Community Torah Corner, January 21, 2022

Rabbi Ari Lucas
Congregation Agudath Israel
Caldwell, NJ
Parashat Yitro

וְכׇל־הָעָם֩ רֹאִ֨ים אֶת־הַקּוֹלֹ֜ת
And all the people saw the thunder…
-Exodus 20:15

The experience of revelation was multisensory. Lightning, thunder, smoke, trembling - the reader is invited to see, hear, smell, feel the awesome power of standing in the presence of God. Rashi is intrigued by Ex. 20:15 in which the text says that the Israelites “saw the thunder.” Thunder isn’t usually something we see with our eyes. He comments that the Israelites “ro’in et ha-nishma - they saw that which should be heard - something which is otherwise impossible.” In Rashi’s imagination, standing at Sinai was such an out-of-body experience that the wires of normal sensory perception got crossed - sights registered as sound and sounds registered in our mind’s eye. 

The scope of human perception is limited - there are things outside of our spectral range that are no less real simply because we can’t see them. If a whistle blows and only a dog can hear it, does it really make a sound? Microscopic bacteria can have a significant impact on our health even though we can’t see them with the naked eye. These things are real, but not always apparent - until a moment of revelation enables us to “see” what was always there. 

In the social-emotional realm, there may be thoughts, feelings, ideas that are ever-present, but not readily visible until they are revealed to us. Perhaps a friend or student is carrying around anxiety all the time, but we may not realize it until something brings it to the surface. Perhaps there is love that we share, but cannot be felt or realized until the right moment arrives for us to show it to another.

As we prepare to recall the revelation at Mt. Sinai, let us also attune ourselves to the smaller, everyday moments of revelation among friends, family, and community in an effort to draw nearer to God by being sensitive to the needs and feelings of others.