Last week my email started acting strangely. I didn’t know it at first, but my outgoing emails weren’t going anywhere…except into the ether. It took a few days for me to realize that people weren’t hearing from me. Some were upset because I didn’t respond. Others were waiting for information that I’d promised.
Several times when I knew someone was waiting, I re-sent an email. Sometimes it went through the second time, sometimes it didn’t.
Communicating is vital to us humans. We want to be heard; we want to know someone is listening. Sitting alone in my home, sending emails that went unanswered, I felt alone and isolated. I wondered why people didn’t answer me. Did they just not care? Did my words upset them?
And then, after six long and frustrating days, every email that I’d sent magically appeared in people’s inboxes. Including the ones I sent multiple times in the hope of getting through.
This created a bit of confusion, which took a day or two to clear up. So when I opened this week’s Torah portion and realized that it includes the repetition of the Ten Commandments, I had a new understanding of why Moses said the whole thing over again. Maybe he thought no one had heard him the first time.
It’s frustrating when you discover that your message, which you thought was getting through, has gone unheard. So it is no surprise that we repeat ourselves.
In Moses’ case, he was actually speaking to an entirely new group of people. He may have said “you” as if they were there the first time too, but we know that he was speaking to the next generation, the people who grew up in the desert and were either born after the revelation at Mt. Sinai or were small children at the time.
Repetition is an integral part of our tradition. Every year we begin reading the Torah anew. Year after year after year. You’d think that after a few decades of this we could take a year off and read something else.
But advertisers will tell you that hearing a message only once is inadequate. They need to reach you at least five times to actually “reach” you. Otherwise it just doesn’t sink in. For us, reading the Torah over and over gives us a chance to revisit old messages, to find new meanings, to discover ancient truths that in the past we didn’t notice.
Moses had to repeat the Ten Commandments before he died. He needed to make sure the people had heard him, that they had absorbed the message God sent through him.
The haftarah that accompanies this week’s Torah portion is from the book of Isaiah. It’s the first of seven, called the Haftarot of Consolation. And this one begins by repeating the word nachamu: “Comfort, oh comfort My people, says your God.”
We say things twice for emphasis. Especially when providing comfort. “There there,” we say, patting a crying child on the back. And if we are lucky, there are people in our lives to whom we say “I love you” again and again. And if we are very lucky, they say it back to us, again and again.
Eventually, all of my emails arrived at their intended destinations, and I received responses from the people to whom I had reached out. May we all be so blessed.