If Moses came to speak, why did he listen first?
Table for Five: Nasso
In partnership with the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles
Edited by Salvador Litvak, the Accidental Talmudist
When Moses would come into the Tent of Meeting to speak with Him, he would hear the voice speaking to him from the two cherubim above the covering which was over the Ark of Testimony, and He spoke to him.
Rabbi Elliot Dorff, American Jewish University
When Moses heard God speaking, he had no doubt that it was indeed God. How, though, are other people supposed to know if someone claiming to have heard God actually did? Jeremiah (8:10; 14:14; etc.), complains repeatedly about false prophets, and the Rabbis (B. Bava Batra 12a) were sufficiently worried about false claims about hearing God that they declared that prophecy ceased with the destruction of the First Temple and was replaced by interpreting the Torah. That, though, compounded the problem, for, as the Rabbis (Numbers Rabbah 13:15-16) themselves recognized, “there are 70 faces to the Torah” – that is, any verse can be interpreted in multiple ways. Judaism is definitely not fundamentalist!
How, then, are we supposed to determine what is a good interpretation of what God wants of us and what is not? The Rabbis (B. Eruvin 13b) state part of the answer by saying that it depends on the character of the interpreter: even though both the schools of Shammai and Hillel heard “the word of the living God,” the law is according to the School of Hillel because they were kind and humble and taught the opinion of the School of Shammai before articulating their own position. Part of the answer, though, depends on the content of what is asserted, for if God, as we say in our prayers three times a day, is “good to all” (Psalms 145:9), then an accurate hearing of God’s word in our time must also be good for all involved.
Aliza Lipkin, Writer and educator, Maaleh Adumim, Israel
Moshe came to the Tent of Meeting to speak to G-d. If so, why is it written he listened to G-d’s voice and then he spoke? Before speaking, Moshe would first attune himself to G-d’s Essence, which emanated from above the Ark and was audible through the Cherubim. In this way, he would actively align himself with G-d in order to properly communicate.
This is indicative of how we should approach a conversation with another individual. We should align ourselves with the spirit of where they are coming from in order to understand them and thus communicate with them effectively.
In addition, the cherubim were winged creatures with childlike faces. Perhaps G-d chose to speak from between two pure innocent beings with wings spread open, to convey metaphorically how we ought to converse with one another.
We should aspire to have pure intentions and leave a space for openness and a willingness to hear and be heard. An honest face-to-face interaction that allows for self-expression between two parties can raise the relationship to a higher level. The cherub’s extended wings represent the possibility to soar and reach new heights.
If we approach one another with humility and a true desire to connect to the godliness within the other, the results can be truly divine. If not, we continue to fuel the flame of the revolving sword between the cherubs that keep us barred from Gan Eden.
Rabbi Tova Leibovic-Douglas, Ritualist, spiritual counselor, educator, rabbitova.com
One of my favorite topics to teach individuals learning about Judaism for the first time is our tradition’s diverse theological beliefs.
The story I like to share is when a friend who identifies as a Jewish atheist had a Shabbat dinner with a friend who identifies as Orthodox. I witnessed their heated and respectful debate on God for hours. From Spinoza to Buber, the two were at it, and it made me relish that our tradition’s tent was large enough for such differing beliefs and discourse.
Yet, when I read this verse, the compelling depth of faith expressed in our Torah is present; this mystical and magical connection between the Divine and Moses is remarkable. Moses enters the Tent of Meeting to speak with the Divine, only to have the Divine talk to him directly, highlighting this unique and intimate relationship, one that was filled with a stream of communication. This scene is the blueprint for our potential personal relationship that we may cultivate with the Divine. It showcases a lesson that most of us need: listening before speaking is paramount, especially concerning our hearts and faith.
We no longer have those cherubim above the Ark of Testimony nor a Tent of Meeting, but we have our expansive souls beckoning for a deeper connection. We have the potential for discourse with one another, even with the Divine. This verse reminds us that our personal Tent of Meeting awaits us to begin the conversation so that we may listen.
Rabbi Cheryl Peretz, Associate Dean, Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at AJU
Each time my Zoom connection informs me that it is unstable, I chuckle at technology’s way of assessing my mental state while simultaneously interrupting the ability to hear the person on the other side. Following a long, repetitive passage describing the gifts the leaders of each tribe would bring to the portable tabernacle, the final verse of this week’s portion calls our attention back to Moses, the nature of God’s communication, and what it takes to have an uninterrupted connection.
Rashi notes that the “Voice” mentioned is the same thunderous voice heard at Mt Sinai in the moment of revelation. Yet, another word in the verse calls our attention to interpretation and meaning. In Hebrew, the word used for God speaking to him is midabeir, a grammatical structure that implies reflexivity. In other words, God was speaking to God’s self, and that is what Moses hears from the cherubim. Only in that moment of clarity does Moses experience God speaking directly to him as before.
That same voice of God remains available to us today when we tune our internal soundwaves for clear reception. With awareness and consciousness we too can hear the voice of God in the defining moments of goodness, the answer to questions, and in the gentle urging to move towards light and love that at the essence of who we are meant to be.
The reality is that God is always talking, even at this very moment; the question is whether or not we are listening.
David Sacks, Podcaster of “Spiritual Tools for an Outrageous World”
The Bal HaTurim, the great 12th century Torah commentator opens our eyes to something about this passage that illustrates the never-ending levels of holiness that exist in Hashem’s words.
If you look at the words for “between the two cherubim” in Hebrew, it’s “M’ben Shney HaCeruvim”. The first letters spell “Moshe”.
Rabbainu Bechaya probes further. He says that the distance between the two wings of the angels where Hashem spoke to Moshe was about a foot long. Rabbainu Bechaya writes that the heart is approximately that length as well.
In other words, G-d speaks to us through our heart. He also points out that the fullness of the tongue is approximately that length, too. Meaning, speech is a gift from G-d, and therefore the words we choose carry great weight and need to be uplifting and thoughtfully chosen.
It’s remarkable to think that there are actual portals within us that G-d communicates through. Or perhaps even more amazingly, that we ourselves are a portal that G-d uses us to communicate His message to the rest of the world.
Of course, we play a crucial role in this process, too. Each of us tells a story with our lives. We write that story one day at a time through the choices we make. Thousands of little decisions eventually become who you are, and what you stand for. When people speak about us, they will be reading from the book we wrote with our very own actions.
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