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Shemot 5783 ~ January 13, 2023

Have you ever noticed the difference in tones from one person’s voice to another? How we might react to the differences in the shrill or softness in their voice might provide us with a positive, or not so wonderful, impression of that individual. For example, Edith Bunker’s voice in “All in the Family” purposefully gave us a comical impression of who she was whenever she called out to Archie. And we loved her, despite that shrill, because she was the counterbalance to her husband’s tone. Often a musician’s high pitches might be thought of as either beautiful or awful.  I grew up in a shul with some of the most world-renowned operatic cantors.  Thankfully, one of them who guided me, Cantor Louis Danto, z”l,  had a marvelous tenor voice that one could listen to all day long, even when he transposed his voice into his falsettos. I wonder what it would be like if instead he was a soprano or a baritone?

But how about an individual who you simply meet for the first time? While you might come to enjoy them as a person, when you first hear the tone in their voice, you might either be impressed or taken aback by how that tone has an effect upon your inner soul. Some voices actually are quite beautiful. Some are trained such as those of radio announcers. And then there are some that simply make us squirm in our seat.

In the midrash for our Torah reading for this Shabbat, the rabbis recognized that reality. Afterall, God has a frightening tone, not only in presence, but also in pitch.  We know this from what takes place later on in the story when the Children of Israel are quite fearful of Hashem’s revelation to them at Mt. Sinai when, as the Torah states, “they heard the lightning, and saw the thunder.”

As we open the Book of Exodus, God has to find a way to open a dialogue with Moshe. Hashem has to choose a location, intrigue that will entice Moshe to be there and then how to best prove not only Himself, but how to not be overstimulating or underwhelming. So if you were God, how might you present yourself in that situation or, for that matter, in any first introduction?

We all know that God created the perfect location: a quiet mountain. Hashem creates the right ambience that will entice Moshe to come gaze – an angel of God appears as a fire that is present but does not consume the bush. That calming scene provides intrigue to Moshe who now wants to seek that burning bush out. And then the rabbis worried about the tone of God’s voice – would it be overwhelming, overconfident, too sheepish or frightening.

The Midrash shares with us: “R. Joshua the priest, son of Nehemiah, said: When God revealed Himself to Moses, Moses was a novice in prophecy; hence God thought’: ‘If I reveal Myself to him in a loud voice, I will terrify him, and if in a soft voice he will think lightly of prophecy.’ So what did He do? He revealed Himself in the voice of his father.” (Midrash Rabbah) Hopefully, that was a calming sound, and also one that presented an inner sense that was pleasant and reassuring. For God at that moment was a salesperson of God Himself. Hashem needed not only to get Moses’ attention, God needed to be able to provide proof and reassurance that God’s mission was true and could be accomplished. But also that God needed Moses to be His emissary.

And how did Moshe respond. The midrash tells us: “Moses thereupon said: ‘Here am I; what does my father desire?" Then God said: ‘I am not thy father, but THE GOD OF THY FATHER; I have come unto thee gently so that thou be not afraid. [I am] THE GOD OF ABRAHAM, THE GOD OF ISAAC, AND THE GOD OF JACOB.’ Moses rejoiced and said: behold, my father is included among the Patriarchs; moreover, he must be great, for he is even mentioned first.’”

It is quite evident from this midrash that Moses’ father’s voice had a certain calming effect upon his son that called out to him in a pleasing way. Equally important was the message and His believability. Hashem succeeds and has Moshe believe in the God and in the role Moshe was to play in changing the course of world history.  And it took the voice of Moshe’s father to be the convincing factor.

I guess there is something to be said about how we present ourselves through the tones in our voice. And if God needed to be cognizant of that fact, perhaps we should, too.

Sat, April 1 2023 10 Nisan 5783