Dear reader, you surely recall how we have been positing that we must be aware and attentive to the noise around us, for within it can be discerned music. An inspirational melody – not necessarily of the euphonious variety, but a message that can be heard only by those attuned to the right frequency.
This reminds me of the first intelligent insight of my life. I was a preschooler when we lost our dog – or perhaps it ran away or, as my sister says, was stolen. It was our one and only dog (whose name has been enshrined as my password ever since). The dog was more my mother’s domain, and she was the only one in a panic over the lost mutt. In any event, I was recruited onto the canine search committee, and we looked high and low, veering into neighborhoods I never even knew existed.
Things were looking bleak as we trained our ears for a bark and hunted for the other telltale signs that dogs leave behind. My mother, who otherwise was an exceptionally intelligent woman, was in such anxiety over the pup that she proposed that we buy a dog whistle to help locate him. I retorted – and have been proud of this insight ever since – that there would be no point in a dog whistle if the hound was never trained to be attuned to it. The remark nixed that suggestion.
My point is not to take you inside my childhood, but to borrow a useful analogy: If you are not attuned to the right frequency, then all of the signals in the world will pass you by. Sometime in the late 90s, I read article that went something like this (I don’t remember the author’s name, but the words were quite memorable):
“What was that sound? That rustling noise? It could be heard in the icy North, where there was not one leaf left upon one tree, it could be heard in the South, where the crinoline skirts lay deep in mothballs, as still and quiet as wool. It could be heard from sea to shining sea, o’er purple mountains’ majesty and upon the fruited plain.
“What was it? Why, it was the rustle of thousands of bags of potato chips being pulled from supermarket racks; it was the rustle of paper bags being filled with beer and soda pop and quarts of hard liquor; it was the rustle of newspaper pages fanning as readers turned eagerly to the sports section; it was the rustle of currency changing hands as tickets were scalped for 40 times their face value and $290 million was wagered upon one or the other of two professional football teams.
“It was the rustle of Super Bowl week, silencing the sobs of the homeless, the jabber of the mad, the death rattle of terror victims; drowning out the squeals of happy infants, the hurrahs of lottery winners, the prayers of the devout, and the chants of those who repeated (and repeated) exotic syllables in meditation centers; hushing out commercial negotiations, classroom lectures, rap, rock, and reggae, not to mention normal dinner-table conversation.
“The rustle caused symphonies to cancel concerts, brides to postpone weddings, and persons unlucky enough to have been born on January 23 to despair of anybody remembering them that year. The rustle grew in volume as the week passed, not only in America but in numerous foreign lands, although the pitch was obviously mightier domestically.”
I believe that was the gist of what the author wrote, although over the decades my memory may have embellished or otherwise tweaked the description. The article was, of course, an imaginative, albeit fanciful, description of what one writer heard leading up to the Super Bowl. But the concept is not foreign to us.
The Mishna teaches (Pirkei Avos 6:2), “Every single day a voice from Heaven emerges from Mount Chorev and proclaims, ‘Woe to the people for the humiliation of the Torah.’” The question is often posed: Who exactly hears this daily voice?
There seems to be no doubt that the Chazon Ish heard it. And there were others whom we shall discuss in future columns. But for the rest of us, does that mean that we are unable to access this frequency? I suppose the answer is that sometimes a signal does get through. Then the question becomes how we process it. Do we dismiss it, or act upon it? In large measure this will be like the “celestial phone call” described by Rebbitzen Tziporah Heller. If we answer the call, the dialogue will be continued. If we do not pick up the receiver, then we will either get no more calls, or we will lose the ability to even hear the ring.
Here is another, more prosaic example. Decades ago, Rabbi Aaron Lopiansky, the famous Rosh Yeshivah of Silver Spring, Maryland, took his Israeli nephew to the Empire State Building. As the two of them were standing on top of the world, the nephew suddenly stopped and asked with great curiosity, “What exactly is that noise that we hear from below?”
Rabbi Lopiansky looked out at the tall, ominous visage of buildings rising above the petrochemical cloud layers and every other Gotham olfactory offense. He strained his ears to detect a singular noise amidst the anguished bedlam of midtown Manhattan, the staccato clamor of the jackhammers, the honking and the cursing, the sirens, the slamming car doors, the subsonic reverberations and the rush of steam pouring upward from the sewers as if the world underneath were an inferno.
And yet, Rabbi Lopiansky was at a loss to detect a particular sound. If the Rosh Yeshivah, the highest echelon of bright, was stumped, there is hope for us, folks.
The nephew’s voice then sank to prayer level and reverentially observed, “Why, it is the clamor of humanity.”