Sunday, March 04, 2007

The Voice and God talking to Himself.

יח אֶת-הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה דִּבֶּר יְהוָה אֶל-כָּל-קְהַלְכֶם בָּהָר, מִתּוֹךְ הָאֵשׁ הֶעָנָן וְהָעֲרָפֶל--קוֹל גָּדוֹל, וְלֹא יָסָף; וַיִּכְתְּבֵם, עַל-שְׁנֵי לֻחֹת אֲבָנִים, וַיִּתְּנֵם, אֵלָי.
18 These words the LORD spoke unto all your assembly in the mount out of the midst of the fire, of the cloud, and of the thick darkness, with a great voice, and it went on no more. And He wrote them upon two tables of stone, and gave them unto me.
יט וַיְהִי, כְּשָׁמְעֲכֶם אֶת-הַקּוֹל מִתּוֹךְ הַחֹשֶׁךְ, וְהָהָר, בֹּעֵר בָּאֵשׁ; וַתִּקְרְבוּן אֵלַי, כָּל-רָאשֵׁי שִׁבְטֵיכֶם וְזִקְנֵיכֶם.
19 And it came to pass, when ye heard the voice out of the midst of the darkness, while the mountain did burn with fire, that ye came near unto me, even all the heads of your tribes, and your elders;
כ וַתֹּאמְרוּ, הֵן הֶרְאָנוּ יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ אֶת-כְּבֹדוֹ וְאֶת-גָּדְלוֹ, וְאֶת-קֹלוֹ שָׁמַעְנוּ, מִתּוֹךְ הָאֵשׁ; הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה רָאִינוּ, כִּי-יְדַבֵּר אֱלֹהִים אֶת-הָאָדָם וָחָי.
20 and ye said: 'Behold, the LORD our God hath shown us His glory and His greatness, and we have heard His voice out of the midst of the fire; we have seen this day that God doth speak with man, and he lives.

(Devarim 5:18-20)

The Torah repeatedly and consistently uses the word Kol – Voice to describe the prophecy experienced by Moshe and the Jewish people at Sinai. Not only at Sinai but at every time Moshe received a prophecy associated with laws, it is referred to as Kol – voice.

פט וּבְבֹא מֹשֶׁה אֶל-אֹהֶל מוֹעֵד, לְדַבֵּר אִתּוֹ, וַיִּשְׁמַע אֶת-הַקּוֹל מִדַּבֵּר אֵלָיו מֵעַל הַכַּפֹּרֶת אֲשֶׁר עַל-אֲרֹן הָעֵדֻת, מִבֵּין שְׁנֵי הַכְּרֻבִים; וַיְדַבֵּר, אֵלָיו. {פ}
89 And when Moses went into the tent of meeting that He might speak with him, then he heard the Voice speaking unto him from above the ark-cover that was upon the ark of the testimony, from between the two cherubim; and He spoke unto him. {P}
(Bamidbar 7:89)
Reading the verse carefully we can glean some interesting details. The initiative was Moshe’s he came to the Ohel Moed and heard the Voice talking to itself. Rashi points that out based on the Mesora which reads Midaber rather then Medaber and Onkelos who translates Mitmalel. In other words whenever Moshe wanted to understand a new law, a mitzvah, he concentrated and “heard” the constant Kol – “Voice” that is there[1]. Another detail is that the Voice emanated from between the Keruvim. Rambam in MN 2:6 tells us that Keruv is the rational faculty of man. In Hil Yesodei Hatorah 2:8 Rambam lists the different types of angels. “Angel” is the name we give to what we perceive as the different concepts that are behind existence (see my posts with the label Angels).The less a human can grasp the angel/concept; the higher is the level we ascribe to it. Ishim is the concept that prophets apprehend. Keruvim are one level above them and that is what Moshe’s rational faculty, the other Keruv, was able to grasp. Thus the prophecy that the Torah refers to as Kol – Voice emanated from the interplay of the two Keruvim. We can say that Moshe’s prophecy resulted from his rational faculty being able to grasp a transcendental concept of God that others could not and that allowed him to legislate immutable laws.

This idea of the prophecy being out there and Moshe hearing it is repeated in this week’s Parsha.
יא וְדִבֶּר יְהוָה אֶל-מֹשֶׁה פָּנִים אֶל-פָּנִים, כַּאֲשֶׁר יְדַבֵּר אִישׁ אֶל-רֵעֵהוּ; וְשָׁב, אֶל-הַמַּחֲנֶה, וּמְשָׁרְתוֹ יְהוֹשֻׁעַ בִּן-נוּן נַעַר, לֹא יָמִישׁ מִתּוֹךְ הָאֹהֶל. {פ}
11 And the LORD spoke unto Moses face to face, as a man speaks unto his friend. And he would return into the camp; but his minister Joshua, the son of Nun, a young man, departed not out of the Tent. {P}
(Shemot 33:11 see also Passuk 9)
Here again Rashi notes, based on Onkelos, that it reads Vediber which is translated in a passive way. God spoke and Moshe heard. What is interesting though is that this type of conversation is deemed as face-to-face just like a friend speaking to another. The speaker is God while Moshe the listener faces Him and hears Him directly without any intermediary. The metaphor means that Moshe’s other faculty, the imaginative, did not play a role in his prophecy. When Moshe apprehended the laws that he was to transmit to the Jews he did not have to interpret the prophecy. It came to him in the same form he transmitted it. That experience is referred to as Kol. Not only Moshe experienced this; so did the Jews. They “heard” the Voice saying “Moshe, Moshe go tell them so and so” (Hilchot Yesodei Hatorah 8:1). That is the meaning of
ד פָּנִים בְּפָנִים, דִּבֶּר יְהוָה עִמָּכֶם בָּהָר--מִתּוֹךְ הָאֵשׁ.
4 The LORD spoke with you face to face in the mount out of the midst of the fire--
(Devarim 5:4)
The people experienced a face-to-face type of prophecy just as Moshe did. In other words they also experienced the Voice, a perception that was so vivid that it bypassed the imaginative faculty. Of course they only perceived that Moshe was told to transmit the Mitzvot to them while he understood the mitzvah itself. It was however enough to validate Moshe and authenticate his prophecy.

This verse also describes another detail of the experience; the Voice emanated from fire. However in Devarim 5:20 we read
יט וַיְהִי, כְּשָׁמְעֲכֶם אֶת-הַקּוֹל מִתּוֹךְ הַחֹשֶׁךְ
19 And it came to pass, when ye heard the voice out of the midst of the darkness,
Which was it fire or darkness? See my post where I explained how the two are really the same. Fire and darkness are metaphors for our inability to apprehend anything about God’s essence. Although the Voice was “heard” it did not give a clue about its source. The people understood that there is an Entity responsible for the Voice but nothing about its essence.

“Another meaning of the word (Panim) is "the presence and existence of a person…
In the same sense the word is used in the following passage, "And the Lord spoke unto Moses face to face," i.e., both being present, without any intervening medium between them…and also "The Lord talked with you face to face" (Deut. v. 4); instead of which we read more plainly in another place, "Ye heard the voice of the words, but saw no similitude: only ye heard a voice" (ib. iv. 12). The hearing of the voice without seeing any similitude is termed "face to face." Similarly do the words, "And the Lord spoke unto Moses face to face" correspond to "There he heard the voice of one speaking unto him" (Num. vii. 89), in the description of God's speaking to Moses. Thus it will be clear to you that the perception of the Divine voice without the intervention of an angel is expressed by "face to face." In the same sense the word panim must be understood in "And my face (Panay) shall not be seen" (Exod. xxxiii. 23); i.e., my true existence, as it is, cannot be comprehended.” (MN 1:37)

[1] See Sforno ad locum who elaborates and explains Rashi.

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