Friday, May 3, 2013

The Sweet Truth

23 Iyyar, 5773
May 3rd, 2013
38th Day of the Omer

A person experiences something extraordinary: fights in the war, saw the peace treaty signed, heard Hendrix play that electric National Anthem. When she returns to the rest of us, we have one inevitable question: what was it like to be there?

Shavuot is around the corner. Its meaning is straightforward – on Shavuot, God gave us the Torah.

Our Rabbis were gripped with the same question that seizes us: what was it like? What was it like to hear God’s voice? How did the sky and the mountain look? How did it happen? Tell us what it was like.

And what some of them said was, “when we heard God’s voice speak the first word of the first commandment, God’s voice was too much to bear, and we died.”

Weren’t expecting that one, were you?

The midrash* teaches that God spoke the “I” of “I am the Lord your God,” and the souls of Bnei Yisrael left their bodies. The Torah, embodied, comes back to God, and says, “Master of the World, I exist, I live! You exist, You live! Yet you have sent me to the dead!!!”

And the Blessed, Holy One does two things: revives all the Israelites, and – here’s the kicker – sweetens God’s own voice so that each individual can stand it.

For those of you midrash nuts out there (legions, I’m sure), this is why the verse in Psalm 29 (before Lekha Dodi on Shabbat) says, “kol HaShem bakoah” – “God spoke in strength,” – according to the listeners’ strength – and not with God’s strength (koho). God spoke to every individual differently, such that everyone had the strength to hear the Divine. God sweetens the Truth.

As a person who, by temperament, is full of fire, I need this lesson. Some of you may feel the same. Every person holds a small piece of the Divine truth. I know because I see those truths splashed all over Facebook. But the trick is to speak the sweet truth to others. Through my work with alcoholics, I’ve learned this gem: before you speak, ask yourself – is it true? Is it necessary? Is it kind? Then open your mouth.

The point is not to avoid difficult truths; Torah speaks both to who we are and to who we could be. The point is that spoken truth should point towards sweetness and healing, not humiliation and destruction. Torah’s sweet truth gives people back their lives.

“God’s Torah is pure; it revives the soul.”
Psalm 19

*Shir haShirim Rabbah 6:3

No comments:

Post a Comment