Friday, September 25, 2009

Drash Yom Kippur: Cookies for Yom Kippur

At high holiday services this year, Rabbi Peter Knobel of Beth Emet started his d'var with a cute story. There was this boy named Yossel, who was about to start Hebrew school. He knew little about Hebrew or religion, but he went anyway to a big yeshiva. When he got there he stopped by the cafeteria to get something to eat. There he found a bowl of apples. Over the apples was a sign "take one apple only- God is watching" Yossel also found a plate of chocolate chip cookies down the counter from the apples. This had no sign. A little while later a faculty member came by the cafeteria. As he came by the cookies, he noticed a handwritten sign"take as many cookies as you like, God is watching the apples, signed Yossel"

Rabbi Knobel then jokingly asked the congregation to make theological sense about that story this week. Like putting a white macadamia chunk cookie in front of me, I couldn't resist.

Abraham Joshua Heschel thought we are often caught in polarities. Cookies and apples, although treats, are opposite sides of the snacking spectrum. One is high in nutrition, one is not. We can eat several cookies in one short sitting, apples we rarely do, for example. Heschel noted the polarity of Halakah, the law and Aggadah the story. It is a polarity that is found often in Judiaism, with schools of thought coming out more on one side than the other. This dynamic is very old, as described in the Talmud:
R. Abbahu and R. Hiyya b. Abba once came to a place; R. Abbahu expounded Aggada and R. Hiyya b. Abba expounded legal lore. All the people left R. Hiyya b. Abba and went to hear R. Abbahu, so that the former was upset. [R. Abbahu] said to him: ‘I will give you a parable. To what is the matter like? To two men, one of whom was selling precious stones and the other various kinds of small ware. To whom will the people hurry? Is it not to the seller of various kinds of small ware?’[Sotah 40a]
Stories are like pots and pans: The stuff we use on a everyday basis, and are part of our lives. Often the intricacies of Halakah are powerful, but have little meaning to the average person.In the book In Prasie of the Baal Shem, we have the parallel story to Sotah 40a that the Baal Shem Tov made one of his first converts to Hasidism out of a opponent, R. Yaccov Yosef of Polonye, by telling him stories. They can be very powerful things indeed. Yet, the polarity of Halakah and Aggadah is not either/or, but a blend of the two. To not charge interest in a loan to a family member is both ethical and a law in Torah for example. What is also true is where there is light there is always darkness. If there is a polarity of Aggadah and Halakah, there is also a polarity of sin as well. There are the sins against the Mitzvot of Torah and its corresponding Halalka. There are also sins in our personal and collective stories often being moral lapses.

Yom Kippur is not a holiday of halakic sins, it is aggadic in nature. In theYom Kippur confessional prayer Ashamnu, there is no mention of eating cheeseburgers, nor gathering twigs on Shabbat. Yet different types of Lashon Hara, evil speech, abound. We confess in Ashamnu that we convinced others to do bad things, we spoke slander, etc. Implicit in this confession, this behavior has become a normalized behavior for us. The Talmud writes:
IF ONE SAYS: I SHALL SIN, AND REPENT, SIN AND REPENT. Why is it necessary to state I SHALL SIN AND I SHALL REPENT twice? — That is in accord with what R.Huna said in the name of Rab; for R. Huna said in the name of Rab: Once a man has committed a transgression once or twice, it becomes permitted to him. ‘Permitted ‘? How could that come into your mind — Rather, it appears to him like something permitted.[Yoma 87a]
R. Huna in the name of Rab identifies an important problem. Sin becomes meaningless by being normative behavior. It is a lot like when Yossel eats his fourth chocolate chip cookie, the one where he loses track of how many he really ate. Ashamnu and the Vidui confessional prayers breaks of this pattern, by admitting to ourselves and the congregation we are guilty of this. Significantly, it has the nu suffix on each of the confessions. The first person plural -- "we" involves all of us. We have corrupted not only our own story but the story of each other, our community and the story of the world. Social and moral evil is not just normalized for us individually, but as a community.

Eating a cookie is not a bad thing. It can bring a lot of joy to someone, and many times is the reward for a small child to eat all of their veggies. Eating a lot of cookies may cause health problems, though. Hoarding or not sharing cookies is rather anti social. There is the possibility of bad behavior. When we eat all the cookies on a plate we may not even notice we are doing something bad to ourselves, or something selfish to others. We have to admit to a cookie problem before we stop snarfing cookies.

Cookies themselves are not sin, though many might think so. They have potential for both good and evil, it is what we do with cookies that is important. Such is true withAggadah, both as our personal story, our collective story, or our commitment to an ethical life. The cuteness of the story Rabbi Knobel told is that Yossel is of course wrong, God is watching the cookies. Yet Yossel is right that it is Aggadah that God gives us more freedom in deciding what is right than the Halakah, and thus make the most mistakes. Thus Yom Kippur gives us the chance to change our ways about the Aggadah in our life.

The irony of comparing one of the biggest fast days to chocolate chip cookies is not lost on me. May your fast be an easy, and fulfilling one, and may you be inscribed in the book of fully living-- with super chunks of joy.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Rosh Hashana 5770: The Grasshopper and the Ant

Once again it is Rosh Hashana and I am once again conflicted by a the Netana Tokef prayer.
On Rosh Hashanah it is written, on Yom Kippur it is sealed
How many pass on, How many shall come to be
Who will live and who will die
Who shall see ripe age and who shall not
Who by fire and who by water
Who by sword and who by beast…
…But repentance prayer and charity temper the stern decree. [Gates of repentance 313]

Netana Tokef itself is based on a earlier Talmudic work, which sets the theme for the entire holiday cycle:
R. Kruspedai said in the name of R. Johanan: Three books are opened [in heaven] on New Year, one for the thoroughly wicked, one for the thoroughly righteous, and one for the intermediate. The thoroughly righteous are forthwith inscribed definitively in the book of life. The thoroughly wicked are forthwith inscribed definitively in the book of death. The doom of the intermediate is suspended from New Year till the Day of Atonement; if they deserve well, they are inscribed in the book of life; if they do not deserve well, they are inscribed in the book of death.[Rosh Hashanah 16b:]
We are all, of course of the intermediate category. So every year, even Jews who are not religious fill synagogues which remain rather empty the rest of the year to observeRosh Hashnah and Yom Kippur. For many, it is more about some form of family obligation than actual observance. For some it is all a build up to the Yiskor , the memorial service to remember those close to us who have died. Yet for whatever reason they all come. Every year we go thorough a liturgy different than the rest of the year. Every year, we sing songs in high dramatic tones different than a usual Shabbat service. In almost every congregation, no matter how informal the rest of the year, everyone dresses formally for this time of year.

This all has bothered me for a very long time. I'm not sure which event would be considered the most significant. Was it the Yiskor service turned JUF fundraiser in 1972? Was it every donation envelope passed out during the congregation president's speech? Was it is the 1979 service when I was twelve years old, and the president of the congregation tried to personally kick me out ofKol Nidre services so they had chairs for paying adults? Was is the clothes competitions of who looks best in their fine wear and is therefore the holiest? Maybe it was seeing my teachers who kept telling me in Hebrew school to show up to Shabbat services only there on the high holidays. It was all the hypocrisy that irritated me from a very young age, much of it directed, rightly or wrongly at the high holidays and the high holiday congregation.

Oddly enough, my response was more radical than those I was criticizing. A quarter century ago, I decided to leave Judaism for eastern mysticism. My freshman year of college was the first of many years I did not go the High Holiday services, and was glad to miss all the hypocrisy. Yet I somehow started to come back. Many of my illusions of high holiday services were shown false in the services my parents eventually ended up at, Northwestern University Hillel. I made it a tradition then to read from Martin Buber's Tales of the Hasidim over the high holidays. Slowly, until the time of my Dream of the Shema in 1995, I was getting ready to return, and not even realizing it.Rosh Hashana did start the process of my own T'shuva.

Yet it has left problems I still cannot resolve.The Natana Tokef's Who shall live and Who shall die is still too harsh for me, and I've tried to find more sensible metaphors. What I came up with is a different view: It is not our bodies we are talking about, but our souls. One can have a perfectly healthy body and be dead inside or one can have a physically damaged body and still have a full life. While physical heath is important to facilitate full living, it is not required. What is required is a good attitude and perspective to live a full life. So I don't believe in a Book of Life as much as a Book of Fully Living. It is not making a seal on our fate in a book, but unsealing and turning to a new set of blank pages to write our next chapter, one that will, God willing, make a great read.

What is fully living? the difference between those who show up for service once a year and every Shabbat gave me hints about it. One hint come from the book of Proverbs, one of the earliest places the ant provides us with a parable of how we are to live our lives.

4. Give no sleep to your eyes, nor slumber to your eyelids. 5. Save yourself like a gazelle from the hand of the hunter, and like a bird from the hand of thefowler . 6. Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise; 7. Which having no guide, overseer, or ruler, 8. Provides her bread in the summer, and gathers her food in the harvest. 9. How long will you sleep, O sluggard? When will you arise from your sleep? 10. A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep, 11. So shall poverty come upon you like a vagabond, and want like an armed man.[Proverbs 6]
Proverbs talks of one who sleeps instead of working hard to gather and store. Aesop took the story further with the ant and the grasshopper fable. The grasshopper plays all summer never doing any work. The ant on the other hand does the exact opposite, spending the whole summer gathering and storing for the winter to come. When winter comes, the Ant is ready and survives, the grasshopper freezes to death, though, in some later versions without a rebuke first. This imagery does work in many aspects. The grasshopper is living for the moment joyously, yet often fails when adversity come along, In some versions of the ant and the grasshopper, the ant believes intzedakah , and gives to the grasshopper what is necessary. Yet there is a false premise in Proverbs 6:7. The ant is not free, but a mindless drone of a queen. The ant can not appreciate the song of the cricket, he only know to search and gather food. Sadly the ant does not even know this so programmed to this task. To be stepped on is nothing, for the ant is nothing. Unlike trying to catch a gazelle bird or grasshopper, the ant is easy prey. The ant does not even recognize he is in danger while ironically preparing for danger. .

Over the summer, when both insects are prevalent, I've thought a lot about grasshoppers and ants. There are in the world those that work, plan and prepare for the future. There are also those that spontaneously enjoy the word with out a worry. In our prayer lives the grasshopper and the ant are very much the congregants who pray once a year and those who pray every day or every Shabbat . The high Holidays are like the approaching winter, and the Grasshopper gets desperate for a new lease on life. The ant is prepared, the grasshopper not.Yet, it seems both survive. Thinking in polarities about grasshoppers and ants leaves us with a different view than mere opposites. It it a balance of both views which is important. To pray and read Torah all the time is not sufficient. Neither is joyously playing and enjoying the word around us. To live fully live we must enjoy creation in order to witness it and be part of it. At the same time we need to prepare and build for the future, through study, contemplation and prayer. If we do one, but not the other, our book of fully living will not be full of life, but as dull as death.

It is with a balance between two extremes we find fully living. One cannot exist without the other. It is like the student and the fiddler. AS much as the Student of Torah studies all day or a shopkeeper works all day and finds the fiddler lacking for playing his fiddle all day, a wedding is not complete nor joyous without the fiddler bringing joy to the wedding couple. The fiddlers income is from those who spend their days working and studying.

As we all begin 5770, May you be both the grasshopper and enjoy the beauty of Life, and the Ant and be prepared for adversity. In doing so may you have a full chapter in the Book of Fully Living.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Drash Nitzavim Vayeilech 5769:Wood and Stone, Heart and Mouth

I'm writing this in the Starbuck's in Rosemont IL. That might not seem very important but in a sense it portrays everything I want to express.
9. You stand this day all of you before the Lord your God; your captains of your tribes, your elders, and your officers, with all the men of Israel, 10. Your little ones, your wives, and your stranger who is in your camp, from the hewer of your wood to the drawer of your water; 11. That you should enter into covenant with the Lord your God, and into his oath, which the Lord your God makes with you this day;[Deuteronomy 29]
The definition of the word which is the name of this portion is a curious word. Here translated as stand it is not the regular word for stand. Aramaic translations in the Targums, are not clear what it should mean. TargumOnkelos translates this word as Stand, in it's plain sense, but also to ascertain or bargain, Jonathan be Uzziel uses the Aramaic word to make ready, to prepare or to anticipate. Midrash believes Nitzavim means endure. Noting that this verse occurs after the long list of curses from last week's portion, using Onkelos' translation, Rabbis note how remarkable that the people are still standing.
R. Berekiah said: He strengthened me to withstand all [afflictions]. You find that after the ninety-eight reproofs in Deuteronomy, what is written? You are standing this day all of you (XXIX, 9), which we render [according to Onkelos], ‘Ye endure this day all of you,’ i.e. you are strong men to withstand all these [reproofs].[ Eicha Rabbah III:1]
Those who were there could endure all that was thrown at them. That interpretation however may not include this verse in its focus:
13. And not with you alone will I make this covenant and this oath; 14. But with him who stands here with us this day before the Lord our God, and also with him who is not here with us this day;[Deuteronomy 29]
Most do not take this to mean those who have wandered off and did not hear Moses' speech, but to future generations. Yet some in the near future of the biblical text present me with a few questions. The role of hewer of wood and drawer of water is an interesting mention. Not long after the crossing of the Jordan and the destruction of Jericho, Joshua makes a pact with some Hivites, the Gibeonites, that he will spare their lives if they remain the drawers of water and the hewers of wood, the lowest class of people.
23. Now therefore you are cursed, and there shall none of you be freed from being servants, and hewers of wood and drawers of water for the house of my God.[Joshua 9]
Thus the hewers of wood and drawers of water are the lowest class and virtual equivalent to a permanent slave class. We also have the stranger mentioned in the verse from Nitzavim. These three point to a rather interesting category: People who were not among those who experienced the Exodus from Egypt. Four of those mentioned, captains, elders, officers, and all the men of Israel, account for the adult male population of Israel. Women and children account for another category. What this brings us to is an apparent class system. First class is men, and as a sub category each type of official. We have women and children who lived in the wilderness as second class. Then we have those who are not originally part of the Congregation or may be marginally part as a lower, almost slave class. There is plenty of support for such a system in the biblical text, but in a very interesting way. Over and over we read of the stranger, widow and orphan, and what to do with them. The categories of people who are neither first class nor under the protection of a first class person are significant to Torah , as the later prophets will often go on about. At the same time, these categories legitimized that there is another status than a male member of the congregation. Indeed, two weeks ago we read:
19. When you cut down your harvest in your field, and have forgotten a sheaf in the field, you shall not go again to fetch it; it shall be for the stranger, for the orphan, and for the widow; that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands.
20. When you beat your olive tree, you shall not go over the boughs again; it shall be for the stranger, for the orphan, and for the widow.
21. When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, you shall not glean it afterward; it shall be for the stranger, for the orphan, and for the widow.[Deuteronomy 26]
and last week to make it completely clear:
19. Cursed be he who perverts the judgment of the stranger, orphan, and widow. And all the people shall say, Amen.[Deuteronomy 27]
Yet, in Nitzavim, it is also abundantly clear. These classes may have been set up by men, but as far as God is concerned, they are all included in the covenant. The responsibility of all us lies in all of us, the responsibility is classless. We stand and endure together or not at all.

In our current world I find it so sad that such a lesson has been warped so badly. People have become in polar opposition to each other, and not just in politics, but in a class structure too. Yet the classes here are not just income or political based, but the the side of the counter one is on. They are those of the customer and the worker. I always remember a woman I was hosting for a conference in my home town and went out for coffee with me. She was one of the strongest social activists I've ever met, yet when we were at the coffee counter she treated the guy behind the counter like a lowly slave, barking out orders and telling him how incompetent he is. This is a behavior all of us too often do. But the mirror is also true, I've dealt with workers in many jobs who treat their customers as antagonists and not customers.
This why I'm in the classic hangout for writing a good chunk of this, the Rosemont, IL Starbuck's. I'm sure there are other stores like it, and I'm also sure this is the real secret to paying for expensive coffee. Everyone there knows my name my favorite drink, snack and my story, just as much as I know every Barista and their story. This is not customer and server, or chieftain and water carrier, but instead two human beings who just happen to be making a friendly transaction.Given its closeness to O'Hare International Airport and the Rosemont convention center, this small place has a lot of people walking through. Both the strangers and the police officers get their lattes and breakfast sandwiches here. Yet everyone is treated like a person, and even the customers lookout for each other.
I try for that spirit every day. Sweetie was noticing what happens when we were seated at a restaurant the other day. The entire waitstaff came out to greet me. This is actually very common, and I'm sure others notice it too when ever I walk into a restaurant. In any restaurant, when one sits down at a table, the server often says "hello my name is X, and I'll be your server today." Sometimes they only have a name badge and just ask for your drink orders. In either case, I immediately reply "Hi, I'mShlomo , and I'll be your customer for this evening" while holding out my hand to shake theirs. If this is the first time I've done this to a person, they often looked shocked, and have a hard time processing my friendly offering. I'm no longer just a nameless customer, I've given them my name and my hand -- I'm a human being. What's more, I've acknowledged them as a human being. Over the course of the meal I will talk with them, and often doodle and paint at the table. Sometimes my artwork is left with the tip when I leave the table. This is such a different experience than what most service staff get to deal with on a everyday basis. They are the water carrier and hewer of wood to most people, a mere alien slave who is there to do the customer's whim. The customer, no matter how rude or condescending, is of course always right. Many restaurant staff members probably forget my name, but most staff know about "the painter." I recently had a server come up to Sweetie and me and exclaim with relief "thank God I get to serve you today!" She had had a really bad string of customers, and friendly faces was just what she needed.
Interestingly, the Torah this week goes on to say we should, once again, avoid idolatry. Thinking about the rules, blessing and curses that make up much of what we had read in the last few weeks in Deuteronomy, I think their idols, wood and stone, silver and gold are not just some statues acting as gods, but treating human beings as though they are made only of wood and stone instead of flesh and blood. It's an ancient lesson, one that that is not in Heaven, but truly is a matter very near to you, in your mouth, and in your heart, that you may do it[Deuteronomy 30:14] Just treat other human beings like human beings. One of my favorite Hasidic Stories, though I cannot remember the source, is about an Abbot of a monastery who is in such distress he asks the Rebbe of his town for advice. The monastery is falling apart and the monks are constantly yelling at each other. The Abbot is deeply afraid that they will have to close the monastery if these things continue. The Rebbe looks at the Abbot and tells him that he has heard from up above that the Messiah happens to be one of the monks, but he has no idea which one. Treat the Messiah well, the Rebbe declares, and all will be well. The monks when told this each suspect the other is the Messiah and start treating each other with the reverence due of the Messiah. The monastery begins to change, everyone is friendly to each other, the grounds are cleaned up and the Monastery thrives.
The point is clear: We all have some of God in each of us. We all stand before God, but often we forget and think we stand before stone and wood instead. Acknowledging another human being as a human being changes everything. It is far from easy sometimes, but it often is true.
As the last Drash of 5769, may I wish for 5770 that we all learn in our hearts to remove the idols in front of our eyes and see the human being, so we find the Divine in the words they speak.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Ki Tavo 5769: Keenly Listening, Amen

In this week's portion Ki Tavo, we have a series of things to do after entering the land of Israel. After writing the Torah on a stone tablet, there is a set of curses for those who do wrong, and a set of blessings for the nation, and another set of curses for the nation. We start with the commandment of the first fruits.

Yet something else has been chewing at me lately.

Last week I talked about my being sub standard. In comments I received last week, most didn't happen to see that in that piece. Yet a few things this week reflect why I find that true. One was last week's Torah study. As is common, the person leading the D'var Torah was more interested in giving an opinion than actually engaging the text, her agenda was pushing her personal agenda on others. I though about myself and realized that I too have an agenda, but a far different one. We have not just the Torah as the text of our tradition. As such we should not just engage with Torah and skip the Prophets, writings, Talmud,Midrash or even later Hasidic folklore.

Among many congregants there is of course an accessibility issue. Many of these texts are in Hebrew, and translations rare. Even when a translation is handy,Rabbininc thinking is not understandable to most people. This week for example, we find the following verse in the Torah:
1. And it shall come to pass, if you shall give heed diligently to the voice of the Lord your God, to observe and to do all his commandments which I command you this day, that the Lord your God will set you on high above all nations of the earth;[Deuteronomy 28:1]
Devarim Rabbah VII:1, the major commentary for this verse starts in a rather oblique place, making one wonder what this has to do with the verse:
1. Halachah: Is it permissible for one who acts as Reader to say ' Amen ' after [the benediction of] the priests? Our Sages have taught thus: One who acts as Reader should not answer ' Amen ' after [the benediction of] the priests for fear of becoming confused; and our Rabbis have taught us: If, however, he is able to answer ‘Amen’ without becoming confused, he should answer. For there is nothing greater before God than the ‘Amen’ which Israel answers.
Apparently if one is reciting the prayer publicly, they are not to say Amen because they might lose their place in the prayers. Prior to the printing press there were no siddurim . Prayers were memorized and thus the prayer leader could lose their place. Yet if they could keep their place, then they are to say Amen. What does saying Amen have to do with diligently fulfilling the commandments? Here it is not clear. Yet the discussion continues with another Rabbi describing what Amen is supposed to do:
R. Judah b. Sima said: Amen contains three kinds of solemn declarations, oath, consent, and confirmation
He then goes on to give an example of each use in the biblical text.

Whence oath? For it is said, Then the priest shall cause the woman to swear... and the woman shall say: Amen, Amen (Num. V, 21 f).6 Whence consent? For it is said, And all the people shall say: Amen (Deut. XXVII, 26).7 Whence confirmation? For it is said, And Benaiah the son of Jehoiada answered the king, and said: Amen; so say the Lord (I Kings I, 36).
Another thing the Rabbis had memorized was the Biblical text. So very often they will recite only part of the verse. For those of us who have not memorized such texts, looking up the context of the passage may be helpful. For example the consent Amen is from this week's portion,
26. Cursed be he who does not maintain all the words of this Torah to do them. And all the people shall say, Amen.[Deut 27]
On the other hand the Torah requires a few lines to make sense out of the example of an oath. Here, we have the bitter waters rite of a suspected adulteress, who takes an oath
21. Then the priest shall charge the woman with an oath of cursing, and the priest shall say to the woman, The Lord make you a curse and an oath among your people, when the Lord makes your thigh fall away, and your belly swell; 22. And this water that causes the curse shall go into your bowels, to make your belly swell, and your thigh to fall away; And the woman shall say, Amen, amen.
The oath here is answered by the accused woman with an Amen. Of course the woman says Amen, Amen, and we are left to wonder if one is for a curse and one for an oath, as both are mentioned in the passage. The third case is an even longer passage, with the captain of King David's guard confirming to David that he and his companions will make sure Solomon will be made king after David.
We thus have learned that Juda b. Sima belives that amen contained three attributes of commitment which make God like it so much. And yet, none of this says anything about our verse. TheMidrash then makes another interpretation of why Amen is so loved by God.
Another comment: R. Judan said: Whosoever answers ‘Amen’ in this world will be privileged to answer ‘Amen’ in the time to come.

This is a interesting and profound Statement to say the least. Saying Amen means you will be able to say it in the afterlife. Of course implicit in this means you will have somewhere that you could say Amen in the afterlife. Where is that in the the time to come? And what proof is there that such a statement is true? Another alternate interpretation refines this

Another comment: R. Joshua b. Levi said: Whosoever enters synagogues and houses of study in this world will be privileged to enter synagogues and houses of study in the time to come. Whence this? For it is said, Happy are they that dwell in Thy house, they will for ever praise Thee.Selah (Ps. LXXXIV, 5).
When one prays, one says Amen. One prays in a synagogue or in a house of study, so this must be where we say Amen. Synagogues and Houses of study according to R. Joshua b. Levi are God's house, so Psalm 84:5's statement that praise will be forever for those who dwell in God's house includes the afterlife, since it couldn't otherwise be forever. But another version of the same comment goes one step farther. In synagogues and houses of study, we learn Torah, So R.Judan, who made the original comment about saying Amen in this world and the word to come, takes it one step farther:
Another comment: R. Judan said: Whosoever listens to the voice of the Torah in this world will be privileged to listen to the voice of which it is written, The voice of mirth and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, etc. (Jer. XVI, 9). Moses said to Israel: ' Since whosoever listens to the words of the Torah is so exalted in both worlds, be diligent to listen to the words of the Torah.’ Where [can this be inferred]? From what is written in the context, AND IT SHALL COME TO PASS,IF THOU SHALT HEARKEN DILIGENTLY1 UNTO THE VOICE OF THE LORD THY GOD (XXVIII, 1).[Midrash Rabbah - Deuteronomy VII:1]
R. Judan takes a verse from Jeremiah, and attributes "the voice" to the voice of God,
9. For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel; Behold, I will cause to cease from this place before your eyes, and in your days, the voice of mirth, and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom, and the voice of the bride.
In this world the voice of God is written in the Torah. In the word to come we will learn from God directly. Here he teaches that Moses understood this and that is why Moses said the verse themidrash is supposed to be commenting on. R. Judan bases this conclusion due to a grammatical trick on the phrase Hearken diligently which in Hebrew is Shamoah tishmah. Both words have a root of Shema, listen. Shamoah is actually a infintive which in Hebrew intensifies the verb Tishmah to mean diligently hear instead of just hear. But without vocalization, Shamoah can be rendered as Shomei-ah, a .present tense verb, and tishmah is already a future tense. So R. Judan believes the verse hints that if we hear God's voice in the present we will hear God's joyous voice, like the voices at a wedding, in the future time to come.
Hopefully you followed this logic. It is not the stuff we usually use in the western world. It's basis is different by believing a book has a lot of questions begging to be asked instead of questions begging to be answered. As I've said before while Christianity and Judaism are known as the people of the book by Muslims, in reality Jews are the people of the question. The word for interpretation isn't the verb for an answer but Darash, the word for a question. Midrash is named not for the answer but the question, which is why this is Shlomo's Drash. It's my questions that are important. The frame work in the Midrash was not to give you answers but to ask a lot of questions, and pull at you to ask other questions. The editors of Midrash Rabbah could have started with the verse and worked backwards to Amen, but instead stated an obscure rule about saying Amen and worked their way though questions to the verse just to get you, to ask questions. The midrash did not use quantative data to back up its conclutions but a toolbox of litereary constructs which require digging throughout the biblical text, not just Torah. This is not the way most of us think, and thus it's hard for someone to take such a text and work with it, even in English translation.
Yet If you shall diligently listen to the voice of the Lord your God points to our need to do so. The voice of God is in the text, even in a text written by Moses as tradition believes, or later scribes as some scholars believe. It's in the prophets and writings that make up the wholeTanaich , even if written by someone else besides God. If we dig we find things, treasures we did not know before that God hid there for us. Like the sea what we see at the surface is next to nothing, when we dive blow it do we see the rich beauty of the coral reef. So too is Torah, not he five books of Moses but all of the literature of our ancestors who made those deep dive to see the special, beautiful treasures hidden below. All too often it saddens me to see how few today make that journey. My agenda is simple: like an underwater photographer, I want to show that beauty underneath.
I hope you will join me. Amen.