Hearing the Voice God Doesn’t Make You Crazy

To hear the voice of God, you must turn down the volume of the world.

Holly Taylor

Except for seeing the Harlem Globetrotters when I was a kid (and I’m not sure that counts), I have only been to one professional basketball game in my life. I have, on the other hand, never missed a home game of my daughter’s basketball team.

Here’s what I noticed. In the professional game, when a player from the visiting team was making foul shots, lights were flashing throughout the stadium instructing the fans to boo, and to make a pandemonium in order to try to distract the player from being able to concentrate. When my daughter’s team plays, on the other hand, they know that there is no sportsmanship in trying to throw people off their game, and so when a player from either team is making foul shots, there is dead silence.

We all know that noise is a distraction. Casinos overload you with noise and lights to distract you from the fact that you are losing money and to help you lose track of time. Noise is manipulative. Stores pipe in music to evoke specific emotions targeted to affect and alter your shopping choices. When the noise is negative (as most noise is these days) it is far more destructive than being distracting or manipulative; it blocks us from hearing the positive – thereby distorting our reality and stunting our potential.

You Have an Incoming Call

The first word of the Torah portion, “Vayikra,” literally means, “And He called …” Who was the caller? God, of course. Who was the listener? Moses. What was going on? God was talking to Moses about the procedures for offering the various sacrifices in the Tabernacle. Moses wasn’t having a private audience with God, however. Rashi, the famous medieval commentator, points out that other people were standing around, and so how was it that no one else was able to hear the voice of God? Or at least eavesdrop on the conversation?

Despite their physical proximity, they simply weren’t spiritually attuned to “God’s frequency,” and so only Moses was able to hear God’s instructions. Apologizing for the analogy, Rabbi Pinchas Winston compared it to a dog whistle. While the sound waves emitted from a dog whistle literally land on a human eardrum, unlike a dog, the human ear is not attuned to make sense of that frequency.

There is no shame in not being able to hear a dog whistle; after all, we are not meant to hear it. Being able to “hear” the message of Godliness, on the other hand, is our very spiritual mission. “Shema YisroelHear O’ Israel,” is the Jewish foundational message; hence our spiritual eardrums are designed to pick up God’s signal.

Static on the Line

There is so much “noise everywhere,” so much distortion and interference, that it’s hard to pick up a clear signal. What can we do about it? Let’s start on a practical level and look at “noise reduction” in our lives. In one of my favorite go-to books, Before Happiness, which is a fantastic instruction manual for creating positive reality based on cognitive, intellectual and emotional resources, Shawn Achor discusses how noise is more than just a mere distortion, in that it blocks out the very signals that can point us towards positive growth.

In order to reduce noise, we need to do 3 things:

  1. Stop Our Addiction to Noise:

The world is a huge noisemaker. It throws billions and billions of bits of information at us per second. While our senses can receive a lot of that data, our conscious brains can only process about 40 bits per second. Out of myriads of possibility, we choose which infinitesimal slice of data we wish to perceive, from which we construct our versions of reality. Says Achor:

We can choose either to hear negative, flawed, or irrelevant information or to absorb information that will help us to accomplish our goals. But because the amount we hear is limited, there is a trade-off; the more negative information we take in, the less positive signal we can hear, and vice versa.

We only have a narrow bandwidth to work with. When we listen to gossip and negative judgments, when we glue ourselves to the nightly news, or obsessively check our emails, Facebook, etc., we are using up and cluttering that tiny little bandwidth of reality. If we can only utilize 40 bits per second, what do we really want to use them for?  

The good news is that studies in positive psychology and neuroscience have demonstrated that even a 5 percent reduction in noise significantly improves our chances of picking up positive signals.

  1. Cancel The Internal Noise:

It’s not just the noise that’s “out there.” Have you listened to your own thoughts lately? You know that “voice,” the one that wears you down with its constant pessimism, self-doubt and negativity. It’s even more harmful than external noise because we don’t evaluate or challenge its validity and the effect of this voice is that it has the potential to kill our positive potential. And so it basically undermines our very reason for being. We all know about the concept of a self-fulfilling prophesy. Words create worlds. They have the power to create or destroy us and those around us.

Learning strategies for reducing this internal noise, therefore, is critically important and will result in huge payoffs in all areas of your life. Try replacing patterns of negative thinking with these three thoughts:

  1. I will keep my worry in proportion to the likelihood of the event.
  2. I will not ruin ten thousand days to be right on a handful.
  3. I will not equate worrying with being loving or responsible.
  1. Recognize The Signal:

Signal is information that is true and reliable and alerts you to the opportunities, possibilities, and resources that will help you reach your fullest potential.”

How can we hear the voice of Godliness today, which is trying to help us reach our spiritual potential? There was a famous incident when Elijah the Prophet encountered an angel in the desert. All of a sudden, a powerful wind shattered the mountains, but the angel said, “God is not in the wind.” Then there was an earthquake, and the angel said, “God is not in the earthquake.” Then there was a fire, and again, the angel said, “God is not in the fire.” What emerged after the fire, however, was a still, thin sound.  

The echo of God’s voice that spoke the world into existence, that spoke at Mt. Sinai and which spoke to Moses, reverberates to this day. And that is where God is to be found – if we can hear it.

Anger disconnects people, and so they yell to be heard “over the distance.” Love, on the other hand, brings us close, so close that the barest whisper is loud enough for us to hear the words of our beloved. The “small thin sound” then, is all around us, and even within us.

Learn to distinguish between “noise” and “signal.” Understand that destructive noise spotlights the negative, obfuscates the positive and kills your potential. Stop the noise, as much as you can. Choose your inner thoughts. Quiet your brain and your soul. Be present and open to the miracle embedded in every single moment. “And He called” means that God called and is still calling us. It’s up to us to tune in to the signal and to listen.

Internalize & Actualize:

  1. What external noise do you allow into your head that you can eliminate? Think about the time you spend online, listening to gossip or other unproductive and negative noise that is taking up precious space in your head. List a few things that you can immediately reduce:
  1. What internal noise is bringing negativity into your reality? What can you eliminate that will help you stay and feel more positive?
  1. When you listen carefully, what healthy and loving messages are being directed to you, either from others or from yourself, that you can pay attention to when you block out the other distracting internal and external noise. What messages do you want to hear that you may have been missing out on. List them below and then try this week to “listen louder” to tap into that signal that is trying to connect.

 

 

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Growing Your Relationship Capital

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, former Chief Rabbi of the UK, was addressing a room packed with students. “Why is it,” he asked, “that there are only thirty-one verses in the Torah to describe the entirety of the act of creation by God, and yet, when it comes to describing the building of the Tabernacle, it goes on and on for hundreds of verses.”

For the last three Torah portions, we have been reading the “blueprints” for building the Tabernacle, and now, in the Torah portion, Pekudei, the building process itself is described.  Is this necessary? Honestly – it seems redundant and somewhat boring.

Rabbi Sacks explained that it is nothing for God, an Infinite Being, to create a home for man, but it’s quite another thing for man to create a home for God – especially when this holy building project followed on the heels of the sin of the Golden Calf. And the sin of the Golden Calf is especially egregious and puzzling, since it followed on the heels of the revelation of the Ten Commandments at Mt. Sinai.  

During revelation, the Jewish People were enveloped in a mass ecstatic experience, proclaiming their faithful devotion with these famous words: “N’aseh v’ Nishma,” meaning, “we will do and we will hear.”  So deep was their love for God at that moment, that they had no preconditions for accepting Torah. Imagine your beloved asking you to do something for him or her – do you need to know the exact details before consenting?

But the experience was transitory. The Jewish People quickly rose to the occasion, and then, having risen so high, they had nowhere to go but down. It is one thing to be swept up in an ecstatic moment, but it is quite another to maintain it for the long haul. 

 Any relationship can be sparked by infatuation and it’s easy to get caught up in a moment of intense feelings. But for a relationship to endure, one has to relish and savor it, day after day, week after week, etc. In tasking us with the building of the Tabernacle – where we did ordinary tasks repeatedly for a prolonged period of time – God was teaching us a lesson about the real nature of love. 

 More so, in discussing the Tabernacle, there is an unusual statement made. We read of this in the Torah portion, Shemot, where it says: “Asu Li Mikdash, v’shachanti b’tocham,” (Exodus 25:8) meaning, “Make for me a sanctuary, and I will dwell amongst them.” The obvious question is that this statement appears to be grammatically incorrect. “Sanctuary” is in the singular, and yet “them” is in the plural. On a deeper reading, however, it is the essential point and purpose of why the Tabernacle is to be built in the first place. The commentaries explain that the Tabernacle must be built within each and every one of us. We must create a home that is welcome, open and loving for our Creator. We must make a home for Godliness in our individual lives. For when one feels at home, and in this case when the One feels at home, that is the greatest expression of love.

 Another allusion to this is the fact that the Torah begins with the letter Beit, which can also be read as the word “bayit” meaning “house.” This shows us that the reason we were created was to create a home, a dwelling place for God in this world, and a place where others can feel at home as well. To do so requires constant work and focus, and to make a house a home we need it inviting and welcoming for others. We want a home filled with love and light.

Real love doesn’t extinguish after one intense fiery moment, but it burns with an eternal flame. When you love, the seemingly mundane and repetitive moments are anything but, and they add up to a lifetime of deep and meaningful connection. The cup of coffee lovingly put on my desk every morning, my smile across the table to my husband that catches his eye and speaks wordlessly, the small daily constant gestures of thoughtfulness and devotion – these comprise the blueprints of intimacy. It is the very nature of such repetition that lays the foundation of how we build loving lasting relationships, and a fit home for God, indeed. After all, as the saying goes, if you want an important guest to stay at your house, you better provide a comfy chair.

Repetition reminds us of what is important, essential and the underlying reason and purpose for what it is that we are doing in our lives and with our lives. It is how we invest in a relationship so it doesn’t sputter out when infatuation fades or crumble when the work of relationship begins. Rather, it is the path through which our relationship with God – and with others – can become more real, deeper, more intimate, and over time, evolve into its true relationship potential.

Internalize & Actualize:

  1.  Think about the mundane moments in your life. What do you possibly take for granted that when reflecting more closely show you how loved you are? List at least five things that you receive or give in this category. Consider making a mental shift from doing things in a habitual, repetitive and mundane way to investing in your relationship. Can you bring a new awareness or mental presence to rote activities? What changes?
  2. Is your house a home? Is it a place you feel you and others are totally comfortable? Is it a dwelling place for God? If so, what makes it that way? If not, what can you do to create such an environment?
  1. What new loving behaviors can you do consistently to invest in and grow your relationships?

 

Tetzaveh: Outside Inside

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You must be the person you have never had the courage to be. Gradually, you will discover that you are that person, but until you can see this clearly, you must pretend and invent.

                                                                                        – Paul Coelho

Who doesn’t have childhood memories of being forced to wear items of clothing that we hated? I still have a visceral memory of an unlined gray wool dress that my mother loved go dress me in, that scratched me with every move of a muscle and felt like sackcloth against my skin.  A child’s only defense is to grow out of such clothes as quickly as possible or find a way to make sure the garment gets ruined, regardless of the consequences.  Then, as we got older, we would fight with our parents over the clothes that we loved to wear – but that they hated.

As soon our parents stopped telling us what we could or couldn’t wear, society pressured us to “dress for success,” although we weren’t always sure whose idea of success or image we were even dressing for. Part of this cultural view is the oft-stated idiom: “Clothes make the man.” But we bristled at the idea of a shallow society unable to see us for our true selves, and we didn’t want to buy into creating an external reality based on the perceptions of others.

Tetzaveh,” deals almost exclusively with the elaborate clothing and the intricate and ornate vestments that Aaron, the High Priest, wore when he entered the Tabernacle to perform the Temple Service. Without this regal and distinctive garb, Aaron could not perform his service. I can just hear Aaron’s mother yelling, “Aaron, put your priestly robes on already. And don’t argue with me. Let’s go – God is waiting!”

Is this nothing more than “clothes make the High Priest”? Some commentators state that the vestments were for the Jewish people to recognize the unique and spiritual stature of the High Priest.  That view suggests that our teenage angst was justified, and it’s all about other peoples’ perceptions and external reality. But that would be a very superficial interpretation. What if outer garments affect us on an internal level, which in turn can create a new external reality? So which is it – external or internal reality?

To Walk a Mile in Someone’s Sandals

The Torah describes the vestments as being for the “splendor and glory” of Aaron. You may think that these two words mean the same thing, but they don’t. “Glory” refers to our God-given qualities, our inherent strengths, and gifts. “Splendor,” on the other hand, refers to what we do with them.   There is a saying that our life is a gift to God, but that what we do with our lives is our gift back to God.

In order to make that remotely meaningful, however, we have to understand the exalted essence of a human being. That’s a challenge at any time, but put yourself in Aaron’s shoes – or sandals – for a moment. One day, he’s a slave in Egypt; the next, he’s the High Priest serving on behalf of the entire Jewish nation. That’s a colossal shift. How could he possibly have felt worthy and up to the task?

Fake It ‘Til You Reveal It

We usually think that attitude drives behavior. That makes sense. After all, we see how our actions flow from our beliefs and thoughts. The Torah tells us, however, that the reverse is just as true, if not more so, and Positive Psychology research, such as Daryl Bem’s “Self-Perception Theory,” explains that behavior does, in fact, more effectively drive attitude.  This can be consciously manipulated for good, by engaging in specific practices to shape the belief about one’s self that will then reinforces the positive behavior.  We often hear the phrase “fake it ‘til you make it.”  Judaism tells us to “fake it ‘til you become it,” and deeper still is: “fake it ‘til you reveal what is already there.”

For Aaron to assume his role and serve the Jewish people, he needed to see himself as being worthy, to understand his inherent royal nature. The holy vestments were external vehicles to get to that inner truth. (Interestingly, nothing could serve as a barrier – not even so much as a bandage – between Aaron’s body and his vestments. This prohibition is meant to teach us that the physical (and emotional) impediments we place between holiness and ourselves, and between God and us, are foreign objects that don’t belong there.)

Tapping into Glory

We are all glorious in that we all have God-given qualities, unique strengths, and talents. But unless we know that they are there, we can’t tap into them. Unless we know who we are, we can’t comprehend our mission and begin to actualize our potential.  May we all use the lesson of “Tetzaveh” to clothe ourselves in new behaviors and new ways of being.  And when we remove barriers and impediments to Godly connection, we open the way to a new internal reality sourced in our “glorious” essence, thus revealing a new external reality where we can create the “splendorous” life that we are meant to live.

Internalize & Actualize:

  1. If you could imagine your life as the gift you want to give to God, what would your life look like?
  1. Are feelings of unworthiness, or the fear that you’re not “up to the task,” holding you back in your life, whether in your career, relationship, or personal growth? List a few examples where you feel this way?
  1. How can you use the situations above and take a “fake it ‘til you reveal it” approach? List five practical ways you can start “acting” in the way you want to become your new truth.