Moses has been speaking to the Jews for 40 years. He has said many things. Yet only now, on the last day of his life, he opens his final song with these strange words: “Listen, O heavens, and I will speak! And let the earth hear the words of my mouth!”
Suddenly, Moses is not speaking to the people; he is speaking to the heaven and the earth. Why?
With these words Moses, right before his departure from this world, was sharing eternal guidance to his people on the art of communication, education and coaching. If you are teaching and inspiring, and you find yourself getting stonewalled, you find the recipient to be apathetic, cynical and uninterested, do not give up on him or her. Rather, speak to the “heavens” and then the “earth” will also hear.
You see, in every human, Judaism teaches, there is a “heaven” and “earth”, a higher heavenly self and a lower earthly self. When I am teaching, communicating, inspiring my children, my students, my friends, my community, which part of the person I’m I talking to? Their “heaven” or their “earth”?
This was the inner meaning of Moses’ final opening sermon: “Listen, O heavens, and I will speak! And let the earth hear the words of my mouth!” I speak to the “heaven” in you. I speak to your pure essence, unblemished by all the shell and rubble that amassed over the years over it. I know that the “heaven” in you is alive and well and I believe in it, and I will speak to it, reach out to it.
Why was America so taken by the words of President John Kennedy in January 20, 1961, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country?” Till today this line is quoted often! Because he spoke not to the “earth” in people but to the “heaven” in people.
Deep down that is what people want to hear; that is what we are most receptive to. Deep down we all have a “heaven” in us and we crave its actualisation; when our parents, teachers, and leaders believe in it and speak to it – it resonates. It is the most refreshing and meaningful message to us. And we listen – if not today, then tomorrow, and if not tomorrow the day after.
Professor Victor Frankl (1905-1997) once addressed a large group of students. He said to them that he recently took up flying lessons and he learnt from his flight instructor a concept that pilots call “crabbing”. The definition of the word “crab” in the context of flight “is a manoeuvre in which an aircraft is headed partly into the wind to compensate for drift”.
It means this: If your flight destination is a particular point say in the east, you should aim towards the north of that destination, so that you will land at your actual destination. If you aim at your destination, the cross winds will cause you to land south – lower – of your destination.
Frankl quoted the great German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: “Treat a man as he appears to be, and you make him worse. But treat a man as if he were what he potentially could be, and you make him what he should be.”
Thousands of years before Goethe, Moses said it. Speak to the heaven in people, not the earth in them. If we take man as he really is, we make him worse. For there are powerful “winds” that can derail us off our course. But if we overestimate man, if we aim for much higher, than we promote him to what he really can be.
Mendy Groner is rabbi of Chabad House of Glen Eira