Out for a stroll, perhaps amid the serenity of the Jewish Sabbath, I am totally oblivious to the thousands of broadcasters who are emitting radio signals around us. When I worked at the Justice Department, investigating telecom matters, I came to understand exactly how much of this information is beamed through our living space and which passes through our very brains every second. Satellite links, shortwave AM, and ordinary radio channels on both frequencies, as well as signals on bandwidth reserved for emergency services and military communications, all saturate the air around us. However, if my radio is off, or if it lacks the capacity to receive certain channels, I cannot listen in.
What if your mind could actually intercept and eavesdrop upon some of those communiques?
Many members of our Executive Learning Program are weekly students of Pirkei Avos, an ancient compendium of Jewish ethical and moral wisdom. In the sixth chapter, the exalted Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi tells us that every day a voice emanates from Mount Sinai, where we received the Torah, and it boldly decries the neglect of Torah study. Likewise, the Zohar (3:126a) teaches that a daily proclamation from Mount Sinai pronounces a call to repentance in a verse from the prophet Jeremiah: “Return, my children, return!” In Hebrew, repentance is called “Teshuva”, which denotes a ‘return’ to our better, preeminent selves. From the top of Mount Sinai, God broadcasts this Divine desire for us to renew and recalibrate our spiritual orientation to better receive those blessings which Heaven aspires to give.
I’ve only been alive for a few decades, but I have never, ever, heard this voice. For millennia, billions of humans, among them millions of Jews, have never perceived any audible sound which proclaims this message. How can we teach these texts to our children and students with a straight face? How can we substantiate these teachings when there is no perceptible voice from Mount Sinai?
An answer to this question came about 280 years ago, when a sublime soul was sent to renew the spirit of the Jewish People amid the illuminations and confusions of the modern era. This teacher was the holy Baal Shem Tov, who explained that really, every Jew hears the Heavenly call of “Return, my children, return!” A Jewish soul is like a radio which is hardwired to receive the daily broadcast from Mount Sinai, the place where we became a nation. Every Jew receives this appeal on the deepest, most preconscious levels of his or her soul. When a Jewish soul hears this message, it precipitates an instinctive, seemingly unprovoked desire on a conscious level to be better and to reconnect with Something Higher.
Although we are hardwired to accept these transmissions, there are so many sources of “radio interference” which can muffle or scramble this Divine broadcast. The 613 mitzvos of our Torah are ways to improve our antennae and enhance the clarity of the message. In particular, the more a Jew endeavors to utilize the Sabbath to both silence the many sources of interference which arise in our workdays and to also actively find serenity with family and community, then the better he or she can achieve all of this. The words “TeSHuVa” and “SHaBBaT” share a similar construction because the quietude of our Sabbath makes it most conducive to hearing the call of “Return!” from Mount Sinai. This arouses every Jewish soul to consider both its purpose in this world and also how to better receive so many other aspects of Divine largesse. With better reception, we may just discover how many other messages we’ve been missing.