I'm Jon Spira-Savett, rabbi at Temple Beth Abraham in Nashua, New Hampshire. This website and blog is a resource for Jewish learning and Jewish action. It is a way to share my thoughts beyond my classes and weekly Divrei Torah. You'll find blog posts, standing resource pages with links and things to read, and podcasts as well.
According to this week's parasha, Va-etchanan, after the Israelites heard the Ten Commandments directly from God, the leaders of the community who approached Moshe.
They said: "This day, we have seen that God can speak to a human being (adam) and that person lives (chai). Now, why shall we die….? For who of any flesh (basar) who has heard the living voice of God speaking from the midst of a fire, as we have, can live? You go close and hear all that Adonai our God says, and you speak to us…and we will listen and do it." (Deuteronomy 5:21-24)
The leaders' request seems to make no sense. They don't notice the contradiction in their own words. They recognize that they have just lived through this direct encounter with God. How can this be proof if it happens again, they will die?
The Slonimer Rebbe notices a subtle shift in their language. The leaders say: We understand that God can speak to an adam -- a person, living (chai) at the level of the image of God. Yet when we are at the level of mere basar -- flesh -- a direct communication from God could not be understood. Hearing God in such a state can only make a person aware of their spiritual deficiencies, and drive one further from the deeper reality of living.
This is why, according to the Slonimer, God endorses the elders' solution. When it is too overwhelming to listen when God might be calling -- find someone in your life who represents closeness to God, and listen to her or to him. Listen for the voice of God that person, for however long it takes.