The still small voice

Close up of holding hands two people in cafe. (Fotolia)
Close up of holding hands two people in cafe. (Fotolia)

We had a power outage at our house this morning and my PC, laptop, TV, DVD, iPad, and my new surround sound music system were all shut down. Then I discovered that my mobile phone battery was dead and to top it off it was raining outside, so I couldn’t play golf. I went into the kitchen to make coffee and then I remembered that this also needs power, so I sat and talked with my wife for a couple of hours. She seems like a nice person.

Sometimes, it’s only when we switch off that we truly switch on, that when we stop the noise, we hear the silence. And it’s only when we stand still and really listen that we’re reminded about what really counts, what really matters.

Let me tell you about someone who took a lifetime to learn this lesson. He was smart, he was wild, he was passionate, a marathon man who ran like a racehorse, fanatical about his religion, dramatic by his nature and prodigious in his talent. He’s one of the most well-known names in Judaism, one of the least understood: You’ll recognise his name from the benching (grace after meals) and possibly the song:

הרחמן הוא ישלח לנו את אליהו

He’s remembered at the seder and he’s recalled at a brit, he’s a mythical miracle man taking on the false prophets at Mt Carmel and beating them! He’s Elijah the prophet, Eliyahu HaNavi.

But you want to know what is the most dramatic moment in his life? Not his amazing miracles – and he did a good few of those – resuscitating the nearly dead, being touched by an angel, fed by the birds. No, none of these! Rather, it’s an epiphany he has in a cave on Mt Sinai (maybe the very one Moses had sheltered in).

First he witnesses a typhoon – ‘a great and mighty wind, splitting the mountains and shattering the rocks but the Lord was not in the wind. Then after the wind, there was an awesome earthquake but God was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake – a fire… but God was not in the furious fire’. And then after the fire קול דממה דקה a soft, silent, murmuring sound, a still, small, thin voice.

Not in the sound and the fury but in the deep silence of his heart – that’s where Elijah discovers God, that’s where Elijah finds Elijah. That’s where he knows for the first time who he really is and what really matters. And that’s where we find out who we really are and what we’re really made of. And it’s no coincidence that this small, little voice is recalled at the very heart of our Musaph prayer on Rosh Hashana and again on Yom Kippur in the powerful Unetaneh Tokef prayer.

It’s only after this revelation that Elijah can answer the question twice – posed to him by God מה לך פה – just what are you doing here?

And that’s what God asks of each of us every day but especially at Rosh Hashana time: מה לך פה – what are you doing here, what are you doing here on earth with the brief time that I’ve given you?

Are you using it wisely and productively not just to do a cool reno on your home, buy a new Jag or jazzy little Mini, a trip to Bali, a cruise to Antarctica, but are you using it to open your hands and heart to others?

We all have our Elijah moments when that little voice will simply not be shut up or out. It’s what Gandhi meant when he said: The only tyrant I accept in this world is the still voice within. And I would add it’s the voice of my conscience, my authentic self… “To thine own self be true”:

We have too many zealots around today too ready to speak in the name of God, convinced of their moral superiority, filled with moral outrage. Thanks to the tyranny of social media and many politicians, the tenor of our conversations today is loud and furious; everybody is outraged and everybody feels entitled to blog or broadcast their opinions, no matter how thoughtless, tactless or tasteless.

We will be judged like Elijah not by how loudly and violently we have declared our faith in God, but by how we treat the weakest and most vulnerable in our society – Jewish or non-Jewish: the financially challenged, the stranger and the refugee, the disabled and the single parent, the abused child and the battered woman, the desperate Aboriginal teenager in custody, the homeless man outside Coles,. We will be judged by how we behave in business and in relationships. We will be evaluated by how we treat and talk about people we disagree with. Are we just out to screw everyone or to lift them up?

But being a fully blooded Jew is also about being as passionate about the Shabbat, Jewish education and community as you are about the displaced of our society, being as outraged about the exclusion of the vulnerable of our society, the growing disparity between the rich and poor, as you’re enraged by the alienation of our youth from Judaism and the number of people attending shul.

Let’s return to a little more custom and civility. The healing of the world’s woes will not come through a strident social or political program but in the still soft voice that speaks to the conscience and the heart. It takes just a few good people to make a difference.

The heart is not only a lonely hunter, it is a fine and refined suitor, a leader of taste and quiet grace – strong as a lion, gentle as a deer, wise as an ancient teacher. It’s right here: It’s in our hearts. It’s in our hands. It’s up to you and me. It’s up to us…

Shabbat Shalom.

Rabbi Ralph

About the Author
Rabbi Genende recently retired as the Senior Rabbi of Melbourne’s premier Caulfield Shule and took up the position of Senior Rabbi and Manager to Jewish Care Victoria, Melbourne’s largest Jewish organisation. He was a senior Reserve Chaplain in the South African Defence Force and is now Principal Rabbi to the Australian Defence Force, Member of the Religious Advisory Council to the Minister of Defence (RACS), board member of AIJAC (Australian Israel Jewish Affairs Council) and member of the Premier's Mulitifaith Advisory Group. He was President of JCMA (Jewish Christian Muslim Association) and a long time executive member of the Rabbinical Association of Victoria. He also oversees Yad BeYad a premarital relationship program, is a member of Swinburne University’s Research Ethics Committee and of the DHHS ,Department of Health Ethics Committee and sits on the Glen Eira City Council’s Committee responsible for its Reconciliation Action Plan for recognition and integration of our first peoples. Ralph has a passion for social justice and creating bridges between different cultures and faiths. For him the purpose of religion is to create a better society for all people and to engage with the critical issues facing Australian society. The role of the rabbi is, in his words, to challenge the comfortable and comfort the challenged. In 2018 Rabbi Genende was awarded an OAM for his services to multi-faith relations, and to the Jewish community of Victoria. Rabbi Genende is a trained counsellor with a Masters degree from Auckland University. He is married to Caron, a psychologist, and they have three children and two grandchildren.
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