Posts Tagged 'Elijah'

The Sound of a Ripple

Pinchas, the main character from this week’s eponymous Torah portion, is very similar to Elijah, the main character from this week’s haftorah (I Kings 18:46-19:21). Both of them zealously and selflessly fight for their God and their people. In the haftorah we see Elijah fleeing the death sentence issued against him by Queen Jezebel. He runs to the Judean desert. While he slept, an angel awoke him and provided him with food and drink. Reenergized, Elijah went for forty days until he arrived at Mount Sinai and took shelter in a cave. The word of God came to Elijah and asked him for the purpose of his visit. He responded and God instructed him to leave the cave and stand on the mountain and experience God’s Presence. There was a great and strong wind splitting mountains and shattering boulders, but Elijah realized that God was not in the wind. Then came an earthquake followed by fire, but again Elijah understood that not in the earthquake nor the fire was God. After the fire there was a Kol Demama Daka- still small voice, and Elijah realized that the Divine Presence had appeared. Again God asked him why he was there and instructed Elijah to return and support the people.

It seems very mysterious, what is this “still small voice”? I was thinking about this a few months ago when I was working with Josh Lake and Caroline Rothstein on a program for the Cornerstone Fellowship based on Ripple the iconic song by the Grateful Dead.

In the classic Rabbinic Tradition, we explored this song as a primary text and added commentary on it in the from of a contemporary page of Talmud. I invite you to take a look at Ripple In Still Water or any of the other pages I have made. On this Daf we explored the meaning of the lyric:

It’s a hand-me-down, the thoughts are broken
Perhaps they’re better left unsung
I don’t know, don’t really care
Let there be songs to fill the air (Ripple)

What does it mean that things might be “better left unsung”?  For Josh, Caroline and me, it resonated with this idea of the “still small voice” from our haftorah. As we wrote:

While Elijah thinks that God might be found in the large scale sensory experiences, God is in fact uniquely to be found in the subtle quiet moments when things are left unsung.

When reflecting on this and the people of Pinchas and Elijah, it is interesting to realize that not all zealotry is meant to be acted on or even heard. Some of the deepest acts of faith, family, and fraternity are subtle and even silent, like a ripple on still water.

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The Subtle Sound of Purpose

With Rosh Hashanah behind us and Yom Kippur right around the corner I am sure that I am not alone in trying to start this year in a meaningful way. It is hard to escape the haunting language of the un’taneh tokef. There is one line from that prayer that I just could not get out of my head. We read time and again, “uvashofar gadol yitaka, v’kol d’mama daka yishama – The great shofar will be sounded, and the still small voice will be heard.” To quote P.D. Eastman “Big dogs need big beds and little dogs need little beds.” I would have assumed that a big shofar would be used to make a big noise. What are we to make of this little sound that is coming out of this big shofar?

According to Jewish Law, every fifty years we celebrate the Jubilee in which we release all slaves, land, and debts. The sound of the shofar on Rosh Hashanah last week announced the jubilee year, and the sound of the shofar on Yom Kippur will proclaim the actual release of financial encumbrances. It would not be so bold to claim that this great Shofar sound itself was the freedom we experience on this Jubilee year spiritually and physically.

And this “still small voice: is an allusion to the revelation Elijah experienced at Sinai. After traveling for forty days and forty nights, Elijah is the first person after Moses to return to Sinai. When he got there he took shelter in a cave and God asked him what he is doing there. Elijah evaded the question. God asked Elijah to go outside the cave and “stand before the Lord.” A terrible wind passed, but God was not in the wind. A great earthquake shook the mountain, but God was not in the earthquake. Then a fire passed the mountain, but God was not in the fire. Then a “still small voice” comes to Elijah and asks again, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (I Kings 19:13)

In many ways the essence of these High Holy Days is our being able to answer Elijah’s question. Why are we here? Whether that is in synagogue, at a family gathering, or on this planet, all of us need to think about why we are here. Even if you do not have an answer to this question, can we imagine what it might feel like to have one? How liberating would that be? Living a life with purpose might not be flashy or make a huge noise, but it will surely free us from a meaningless existence.

Seeing that this is the time of year that we are all doing our personal accounting, I have to ask myself why I work for the Foundation for Jewish Camp. This past summer I asked a camp director how we might measure success for his campers after spending the summer at his camp. He responded, “Well I am not sure this is what you are looking for, but many parents have reported that they are getting more hugs from their children.” As we get ready for Yom Kipper we are all thinking about being accountable. I think we should hear the sound of the great Shofar and listen up for the small stuff. For many campers, camp is the first time in their lives that they have the feeling of belonging. Camp is where they will discover their purpose. While it might seem subtle, as a parent I can tell you that knowing my children live with purpose is profound and resonating sound of freedom.

Gmar Chatima Tova – Have a good and significant ending.

-See Foundation for Jewish Camp Blog


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