THE VOICE/KOL AT SINAI
The Hebrew word KOL (KUF-VOV-LAMED) has three meanings: voice, sound, and thunder. KOL plays a significant role at Mount Sinai. Just before Revelation there are thunder-sounds, KOLOT. There is a SHOFAR sound/KOL, that grows increasingly stronger and stronger. And, there is Moses who speaks with Divinity, and who answers Moses with, voice/KOL. A few moments later the 600,000 people Standing at Sinai hear Moses and, the Voice of YHWH, deliver the Decalogue.
What was it like for Moses to be the empowered speaker of Torah at Sinai? What did the people hear at Sinai? And what does Standing at Sinai mean to us here today? These are the questions I will explore in this DAVAR.
You may remember that only a few months prior to the peak moment at Sinai, we find Moses feeling miserably speechless, voiceless. How does Moses regain access to his voice by the time he gets to Sinai? To answer this question let’s return to the Burning Bush, (HA’S’NEH/הסנה).
Moses is a shepherd in Midian. One day he notices something extraordinary. A fire is burning inside a bush; but the bush is not being consumed! Moses is curious and turns his attention to this phenomenon (Ex. 3:4): “And ELOHIM called to him from inside the bush and said: ‘Moses! Moses!’ And he answered: ‘I am here/HE’NAY’NE/הנני.’” The word “HE’NAY’NE/הנני” is used in Torah to signal a profound moment of attentive awareness. Moses’s response, “I am here/HE’NAY’NE,” indicates his first awakening to the Divine Voice, present inside him.
YHWH tells Moses that YHWH has heard the cry and suffering of the Israelite slaves in Egypt. YHWH assign Moses the mission of returning to Egypt to confront Pharaoh and to liberate the Children of Israel. Moses feels overwhelmed by inadequacy (3:11): “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, that I should bring the Children of Israel out of Egypt?”
“And ELOHIM replies (3:12): ‘Indeed, I will be with you/EHYEH EEMAKH. And this is the sign that I have sent you. When you bring out the people from Egypt you shall serve ELOHIM on this mountain.”
And then Moses expresses to YHWH his deepest vulnerability; that he is voiceless; he is not a speaker (4:10): “I am not a man of words…Because I am heavy/KEHVEHD of mouth and heavy/KEHVED of tongue.” YHWH offers more tender support to the reluctant Moses (4:11-12): “Who placed a mouth in human beings…is it not I, YHWH? So now, go, I will be (EHYEH) with your mouth (EEM PEE’KHAH), and I will instruct you/ HO’RAY’TE’KHAH as to what you will speak.”
The Hebrew root for “instruct/HO’RAY’TE’KHAH” contains the same root (YUD-RAYSH-HAY) for “Torah,” which means, “instruction, teaching,” and prefigures Moses and YHWH at Sinai. And, this is now the third time that the Divine Voice uses the word “EHYEH/I will be” with you to reassure Moses.
Yet, Moses remains frozen and voiceless until the solution-oriented Divine Voice invites his brother Aaron into the fray and tells Moses (4:15): “And you will speak to him and put the words in his mouth, and I, I will be/EHYEH with your mouth, and with his mouth, and I will instruct you what to do.” This is now the fourth time the Divine Voice lets Moses know: “I will be with you/EHYEH EEMAKH.”
The Divine Voice conveys a bold gesture of radical intimacy toward Moses. The message I hear in these verses is: “Moyishala, Moyishala, I will be so close, so accessible—that I will, literally, be in your mouth—breathing with you, ex-pressing what you speak. Your words will be my words. And, My Voice, that called your name, “Moses, Moses” from the fire inside the Bush, will be the same voice in your mouth that answered, “HENAYNE, I am here.”
Moses demonstrates raw, excruciating vulnerability at the Burning Bush. He elicits our empathy and compassion because we, also, have the same inner voices/KOLOT that hold fear of failure, inadequacy, voicelessness, and invisibility that Moses has.
The English word “voice” comes from the Latin word, “vocare,” which means “a call, a summons.” When we receive an authentic calling/vocare from the Divine Voice for our vocational mission, whatever that may be, a cacophony of our small “v” voices may initially vocalize their terror. We can understand the resistance, reluctance, and self-doubt of Moses.
The word KEHVED/כבד (KHAF-VET-DALED) means “heavy, grave, serious, to burden.” How amazing that this three-letter root in Hebrew is also found in the word KAVOD/כבוד, which means “radiant Presence,” a quintessential quality of Divinity. In the same place where Moses experiences the burden/KEHVEHD of being voiceless, he discovers the radiant Presence/KAVOD of the Divine Voice, EHYEH, speaking tenderly to him: “I am here. I am with you. You are not alone.”
The conversation between Moses, the terrified, voiceless, prophet in training, and the Divine Voice transpires inside of Moses; and, (just for the record) this happens to be the longest dialogue in all of Torah that anyone has with KOL YHWH ELOHIM (all of Ex. Chapter 3 to Chapter 4:17).
At the Bush, Moses awakens to the fractal of the Divine Voice/KOL YHWH ELOHIM within him. In his KISHKES, Moses knows that the Divine Voice, “EHYEH EMAKH/I will be with you” is a warm, welcoming, witnessing, and “with-nessing” presence. EHYEH’s compassionate listening and “with-nessing” of the vulnerable and voiceless part of Moses is what facilitates the birthing of Moses as a speaker. The KOL/Voice of Moses is intact and he is attuned to Divinity. This experience is essential to his leadership at Sinai. Let’s join Moses at Sinai.
Ex.19:19 “Now the sound/KOL of the SHOFAR grew continually much stronger; Moses would speak and ELOHIM would answer him with voice/KOL.”
Our sages have puzzled over the question: what was the actual voice/KOL that Moses heard? Rabbi Marcia Prager says: “The rabbis respond with an extraordinary teaching. Moses, they say, heard Divinity speak, ‘B’KOLO SHEL MOSHE,’ (literally) with Moshe’s own voice! He heard Divinity’s voice as his own voice. He heard from the inside out! The Living God speaks to each of us from the inside out, in our own voice…This is the authentic voice that speaks to us in the crystalline moments of our lives.”
At Sinai the Voice/KOL of Moses and Voice/KOL of Divinity is the same KOL! Moses is now both a Sacred Listener with access to his Divine Voice and a Sacred Speaker who is able to transmit Torah: teachings and instructions to guide the way for the people assembled at the mountain.
The first teaching given at Sinai is (20:2): “I am YHWH, your EL’O’HEH’KHAH (Divinity), who brought you out from the land of Egypt/MITZRYIM…”
I hear an echo of Moses at the Burning Bush in the Divine Voice here at Sinai. It’s as if Sinai/SE’NY is now the Bush/S’NEH. And the Voice/KOL of YHWH is personally addressing each person standing there from the flames inside the mountain. And like the S’NEH/Bush, SE’NY/Sinai is not consumed by the fire!
Embedded within the public revelation is an intimate and private call to each individual standing at Sinai. Perhaps, everyone at some pivotal moment in their lives, then and now, hears the Voice/KOL of YHWH calling them by name like Moses at the Bush, to make sure that they are awake, aware and paying attention. Perhaps, each person responds, “HE’NAY’NE/I am here.” And, like Moses, when they speak with YHWH, the Divine answers with KOL, in the unique and authentic Voice of that person.
What liberates us from MITZRYIM is our awareness of and relationship with the Presence, the KAVOD of YHWH that whispers to us: “EHYEH EEMAHKH/I will be with you. HE’NAY’NE/I am here. You are not alone.”
Within each of us is a fractal of this Divine Voice, referred to in the Talmud as, the BAT-KOL, lliterally, “Daughter of the Voice.” In Hebrew, BAT-KOL also means “echo” and is poetically called the “Divine Whisper.”
The revelation at Sinai is that the Divine Whisper, the BAT-KOL is accessible to everyone—so familiar, so close, in our own mouth, instructing us, in the Voice of our own True Self. “Standing at Sinai” happens when we hear and trust the Divine Whisper.
Sinai is not only a geographical location in the wilderness. Sinai is ever-present with us. And the Voice is still speaking.