Words of Life
I was disturbed by the fantastical words of a guest at a recent business meeting held over a restaurant meal. Our guest began by ordering chicken a′ la king. What had a king to do with that speckled dish upon our table? Did he think of himself as royalty? As for the merry lilting: “a′ la,” what on earth could that be? He then mentioned that he had gone to the theater and sat in a “box” with his wife. What kind of man buys expensive tickets to a show and then chooses to sit in a box? He then ordered Lady Fingers as dessert. Do I really want to do business with a man who eats the fingers of ladies? I wanted to disappear. “Disappear” you say; he may not have been the only one with fantasies!
It soon became clear that I too used strange expressions: As he continued to speak of his remarkable achievements my eyes became saucers. Saucers? Yes, saucers, not the flying kind from outer space, but similar to the ones holding our coffee cups. Then, as we were preparing to sign a contract my heart began to hammer. Yes, hammer! I guess that Wallace Stevens was right when he said, “The words of the world are the life of the world.” We use words to connect our life experiences, one to the other.
“S’u et rosh,” (Numbers 1:2) translated as “Take a census,” is literally translated as “lift up the head,” which in turn, can be read as a positive, as in to be uplifted, or as “Off with his head,” as happened to Pharaoh’s baker. I can picture some of the people reacting to the PA announcement that, “Everyone please gather at the Tent of Meeting, where Moses and Aaron will lift up your head!” Some people understood it as it was meant, an opportunity to be uplifted.” But, surely there were people there as confused as I was at that dinner, who wondered, “What did I do wrong? Why am I to be executed?”
Perhaps the double entendre was intentional: Moses and Aaron could begin their process of Pekida, individual development, by evaluating how each person understood the announcement. Those who heard “uplifted” were ready for growth, excited for the future. The one’s who heard, “Off with his head,” would demand extra work and attention.
We are days away from reliving the Revelation at Sinai. There too, the people were tested by how they heard. Those who pulled back, intimidated by God’s voice, were unable to meet the challenge offered by Sinai.
This was the first test of their promise, “V’nishma,” and we will hear: How do you hear? The same test we face each time we open the Torah and listen to her holy words.
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