Reflections: a full moon on a dark night, shining silver across the sea; the midday sun transforming the waters into a sparkling spectacle of dancing points of light. Nature offers us glorious reflections. But the word has two meanings: Reflections form the material of our inner life as well as of the world around us, as we reflect, ponder, consider and reconsider. And our interior reflections often remain unexpressed. We don’t just spend a third of our lives sleeping, a good proportion of our waking moments is devoted to reflecting and inhabiting our private, internal world. Essentially, this is what distinguishes us from all the other creatures of the Earth and is the essence of our humanity. It is the heart of consciousness.
Jewish life is apparently so focused on doing and acting, and on words, both written and spoken, that we may forget that every written and spoken word of Jewish teaching is the product of thought and reflection and that, unless we are caught up in a reflex response, before we act, we think. The Torah tells us that when Moses read the Book of the Covenant to the people following the Divine Revelation at Mount Sinai, they declared, na’aseh v’nishma, ‘we will do and we will listen’ (Exodus 24:7). That declaration became the catchphrase of Jewish life. However, when we insist that deeds take precedence, we forget that before our ancestors declared, na’aseh v’nishma, ‘we will do and we will listen’, they had heard the mountain quake with thunder and listened to the voice of the Eternal.
What is the difference between hearing and listening? It is our power to reflect that transforms what our ears hear into what the mind understands. As human beings, we are always struggling to make sense of our experience. As Jews, we are engaged in the same process. On the second day of Pesach, we began counting the Omer, a ritual of counting the days to Shavuot that has its origins in Temple times, when the priest would waive an omer, a sheaf of grain, from the Shabbat in Pesach until the day before the new Festival – a period of seven weeks, hence the name, Shavuot, ‘Weeks’ (Leviticus 23:15-21). All we have to do is count the days. But is it enough for us to celebrate the Liberation and Revelation experienced by our ancestors and retrace their steps from Egypt to Sinai? We don’t live then, we live now. So, where are we going? We need to reverse their declaration at Mount Sinai, saying, nishma v’na’aseh – ‘we will listen and we will do’, and reflect on our own experience – individual and collective – of being Jews in the 21st century. As we continue to remember and honour experience of our forebears, the Omer period is also an opportunity for us to reflect on what it means to be a Jew today.
Rabbi Elli Tikvah Sarah