Call to Action
This week’s Torah Study was led by our Cantorial intern, Rachel Slutsky. Our portion was “Ki Tavo (when you enter),” in which Moses explains to the people of Israel what God expects of them when they cross over to the promised land. He describes the blessings that will come to them if they heed God’s words and enumerates in horrific detail the curses that will befall them should they disobey.
Because of her training in music, Rachel chose to focus on the way in which these curses and blessings are delivered, the voices and sounds mentioned in the Torah portion and in the Rabbis’ commentaries.
Moses and the Levitical priests spoke to all Israel, saying: Silence! Hear O Israel!
After describing the ways in which the tribes will be divided to hear God’s message, Moses says,
The Levites shall then proclaim in a loud voice to all the people of Israel
Commentaries vary on how this portion should be read. One speaker or more? In a loud vice or a soft voice. What is the best way to communicate the importance of our obligations under the covenant with God?
What constitutes a “loud voice” in our world, when there is so much competition for our attention? We happened to be discussing this the day after hundreds of thousands of young people around the world engaged in a “climate strike.” One member of our group said that although she supported the cause, she was immediately alienated when a young striker said that her job was to “yell at you in the street.”
None of us want to be “yelled at.” I wondered how the striker would have been received had she said “yell to you,” which might have been perceived as an invitation, rather than a scolding. Yet, perhaps her point, and the point of the demonstration, is that our generation has failed. We deserve to be yelled at.
What makes us aware that notice is required is a change of volume. If we are surrounded by quiet, a loud voice will jar us into taking notice. If we are surrounded by noise, silence will alert us to pay attention. When an audience is chatting, I have often waited, in silence, for them to perceive a change and direct their attention to me.
At the end of our session Rachel advised us to “disrupt the normal volume of our lives.” For many of us that means seeking enough quiet to hear our inner voices. But for others, like the climate strikers, it may mean finding a voice loud enough to change the world.