We Jews are known for being big talkers. We are stereotypically a people of a lot of words, of arguments, of big ideas, of strong opinions. I remember once speaking to a Catholic boys’ school in Missouri. The first kid raised his hand and said, to his teacher’s mortification, “Our science teacher is Jewish and she talks fast, too. Do all Jews talk fast?” (I quickly said, “Yes!”) It’s not surprising that people frequently raise their eyebrows when they hear what IJS does and ask, “How do you get Jews to be quiet?”
We are coming up to the end of our “kayak trip through the Omer,” as our colleague Marc Margolius has been guiding us, weaving our way through the middot, or ethical traits, that prepare us for the splendor and awe of revelation at Mt. Sinai on Shavuot. On Shavuot, we are told, we get to re-experience the moment of great mythic meeting between the Divine and ourselves, a direct experience of communication with the Source of Life itself, lovingly distilled into Torah, the wisdom for a good life that has been handed down – and yes, discussed and argued over – for generations.
There are all kinds of midrashim about what actually happened at Mt. Sinai. What is striking is how many of them veer away from the Biblical narrative that describes a noisy, thundering encounter and suggest instead that the surprising thing about Sinai was how quiet it was. In fact, it was so quiet that people for once could hear that kol dmama daka, that subtle quiet Voice that is speaking all the time.
I have been reflecting recently on all the unexpected places we might hear that same voice if only we would stop talking and listen instead. I have participated in a number of diversity trainings over the past few months and am appreciating the transformational power of really listening to unique voices of queer Jews and Jews of Color. Through my family I am connecting more with people from other countries and other religions and the more I listen, the more I sense how the life force that flows through them all takes on different garments in sometimes difficult but always marvelous diversity. (That is like Torah itself – sometimes difficult and always marvelous, because Torah too is a garment for Divinity.)
Our teacher Sheila Pelz Weinberg sometimes says that the word “wait” can be considered an acronym for Why Am I Talking? As we are dedicating ourselves to better communication – with each other and with God – perhaps a good first step is simply to listen.