Academy for Jewish Religion

Seeing the Voices: The Call of Teaching in Spiritual Formation


Faculty Meeting Dvar Torah

January 24, 2019

Good morning everyone.  I’m delighted to join the AJR family.  Thank you to Ora for the invitation to teach, and to Jeff for inviting me to open with my long experience of one whole day on the AJR Faculty.

We’re in Parshat Yitro.  Our spiritual ancestors were novices, on a journey they couldn’t yet understand.  Standing at Sinai scrambled their senses: in the familiar words of Exodus 20:18, רואים את הקולת / “They [saw] the thunder.”  Of this, the Sfat Emet wrote:

Sfat Emet (P. Yitro) 2:91

פירוש כמו שכתוב ”אנכי יהו”ה אלהיך (שמות כ:ב), בלשון יחיד.

We must understand these words much as the Voice that said, “I am YHVH your God” (Ex. 20:2) in the singular.

שארו בני ישראל כל אחד את שורש חיותו,

Each one of Israel saw the root of his or her own life force:

וראו עין בעין חלק נשמת יהו”ה ממעל שיש לכל אחד.

With their very eyes, each saw that portion of the divine soul above within each person.

ולא היו צריכין ”להאמין” את הדיברות, רק ראו את הקולות – שכך הוא כאשר יהו”ה דובר.

They didn’t need to “believe” [God’s] words, because they saw the voices.  That’s how it is when God speaks.

By God’s words, each could see who they really were, a vessel for that part of divinity entrusted to them – and as for each of us, so for all.

In our best days as teachers, that’s what we do.  It’s why we’re here, to journey with our students on both their paths of insight and the paths that scramble their senses.  We’re here to help refine their vision to see who they really are – a vessel for the sacred.

In his book The Courage to Teach, Parker Palmer wrote that “a good teacher joins self, subject and student in the fabric of life.”  The best teaching puts the teacher’s own self on the line, healthfully, to help develop the student’s capacity to learn and teach.

So we too must open to the Voice of Sinai – even risk letting our own senses get scrambled – so we ourselves can see again who we really are.  After all, we can’t teach what we ourselves don’t know and do.

This inter-subjectivity in teaching, as Palmer described, means that we really are all in it together.  When we open in this way, when we see eye to eye, as the Sfat Emet wrote, we too won’t need “faith.”  Just that way, we too can be sacred vessels for transformation; we too are renewed.

So thank you, Holy One of Blessing, for this AJR hevre, for the chance to teach and serve, and for the opportunity to be scrambled and renewed.  In that merit, may the Holy One renew us all for this new trimester as together we say [Shehecheyanu…].

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