The parsha deals with the offerings and sacrifices that G-d has deemed necessary for Aaron and his sons to become holy and prove their worth as priests to the Israelites.
Moses receives and delivers the message of G-d, an intermediary. When Moses was born and cast into the Nile, he was retrieved by Pharaoh’s daughter and presented to Pharaoh. He was given a test to see if he was of royal blood; two trays were placed before him, one with hot coals and another with gleaming jewels. The test was to observe which objects Moses reached for; he began to move his hand to the jewels – a sign of royal blood -and an angel thwarted his reach by pushing his hand to the hot coals. Upon touching the hot coals, he burnt his hand and immediately placed his hot hand in his mouth thus causing his palate to be burnt and therefore disfiguring him and causing him difficulty in speaking clearly.
Aaron, Moses’s brother, became an eloquent speaker and assisted Moses in communicating verbally. This situation, the division of thought and speech, begs the question of how thought and speech are so fundamentally interrelated. Aaron Copeland, the great C20 composer, wrote an opera in three acts, Moses und Aaron, interestingly enough, the opera has only two acts and it has been a source of speculation whether Copeland intended the last act to be silent or he never completed the full opera.
Today, I read an obituary in The New York Times for Moacyr Scliar, the Brazilian writer who wrote of his identity as a Jew living in the Diaspora and found this quote appropriate: “I owe to my Jewish origins, the permanent feeling of wonderment that is inherent to the immigrant and the cruel, bitter and sad humor that through the centuries has served to protect the Jews against despair, it is the level of language, however, that these impulses are able to produce their effects. It is in language that I have faith, as a vehicle for aesthetic expression and also – and above all else – as an insturment for changing the world in which we live.”
Prayer and meditation are similar practices in that they both offer us a connection to the divine, but they differ significantly. I see prayer as using language to express our innermost thoughts and feelings to a higher power. Sometimes, we plumb the depths within ourselves and allow whatever comes to the surface to flow out in our prayer; we often pray to words that were written by someone else but express what we want to say. To me, prayer is reaching out to the universe with questions, gratitude and praise and often, pleas for help.
Meditation has a silent quality that honors the art of receptivity. When I meditate, I cease movement and allow the activity of my mind and hearts to go on without control. Eventually, in meditation, we fall into a deep stillness that underlies all the noise and fray of our daily existence and it becomes possible for us to hear the universe as it speaks for itself, responds to our questions or allows us to sit with us silently.
Both prayer and meditation are indispensable tools for navigating our relationship with the universe and ourselves; they are natural complements to one another. One makes way for the other just as the crest of a wave gives way to its hollow. When we do only one, we may find that we are out of balance and we might benefit from exploring the missing form of communication.
There are times when we need to reach out and express ourselves, fully exorcising our inner thoughts and times when we are empty, ready to rest in quiet receiving. When we allow ourselves to do both, we begin to have a true conversation with the universe.