Lamentations: Kinah 15: Can You Hear Me?
One of the major themes in the Book of Devarim is the relationship between seeing and hearing. The Talmud insists that, “Hearing cannot compare to seeing,” but we must still ask, “Which comes first?”
“I instructed your judges at that time saying, “Listen among your brethren.” (Deuteronomy 1:16) The first quality of a judge must be his ability to listen. King Solomon took Moshe’s lesson to heart. When God appeared to the young king in a dream and said, “Request what I should give you,” (Kings I 3:5) Solomon requested, “May You grant Your servant a heart that can hear.”
Solomon did not need to look to the opening of the fifth and final book of the Torah to know that he needed the gift of hearing, he needed only to look to Sinai. God repeated His offer of a covenant three times before Israel responded, “We will do and we will hear.” God waited for them to promise to hear, as in, “So that the people will hear as I speak to you.” (Exodus 19:9) The people had to learn how to hear before, “The entire people saw the thunder and the flames, the sound of the shofar.” (Exodus 20:15) Seeing may be more powerful, but they first had to learn how to hear, as did the judges, and as did Solomon. No wonder the Haftarah of “Chazon,” or Vision, begins with, “Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth.” (Isaiah 1:2) The people had to learn how to hear before they could share Isaiah’s vision.
This is why although we pray the Amidah silently, we must still be able to hear our own words.
This is why the Shema is so essential to our faith.
In fact, when we are able to hear, we have the necessary first key to rebuilding all that was destroyed on Tisha B’Av: Adam was no condemned to die immediately after his sin. He first had a chance to repair the damage of his sin: “They heard the sound of God, the Lord, walking in the Garden toward evening, and the man and his wife hid from God, the Lord, among the trees of the Garden.” (Genesis 3:8) They had sinned and yet they were still able to hear the “Voice of God,” traveling through the Garden. They had a hint of all the power and potential that was still their’s. They could have stood up and faced God in their sin and repair the damage, and still lived forever. It was only when they ignored their ability to hear the voice of God that God said, “Where are you?” “Eichah!” Death came when they acted as mere mortals.
When Isaiah spoke to Israel, the people had an opportunity to hear the voice of God: “If you will be willing and you will hear, you shall eat the goodness of the land.” (Isaiah 1:19) The people did not acknowledge their ability to hear, and Isaiah responded with, “Eichah!” (Isaiah 1:21)
When Jeremiah spoke, Israel had the opportunity to hear the voice of God calling to them. They, as Adam, could have faced up to their mistakes, and repair the damage; they were still able to hear. They refused to listen. (See Kinah 15: I Warned You!) They did not want to hear. They could not face their greatness when they knew they were failing on so many levels. They shut their ears, and Jeremiah cried, “Eichah!”
We may not hear with the same sensitivity as Adam. We cannot directly hear Isaiah and Jeremiah speaking in the voice of God, but we, the nation of Shema, can hear God’s voice in His Torah and commandments. We must learn how to hear before we can merit to see the redemption.