Yitro: 1. Vision: What Do We Stand For? 2. Can We See The Invisible?

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1. VISION: WHAT DO WE STAND FOR? 

Do we as Jews have a vision for life? Does Judaism offer us such a vision, as well as a vision for the world? Or more bluntly put: Is Judaism parochial or global?

This week, as we read about the great Sinai revelation, let us explore what Sinai – and Judaism overall – came contribute to the human race, and to each of us as individuals.

Living comfortably, for all its benefits, often leads us to living complacently. So what do we passionately care about? With all the gifts we were blessed with – our freedoms, our prosperity, our high standard of living – we may lack the most important ingredient of all. With all our successes and opportunities, the question, both individually and collectively, lingers: What vision are we committed to?

Having a vision is vital to our existence both as individuals and as a nation. What do we stand for? What is the vision that drives us?

I humbly submit that for us Jews that vision is clearly spelled out in the Torah which was given to us at Mount Sinai some 3,300 years ago. And this vision is not just limited to us. For the Torah offers the entire universe a vision – a vision of how life can and should be lived to its fullest.

2. CAN WE SEE THE INVISIBLE? BEYOND THE SENSES AT SINAI

What does “kiki” look like? What does “bouba” look like? Not your Bubbe, but the nonsense word “bouba.” With what shape would you associate it?

It may sound funny, but this is a real question that psychologists ask, and believe it or not, in 95-98% of cases, research shows that “kiki” is imagined as a sharp pointy object and “bouba” as round soft one. And this “bouba/kiki effect” – I kid you not, this is what it is called – indicates that, in our minds, sounds have a visual component.

Such research is part of a larger field of study into multi-sensory integration and into the phenomenon of synesthesia. This is a neurological condition in which stimulation of one sense leads to an automatic reaction in another. For those people who have it, sounds may evoke colors, touch may trigger smells, images may translate into sounds.

I have not come across any statistical proof that Jews are more prone to synesthesia than other people, but I have anecdotal evidence that we might be. Jewish rituals tend to combine so many of the senses, and in this regard we are highly unusual. Many other belief systems insist that, to communicate with the Divine, we must detach ourselves from our senses.

The reason that we Jews don’t embrace that point of view comes from this week’s Torah reading, which describes the encounter between God and the Israelites at Mount Sinai. And as we read, we discover that this experience involved … mass synesthesia! At Mount Sinai, when the Jewish people saw the sounds and learned how to connect heaven and earth, the transcendent and the sensory.

This sermon describes the power of the senses [and sensuality], and why they are so important to bringing spirituality into our lives.

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The Meaningful Life Center