I don’t know about you, but sometimes when I receive a text message I do wonder why the person did not pick up the phone and actually give me a call. I feel slightly put out by the fact that someone was unwilling to take the time to speak to me, choosing to tap out a message instead. I know that I am also guilty of this; sometimes there isn’t time for a conversation, occasionally I don’t feel like talking and sometimes I send the text message as a way of actively avoiding speaking.
Text messages allow for instantaneous communication, but there is also something slightly impersonal about it. And today there are many other ways to be in immediate contact without really being “in touch”. Some allow us to see the person we are talking to on the other side of the world, while others limit our communication to 140 characters.
In Biblical times there was no texting, email or telephone, and yet this week’s Torah portion reminds us of the different ways in which we can interact with others. We read that ‘Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Cushite woman he had married’ (Numbers 12:1). However, this critique of their brother does not appear to be their only complaint. They continue by asking: ‘Has Adonai only spoken through Moses? Has God not also spoken through us?’ (Numbers 12:2).
God is clearly angered by their words and summons all three of them to the Tabernacle. There God says ‘If there is a prophet among you, I Adonai will make myself know to him in a vision; I will speak with him in a dream’ (Numbers 12:6). The one exception to this rule is Moses, as ‘with him I will speak mouth to mouth, openly, and not in riddles’ (Numbers 12:8).
There is a difference between the way that God speaks to Moses and the way that all the other prophets are addressed. With Moses the interaction and exchange is direct, with that powerful sense of the two almost sitting across from each other, mouth to mouth, during the exchange. My Bat Mitzvah student Sydney suggested that in our modern world, where we can avoid direct interaction through phone calls and text messages, we lose some of the power and possibility of a face to face conversation. Using the example of Moses, she offered the insight that while it might be easier to text someone, it is always better to speak to them in person.
In the words used by God, there is also a reminder that without direct conversation there is often the possibility of misunderstanding. With visions, dreams and riddles there was always the possibility that the prophets would misunderstand what God was saying. Moses was immune to this. Similarly when we send a text message or even an email there is always the potential that the words will be misunderstood. It is only when sitting across from the other person, watching their face, that we can really see how our words are heard and understood.
Together with the Torah portion, Sydney reminds us that sometimes it is important to take the additional time to have a proper conversation with someone, and to interact directly, rather than simply relying on words on a screen.
And if you want to listen to this Two Minutes of Torah: