When I became Bar Mitzvah, I decided that I wanted to do something special to ensure that all who were present were fully able to participate in the service and connect to the liturgy. I realized that members of the deaf community often had trouble participating when so much of communal prayer in Jewish settings was focused on participatory singing. I decided as I prepared to lead services, I would learn certain prayers in American Sign Language (ASL) and sign them as I davened, thus truly being a shaliach tzibur (A messenger of the community’s prayers) for all who were present. I learned to sign the words of the Shema and quickly learned that the deaf community were challenged by the words of the Shema. How could they sign the word for Shema (mean “Hear”) when they were hearing-impaired? Instead, the conclusion was to use the sign for “pay attention” or “focus” because that it what we are truly doing when we hear. When we tell someone to “listen up” we are actually telling them to do more than listen; we are asking them to pay attention.
This past Shabbat, we read Parashat Yitro, in which the Israelites receive the Aseret Dibrot, the ten commandments, following the Exodus from Egypt. After leading the Children of Israel to freedom, Moses is reunited with his family, including his father-in-law, Jethro, the Highpriest of Midian. Chapter 18 of the book of Exodus begins with Yitro, Jethro, hearing all that God had done for Moses and the Israelites. Yitro heard of all of this and rejoiced with the words: Baruch Adonai, Blessed is God.
The Israelites experienced God’s omnipotence firsthand. They witnessed the ten plagues and crossed through the split sea. They experienced God’s greatest of miracles, bringing them from slavery to freedom, with an strong hand and outstretched arm. Yet, they continued to complain. They whined and lacked faith.
But Jethro was already a man of God. He had faith. He simply heard of God’s wonders and believed. So too, this is our hope and our prayer. To hear of God’s wonders and believe. Shema Yisrael. Hear O’ Israel. Hear God’s wonders and believe. Have faith. Hearing of God’s wonders leads to believing that such wonders are possible. With faith – by believing- we will truly be able to see and experience God’s wonders as well.