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SEEING THE SOUNDS

rafirank@mjc.org / www.mjc.org

Rabbi Rafi RankBy the CyberRav—Rabbi Rafi Rank

Computers have become mini-home entertainment systems.  On their screens, you can play solitaire, watch TV, listen to music, and shop till you drop.  It’s all very distracting when the very same instrument used for work is also the machine used for play.  Fortunate are they who can do both simultaneously.  I’m not among the fortunate, but, a confession: I’ve been preparing for Shavuot by looking at a Beethoven symphony.

I’ve been listening to it as well, but in this case, the real preparation comes in looking at Beethoven’s Ninth, which I’ve had the good fortune to do via the Windows Media player.  The Media Player, for those of you who may not have this technological toy, allows you to visualize the music it plays in any number of ways.  I enjoy looking at it as ocean mist, the waves breaking in height commensurate with the crescendos of the music.  As Beethoven’s symphony pulsates, the waves on the screen jump up, disintegrate in a spray and fall back to the ocean from where they originated. It’s very dramatic, in an abstract way, and moves one to contemplate the physics of sound, which leads me to the festival of Shavuot.

For according to the Torah’s account, the weather at Mount Sinai was as riveting as the booming voice of God—

Vekhol ha’am ro’im et hakolot

And all the people saw the thunder (Exodus 20:15)

Come again—they ”saw“ the thunder?  The last time I encountered thunder was very much an auditory event, not a visual one.  And yet again we read—

Atem re’item ki min hashamayim dibarti imakhem

You have seen that from the Heavens I spoke to you…(Exodus 20:19)

The people saw God speaking?  They could not have seen God, for as we know, no human can see God and live.  But what would it mean to see God speaking in a pre-Windows Media Player era?

Our physicist friends tell us that sound is a wave.  To understand sound as a wave is to have a deeper appreciation of what the miracle of sound is all about.  In seeing the thunder and in seeing the words of God, our ancestors were clearly wading in the surf of divine energy, the waves of God’s sounds and words splashing around them, breaking over them, soaking them thoroughly from head to toe.  This was a cosmic revelation that would in someway cleanse them of a slave mentality, and bless them with the freedom of truth and responsibility. 

As we strive to see the words of God, we strive to not merely hear them but to explore them, plummet their depths and discover the meaning of our responsibilities to God and to each other.

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