In Sefer Tehillim (95:7) it says that we are Hashem’s people “today, if you hear His Voice.”
But, what does it mean in a practical sense to “hear” Hashem’s Voice? What exactly are we supposed to be listening for? A Bas Kol from Shamayim?
And [Hashem] said: “Go out and stand in the mountain before Hashem, Behold! Hashem passes, and a great and strong wind splitting mountains and shattering boulders [goes out] before Hashem. ‘Hashem is not in the wind.’ And after the wind an earthquake. ‘Hashem is not in the earthquake.’ After the earthquake a fire. ‘Hashem is not in the fire,’ and after the fire, a still thin sound [literally: “voice”].
Melachim I 19:11-12
The truth is Hashem speaks to us all the time, and part of our work in the world is to attune ourselves to this “silent thin Voice.”
But if that’s the case, then what does this voice sound like?
In gemara Avodah Zarah [18a] we find the following passage:
Rabbi Chanina ben Teradion asked Rabbi Yossi ben Kisma “Am I destined to go to Olam Haba [the World to Come]?” Rabbi Yossi ben Kisma responded, “Did you ever do anything special?” Rabbi Chanina ben Teradion said to him: I confused my own coins [that I needed for the meal] of Purim with coins of tzedakah (charity), and I distributed them all to the poor [at my own expense]. Rabbi Yossi ben Kisma said to him: If that is so, may my portion be of your portion, and may my lot be of your lot!
Rabbi Yissocher Frand brings a beautiful interpretation of this passage. Rabbi Chanina ben Teradion saw in this incident that the Ribbono Shel Olam was trying to send him a message: the money he had set aside for his Purim meal should be given to tzedakah instead. Rabbi Chanina was so sensitive and receptive to Heavenly messages that even in such a small inconvenience he recognized that Hashem was trying to speak to him.
Rabbi Yossi said, “If that is the case– if in such a small little incident you can “hear” the Voice of Hashem, then I know you are destined for the World to Come. It’s obvious that you live your life in such a way that when Hashem merely “taps you on the shoulder,” you acknowledge it and take the message.
It is a fundamental idea in chassidis as taught by the Baal Shem Tov that there is no such thing as a coincidence in this world. Every single event, from big to small, that we personally experience is a Heaven-sent message, designed specifically for us and our unique tafkid (role) in the world.
Even more, according to the Baal Shem Tov, whatever we see in the world is really a reflection in some way of ourselves. So, if I see someone struggling with a negative character trait, then that means I possess that very same trait, too (even if I may express it differently).
And, it works the other way as well… Whenever I see or hear about someone doing something positive, whether towards me or another individual, then this too is giving me important information about myself– especially if it made an impact on me.
And Hashem has returned to me according to my righteousness, according to the cleanness of my hands in His eyes. With the merciful You act [literally: show Yourself] with mercy, with the wholehearted person, You act wholeheartedly; with the pure, You act purely; and with the crooked, You act deviously…
Tehillim 18: 25-27
Now, of course Hashem doesn’t expect us to just start analyzing every single instant of our day in order to figure out what He wants. That is the job for tzaddikim.
But we do have to try our best, because Hashem does speak to us through the experiences that we have- both externally and internally– and we are required (each individual according to his or her level) to give some thought to the things that catch our attention.
It’s a requirement because being able to hear Hashem’s Voice in our daily lives is the key to our personal Kabbalas HaTorah, that is, our unique portion in the Torah and the spiritual light that we are meant to receive and reveal to the world. Hashem has set up the world in such a way that true spiritual and emotional growth on any level can only happen with Divine Assistance.
So, whenever something catches our attention– whether it’s a minor discomfort, a significant distress, a thought or a strong emotion– what’s really happening is that Hashem is saying to us, “I’m over here. Come and find Me!”
We should thus train ourselves to first remember that Hashem is trying to speak to us through any given situation and then daven that we are able to reveal the truth that lies within:
Of You, my heart says, “Seek My Presence;”
Your Presence Hashem I will seek.
Do not hide Your Presence from me…
Tehillim 27: 8-9
Kabbalas HaTorah: Examples of What it Means to Hear Hashem’s Voice
So, if you see someone davening with focus and energy or helping others in some way and you wish you could do the same… or you hear someone give a dvar Torah or tell a story of hashgacha pratis and you feel inspired to make a positive change in your life… don’t minimize that inspiration!
Such yearning alone not only tells you something important about yourself, but it has the power to make big things happen “upstairs.” When this yearning is properly channeled (by deliberate thoughts, tefilla, or some other action) it can illicit the Divine Assistance you need to actually get to such a place in your own way.
Other times, the experience that holds us is distressful or unpleasant. Here too this is important information. It means that in these places we are blocked from seeing and feeling Hashem, His Hashgacha and His loving kindness in our lives. When we have the courage to look at the source of our internal distress with the desire to break free and simultaneously daven to Hashem for assistance, that’s when big things happen. We can open the door to real change and growth as well as health and inner peace. It doesn’t matter how young or old you are or how distressful the situation is, you always (always!) have the choice to move forward.
There are two different kinds of blocks to look out for:
Sometimes a person can posses a quality that is positive, but it is being used in a negative way, like someone who is constantly pulled by his or her taivas (physical desires) such as an intense love of chocolate, clothes, food, or money. But once they fulfill these desires, they immediately become depressed or bored and want something else… bigger… better.
According to the Baal Shem Tov every physical desire in this world really contains an aspect of love of Hashem. When we experience a physical pleasure it makes it easier to come to love the Source of that pleasure. Since Hashem is the Ultimate Source of Good, connection to Him is the ultimate pleasure we can experience. (Meor Ainayim, Parshas V’eshanan)
In reality, the person who is caught up in the pursuit of physical pleasure really is seeking the pleasure of a connection to Hashem. But in this world that desire has gotten misdirected and disconnected from the Source.
The emptiness, sadness and unhappiness that people feel after experiencing a physical pleasure they thought would make them happy is really Hashem call to them, telling them to return, that they are straying from the true path they are meant to follow.
Those who can at least recognize that their desires are misdirected and yearn for the real pleasure of spiritual growth and connection to Hashem, have already taken a big first step to healing and being who they truly are.
Other times, however, people will express a quality that directly contradicts and covers up another positive trait that they possess. Someone could be fighting through waves of depression and a drumbeat of negative thoughts: I’m not good enough… It’s too late… Nobody cares… No body loves me… Nobody knows me… Why bother… I’m all alone…
Depression is a disconnect from the world and oneself. It means constantly “living” in a state of painful internal discord between the body and soul. Deep down it is the very antithesis of the will to live– the urge to move versus the urge to just give up and give in. Those struggling with depression are divided inside and thus separate themselves from others, the world, and even themselves.
Yet, many times these same people are the very ones meant to promote the message of unity… of connection… of peace between physicality and spirituality… of stability… and uncompromising, life-giving emunah.
Depression is really one big illusion. As Rebbe Nachman of Breslov famously said: ain yeush b’olam!, there is no need for sadness in the world: everyone has value… we are all connected… the suffering and difficulty is Hashem trying to get our attention because He wants to help us understand and see something that right now we can’t see because we think we aren’t good enough… we can have energy because energy doesn’t come from us, it comes from Hashem. And Hashem will give it to us because His essence is to bestow good. Not hidden good, but revealed good.
But we have to recognize…accept… and yearn. We have to recognize that Hashem speaking to us through the situation, and we have to be willing to listen to what is being said, including the lies that our thoughts are telling us, and yearn for that change by pleading with the Source of change.
As Chazal tell us:
משנה מקום, משנה מזל
If you change your place, you change your mazel
Rosh HaShana 16b
It also means…
If you change [yourself], then HaMakom
[another Name for Hashem] changes your mazel
In this way we begin to have a real, two-way conversation with Hashem. We can not only train ourselves to “hear” Hashem’s Voice calling to us throughout the day, but we can respond, as well, and lay the foundation for our personal Kabbalas HaTorah.