting - Smoke , Ash (possibly)
There is an interesting reference to Rashi’s take on hearing God’s voice in “The Particulars of Rapture …” by Aviva Gottleib Zornberg (page 263 – Kindle version) “A shudder runs through the people at each of the Ten Commandments, a wave of fear that carries them backwards the full length of their camp. Essentially this means that the fear, the trauma inflicted by the experience of hearing God’s voice, makes them, as a group lose their footing: they yield the ground they have so much desired. … This is the hidden, kinetic dimension of what is traditionally known as “Standing at Sinai.””
While trying to track down more on the Heschel quote, I found this helpful Sefaria sheet by Rabbi Robert Gamer, "Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel: Mystic, Poet & Prophet" https://www.sefaria.org/sheets/210024.9?lang=bi&with=all&lang2=en The expanded quote from "God in Search of Man" (pg. 184-185) is "We must not try to read chapters in the Bible dealing with the event at Sinai as if they were texts in systematic theology. Its intention is to celebrate the mystery, to introduce us to it rather than to penetrate or to explain it. As a report about revelation the Bible itself is a midrash." So let us celebrate the mystery.
I’m going to assume we haven’t reached Exodus 24 yet. There is a lot of action in 18 verses and a meal with a view of God for seventy-four people, and no one dies.
Absolutely essential teaching here, IMHO...thank you, Rabbi Danya.