Echoes

Echoes

Va'eschanan

Rabbi Dov Wagner

Have you ever visited Masada?

It’s a mountaintop in the desert, towering above the lowest point on Earth - the Dead Sea. The history of this mountain is quite literally considered one of the Wonders of the World—it saw the magnificence of Herod’s luxurious palace, complete with Roman bathhouses and ingenious aqueducts; was once home to a small band of Jews after the Destruction of the Temple, who held the mighty Roman armed forces at bay; still overlooks visible outlines of the besieging military camps, the ramp they built to attack; it alone holds the secret behind the terrible decision of those courageous Jewish fighters.

Invariably, though one of the favorite spots for Birthright and other youth groups to visit, Masada is one of the less historically significant locations. There is an echo point—a spot at the edge of the mountain—where words shouted off into the distance bounce back off the next mountain cliff, and boom back with a resounding echo. Groups delight in shouting their names, shouting Shema Yisrael or Am Yisroel Chai. Maybe it’s a sense of affirmation: having what you just said declared right back at you. Maybe it evokes the spirit of the place: echoes of our Jewish past, continuing to resonate long into our future.

Which brings us to a fascinating idea in the Torah portion of Va’eschanan. It is filled with incredibly significant moments. Moses’ plea to to enter the Holy Land, the giving of the Ten Commandments, including the Shema as the pivotal declaration of Jewish faith.

A lesser known concept, is that of the echo at Mount Sinai. Actually, in this case it’s not about an echo, rather about the lack of one. When describing the voice of G-d Almghty at the Giving of the Torah, the Torah refers describes a 'kol gadol velo yosof'—an awesome sound and there were no additions. What does that mean?

The commentaries offer several possibilities:

1. A great sound that never stopped—that G-d didn’t need to stop to catch His breath, or alternatively, that the sound of the Ten Commandments continues to resonate for all time.

2. A great sound that never happened again.

3. According to the Midrash—a great sound that had no echo.

OK, but why are we making such a fuss about this echo? Why would G-d needlessly break the rules of nature and stop the sound from echoing back?

Imagine you throw a ball. It goes as far as it possible. But then it hits a surface that doesn’t let it in—a wall—so it bounces back towards the thrower. An echo is the same. The sound travels, as far as it can, but if it hits a barrier it bounces back.

What about the voice of G-d, the energizing message of the Ten Commandments? That’s the source of all reality; the creation of the world was brought about through G-dly words. 'G-d said: let there be light. And there was light!' Any expression of G-d (including 'voice') is part-and-parcel with this world—it is this world—and so it is absorbed.

So, no echo. Not because of some weird manipulation of the laws of nature. But rather because at that moment of truth, at the Giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai, every single element in the world was fully cognizant of its truest source, was completely enveloped by the voice of G-d, and completely absorbed that truth. Which means that nothing was a barrier to it. And if there are no barriers, there is no echo.

The Rebbe derives a crucial life message from this little detail. That is: Our lives should never be torn and divided between our spirituality/higher consciousness and our material selves. Rather, Torah is all about harmony. It’s purpose is to bring Heaven and Earth together, to merge the material and the spiritual, so that they are seamlessly engaged in one shared reality of holiness. If we manage to create that peace and unity within ourselves, we really do get to live life with a clear voice—a voice with no echo.

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