Off the Pulpit

Listen Israel

Deuteronomy is the great book of listening. We live in a visual time; our age is saturated with images. Everyone’s cellphone carries a camera and can document the sights of our lives. But over and over in the first chapters of Deuteronomy we read the word ‘shma’ — listen, until we reach the famous line of the Shma prayer itself (Deut 6:4).

Judaism expounds and echoes. In the bare desert there was little to see but much to hear. God does not appear, but speaks. The Talmud is called the Oral tradition, because it was passed down in stories and wisdom from teacher to student, and repeatedly one comes across students repeating what they heard from their teachers.

Every child has access to endless images on screens. But Judaism is carried along in voices; we do not see Abraham and Sarah greeting angels, Joseph revealing himself to his brothers or Moses ascending the mountain; we imagine it when we hear their deeds retold. In the chanting of the prayer and the magic of the tale is religious wonder.

Tell stories to your children. Listen, Israel.