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Ki Tavo

Deuteronomy 26:1 – 29:8

Listening to God’s Voice


As the rabbis of Talmudic times ordered the daily prayer schedule, they made sure we recite the Sh’ma—the central affirmation of our tradition—at least three times a day; during morning and evening services and immediately preceding sleep. It is also well-known that the six words of the Sh’ma are to be the final words we utter on our last breath; and since we do not know when that will be, we are to continuously be present to these words. The verse itself is found in the book of Deuteronomy, and is translated thus: “Listen, Israel: The Eternal manifests as all that Is, the Eternal is One.” [Deut. 6:4] Because the Sh’ma is so fundamental to Judaism, we might mistakenly think that this one passage in Deuteronomy is the only place Israel is called to listen. But in truth, this injunction is found in other places in Torah, including in this week’s Torah portion; and this instance bears no less gravitas than its more prominent counterpart. It reads: “Be Silent! Listen, Israel… listen to the voice of the Eternal One.” [Deut. 27:9-10]

However powerful the command, one can’t help but wonder how one is supposed to heed it. How do we listen to the voice of God? Our teachers over the generations have told us that God never stops talking; that it is us who have to make ourselves available for hearing. One of the metaphors is that God’s voice is like an ongoing radio wave and that all we have to do is tune our inner transistor to the right frequency. Tuning ourselves to hearing God’s voice, therefore, requires an inner turning, as that voice expresses from within us, not from without. It might be a bit daunting to consider that we are the conduit through which God’s voice is heard, that we are, in fact, the voice of God. We know ourselves and the hurtful ways we speak at times, and doubt we would be a reliable conduit for Divine expression. But that is because most of the time we are tuned to our ego frequency, to our conditioned self; and when we are, our words are mostly expressions of that conditioning.

When we are tuned exclusively to the ego frequency, what we hear is the relentless voice of the inner controller, the inner critique, the fearful, the embattled, the endlessly dissatisfied. When we are tuned to the frequency of our inner Higher Self, what we hear is the voice of the loving, of the compassionate, the embracing, the non-attached, non-preferring, equanimous, always content One. Shifting from the former to the latter begins with recognizing that— because an alternative exists—we don’t have to remain collapsed in the conditioned ego self. We don’t have to believe in these voices that tend to dominate our day-to-day life. Armed with this recognition we engage in meditation, following the Torah’s invitation to “Be Silent!” Meditation is one of the techniques that help us dis-identify from the voices of the conditioned self by simply looking at them from the standpoint of our True Self, as objects arising within the awareness of that True Self. Both the voices of the conditioned ego self and those of the True Self are God’s voices, but the latter transcends and includes the former. As our practice deepens, we are able to stand increasingly as Awareness, as our True Self, and to tune-in to the voice of God awakening at that level. When we do, the voice of our True Self begins to infuse and transform our conditioned self and we noticeably begin to show up in our daily life more loving and compassionate, less fearful and controlling. Listening to God’s voice we are transformed. Being transformed we, in turn, transform the world around us into a more peaceful, loving and caring place.