Is Your Judaism Behind You or In Front of You?

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It was one of the most inspirational and hopeful interactions I have ever had. A young man from our community who is back from college was telling me about the incredibly positive transformation that has taken place in his life.   Sadly, like too many of his peers from all over the country, when he went to college he had given up on and walked away from his Judaism. Despite receiving an excellent Jewish education from preschool through high school and despite being raised in a wonderful home with Jewish pride, Torah observance and genuine spirituality, once he reached college he quickly unburdened and unshackled himself of the Jewish lifestyle that he had been taught and raised with.


His time at university was occupied exclusively with academic pursuits, parties and friends. He had no time or interest in pursuing Judaism or observance and didn’t even attend Hillel or Chabad occasionally. Kashrus, Shabbos and davening were all part of his past and they had nothing to do with his future…or so he thought.


One night, he described to me with great enthusiasm, he was sitting in the library studying for a difficult final. He had put his all into his academic success. After all, he believed, you need to do well in college in order to get a great job. And you need to get a great job in order to earn a lot of money. And you need to earn a lot of money if you want to be happy. After hours of deep concentration and study, he decided to take a break and go on Facebook to see what his friends were up to.


He was scrolling down his Facebook timeline and something caught his eye. An acquaintance had posted a short Dvar Torah and for some reason, he was drawn to it. He read the post and it spoke about not only pursuing material success in this world, but about striving for spiritual success and the importance of nourishing our souls. Something about the message touched him incredibly deeply and made him feel spiritually alive in a way that he never had. He described the goose bumps he felt as he was overwhelmed by the awakening of his neshama after it had been in hibernation for so long.


He didn’t want that feeling to end and so he went on the Internet and found a website with Torah classes. Sitting in the library, he watched a Torah class, and then another and another yet. He couldn’t stop watching, listening and being inspired by the Torah nourishment his soul craved so badly. The next thing he knew, the sun had come up so he decided to go back to his dorm room and find his tefillin. They were packed away and covered in dust from their lack of use. He strapped on his tefillin and began to daven slowly. He described that his connection to Hashem that morning was beyond anything he could describe in words.


This young man is continuing his academic degree and please God will achieve great success. But he has also continued to listen to Torah classes and daven each day and remains incredibly committed to nourish and nurture his soul on a regular basis, pledging never to neglect his Judaism again.


When he left my office I had so many thoughts running through my head and so many lessons I had learned from our conversation. Firstly, never give up on someone. Who knows what they might read, hear or see that could trigger a positive change at any moment. Secondly, never underestimate the power of a short dvar Torah or inspirational thought that you write, post or share. Who knows who will read or hear it and what kind of impact it may have. Thirdly, always have your antenna extended and be open to being inspired. You never know what will touch you and how it may change your life for the better.


When the Torah describes the most seminal moment in Jewish history, when God Himself addressed millions of people in an act of unprecedented and unparalleled revelation, it describes His voice at Har Sinai as “kol gadol v’lo yasaf.” The simple meaning of the words v’lo yasaf as explained by the Ibn Ezra, the Rashbam and others, is that God’s voice and the experience of revelation were “not to be repeated.” This was a onetime deal, an exceptional and transcendent moment in human history, never to be replicated.


On the one hand, the uniqueness of this event is significant and special. We eternally reflect back and recognize that the moment is inimitable and unique, distinct and singular. On the other hand, its uniqueness forces us to consider the fact that no matter how we live and whatever choices we may make, we can never experience revelation like Har Sinai again. This generates a sense of disenfranchisement and deflates our spiritual ambition. If God only spoke once and we missed it, how do we connect today? How do we access the affirmation that only God’s voice can provide as to His existence and our charge in the world?


Thankfully, commentators were troubled by exactly our dilemma and chose to offer another layer of interpretation of the phrase v’lo yasaf. Onkelus and the Ramban translate v’lo yasaf not as never repeated, but rather as v’lo p’sak, God’s voice never ended or ceased. According to them, God spoke at Sinai thousands of years ago and his voice and message continue to carry until today and beyond.


So, which is it, who is correct, Ibn Ezra and Rashbam or Onkelus and the Ramban? Does v’lo yasaf mean God’s voice never repeated or does it mean God’s voice never ceased?


People's ability to hear high frequencies falls as they age. Studies say that most adults can't hear much above the 13-14KHz range, but teenagers can. Stores and parks in England had a problem with teens loitering and hanging out in places they were unwelcome. So inventor Howard Stapleton created the mosquito teen repellent that plays a continual high frequency sound. Adults can’t hear it and so are unaware and unbothered by the tone. Teenagers, on the other hand, hear it fully and because they can’t tolerate it, they leave rather than loiter.


The answer I believe is up to each and every one of us.  We each have a choice to make. For us, are matan Torah, Har Sinai and God’s voice part of the past, a historical event and previous occurrence. Do we put it behind us like the young man I met with who went to college and saw Judaism as part of his history, not his future? Or, does God continue to speak to us? Are He and His Torah relevant today?


Each year on Shavuos we recall the Sinai experience and challenge ourselves with the question of which interpretation best reflects our life. Are we going to choose the reading that says the voice of God is no longer heard, or are we going to continue to listen carefully for the reverberation of God’s message in our lives?   Are the events of Har Sinai representative of an ongoing, developing relationship with Hashem, or are they an isolated event?


In truth, Hashem’s voice is all around us. Like the mosquito tone, a frequency is playing the only question is if we can hear it. Each time we open a sefer, challenge ourselves by learning Torah, expanding and broadening our wisdom, understanding and insight, God’s voice is reverberating. Each davening in which we are not only physically present but spiritually invested, God’s voice is reverberating. Each act of kindness we share with others or they with us, God’s voice is reverberating.


There is no doubt that kol gadol v’lo yasaf, God’s great and mighty voice is all around us. Like the incredible young man from our community, extend your antenna, be open to picking up God’s frequency and be willing to let your soul be nourished in a way that makes you feel alive. No matter how far you have drifted, it is never to late to hear God’s special tone.