Friday, September 05, 2008

Hearing the Voice

וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה אֶל-מֹשֶׁה, הִנֵּה אָנֹכִי
בָּא אֵלֶיךָ בְּעַב הֶעָנָן, בַּעֲבוּר יִשְׁמַע הָעָם בְּדַבְּרִי
עִמָּךְ, וְגַם-בְּךָ יַאֲמִינוּ לְעוֹלָם

9 And the LORD said unto Moshe - 'Look, I am about to come to you in a thick cloud, so that the people may hear when I speak with you, and they will also believe in you forever.' (Shemot 19:9)

Rambam in Hilchot Yesodei Hatorah chapter 8 comments –

ומניין שבמעמד הר סיניי לבדו, היא הראיה לנבואתו שהיא אמת שאין בו
דופי--שנאמר "הנה אנוכי בא אליך בעב הענן, בעבור ישמע העם בדברי עימך, וגם
בך יאמינו לעולם
מכלל שקודם דבר זה, לא האמינו בו נאמנות שהיא עומדת לעולם, אלא נאמנות שיש אחריה הרהור ומחשבה

How do we know that Ma’amad Har Sinai alone is the proof that his [Moshe’s] prophecy is unquestionably true? For it says – “'Look, I am about to come to you in a thick cloud, so that the people may hear when I speak with you, and they will also believe in you forever.” We see from this that before this experience, they did not have an eternal belief in him but rather one that with time doubts and thoughts [creep in].

In my last post, I quoted Rashba who elaborated on the virtues of skepticism basing himself on Rambam’s understanding of this Passuk. Here I want to focus on the things mentioned in this verse that were supposed to clear up the skepticism. Rambam (MN 2:33) notes that the verse reads בעבור ישמע העם בדברי עימך - so that the people may hear when I speak with you – which implies that they did not necessarily hear the words themselves, only that Moshe was spoken to by God. In fact, there is a verse that makes that clear.

יב וַיְדַבֵּר יְהוָה אֲלֵיכֶם, מִתּוֹךְ הָאֵשׁ: קוֹל דְּבָרִים אַתֶּם שֹׁמְעִים, וּתְמוּנָה אֵינְכֶם רֹאִים זוּלָתִי קוֹל.

12 And the LORD spoke unto you out of the midst of the fire; you heard the voice of words, but saw no figure only a voice. (Devarim 4:12)

The people did not hear the words themselves, just a voice – a sound. The word the Torah uses for this type of apprehension is קוֹל. What does “hearing” in this context mean? Is it a sensory experience or is “hearing” in the sense of understanding? In a discussion of the meaning of “face to face”[1] as in –

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)

Rambam in MN 1:37 comments –

“It פָּנִים is also a term denoting the presence and station of an individual… In the same sense the word is used in the following passage, "And the Lord spoke unto Moses face to face," which means as a presence to another presence without any intervening medium between them….In another passage, it explains, saying - “You heard the voice of the words, but saw no figure only a voice" (ib. iv. 12). Hence, this type of speaking and hearing is termed "face to face”… 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.”

The result of the experience of “hearing” God “speaking” is a perception that the person is standing face to face with Him. This type of “hearing” could be sensory if the speaking was a physical voice. However, when God “speaks”, Rambam tells us, it is only an apprehension by us that there is speech. God is transcendental and does not speak with a mouth and voice.

“… I do not think that I need explain to you the inadmissibility of the attribute of speech in reference to God. This is the case particularly in view of the general consensus of our community on the Torah being created. This is meant to signify that His speech that is attributed to Him is created. It was ascribed to Him only because the words heard by Moshe were created and brought into being by God, just as He created all the things that He has created and brought into being.… When we are told that God addressed the Prophets and spoke to them, our minds are merely to receive a notion that there is a Divine science which the Prophets attain… The two terms, when applied to God, can only have one of the two last-mentioned significations – will or volition, or a notion that has been grasped by the understanding having come from God. There is no difference whether the divine thought became known to man by means of an actual voice, or by one of those ways of prophecy which we shall make clear. We must not suppose that in speaking God employed voice or sound.” (MN1:65)

I have highlighted what to me is a very important statement. “Hearing” in the context of man who hears God is an apprehension. How that apprehension came to that man is irrelevant as long as he is sure that it is divine. What counts is that the person has apprehended some divine science and knowledge. Clearly when the people “heard” the voice, it was not a sensory experience but rather one akin to prophecy which we have seen is the result of an intellectual process. When the Torah says that the people “heard” God speak to Moshe, they experienced an apprehension that they could not translate into coherent words. Rambam in Yesodei Hatorah uses the following metaphor –

והקול מדבר אליו; ואנו שומעים: משה, משה--לך אמור להם כך וכך.

And the voice spoke to him and we “hear”, Moshe, Moshe go tell them such and such.

By themselves experiencing prophecy to an extent, the people were able to accept and understand that Moshe too has prophetic experiences though much more intense one, so much more intense that his prophecy was incomparable to theirs.

Following the rule that I set myself on length of posts, I will leave further discussion of the verse I started with here for another post. So far, we have seen that “speaking” and “hearing” the voice are not material or sensory but intellectual events. More to come on this subject especially Kol.

Shabbat Shalom.

[1] Note this is different from Peh el Peh – mouth to mouth.

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