I’d like to share one of my favorite poems, “The Voice: by Shel Silverstein:
There is a voice inside of you that whispers all day long
I feel that this is right for me, I know that this is wrong
No teacher, preacher, parent, friend, or wise man can decide
What’s right for you, just listen to the voice that speaks inside.
Around this time of year, we often talk about the voice inside us and listening to our conscience, but each of us also has an individual voice, the voice that we use to speak to one another. Sometimes it is a sweet, upbeat, light voice, and other times, it is loud, heavy, and angry. The voice we use can change based on our environment. When we’re outdoors having fun, we might be giggly and light spirited, but in front of the boardroom or class during a presentation, we try to make our voices firm, grounded and unwavering. Voices can also make a distinct first impression when we hear someone before seeing them, which is the premise behind NBC’s show called “The Voice.” Our voice can allow others to know what we’re feeling at a given moment and, if we listen, alert us to how our peers are feeling. The voice is a powerful tool.
We are in the midst of the Yamim Noraim, the Days of Awe, the days that represent not only a new year for the Jewish calendar, but days that require us to take accounting of our own souls, actions and deeds and to take ownership of the wrongs we have done in the past year. We move quickly through the celebration of the New Year to the Shabbat of liminality, Shabbat Shuvah, the Shabbat of return or repentance that prepares us for Yom Kippur, the day of ultimate judgment. All the while, we’re expected to use our voices to ask forgiveness, listen to others as they ask for forgiveness and listen to our internal voices as we determine our next actions.
During the unetanetokef prayer of the Rosh HaShannah liturgy we will read this week, we read the words “The great shofar will be sounded and the still small voice will be heard.” This phrase from the liturgy contrasts the loud and soft voices we’re hearing. Sometimes the right choice, the right voice, is loud, booming, alarming and in your face like the blasts of the shofar. And other times, the voice is nearly silent, a whisper, hidden in the thought process that leads to decision making.
Rosh HaShannah serves as this day of calling out and beginning to be in tune with our voices, with our choices, with our conscience. Finding our voice is as much about what we say as it is about what we hear. Between Rosh HaShannah and Yom Kippur we read parshat Ha’azinu, the last portion of the Torah cycle read on Shabbat morning and a poem of Moshe recapping God’s glory. He begins: “Give ear, O heavens, let me speak; let the earth hear the words I utter.” Moshe conjures up two listeners: one includes the universe, God and the expanse unseen; the other is the earth, the material, that which happens between human beings.
The voice can connect us in prayer with one another and with God and can just as easily alienate us with violent words. As we begin a new year, listen to the blasts of the shofar, the alarm of awareness. Search for your own voice, but remember to “just listen to the voice that speaks inside.” Only when we are in tune with our inner voice can our voice that is heard aloud truly make a difference.
ללמוד To Learn: ללמד To Teach: The parshah this week, chapter 32:7tells us: Remember the days of old… Ask your father, he will inform you. This echoes the commandment of Passover to remember our past and teach our children. Trace your family tree and see where you’ve come from. As a family search for a custom for Rosh HaShannah from this place and try it out this year. http://www.myjewishlearning.com/holidays/Jewish_Holidays/Rosh_Hashanah.shtml
לשמור To Keep לעשות To Do: During the Yamim Noraim pay special attention to the voices you use when talking to different people. How do you sound? Are you angry? Frustrated? Is this tone caused by the person to whom you are speaking or a separate incident in the day? Awareness of the voice we use to speak to others can help us move forward with stronger relationships.