Home > Rabbi Harris > Yom Kippur Yizkor 5775 – Longing for a Voice
October 7, 2014
What do you long for? Think about it.
What do you long for?
I’m not talking about material objects – a new kitchen or car or clothing. Be careful not to confuse longing with coveting.
It is OK to long for something. In Psalm 42 it says:
As a deer longs for a stream of water so my soul longs for You, O God. 
I think about this verse often. It reminds me how powerful the feelings of longing and yearning can be. We’re no different than the deer; longing is as potent as a physical thirst.
One of my most recurring yearnings is to hear a voice.
Abraham heard God’s voice many times and Moses heard God’s voice at Mt. Sinai. I have always imagined God’s voice as being a commanding male voice booming from on high.
But in another part of the Tanach, we have a different description of the Divine voice – קֹ֖†ול†דְּמָמָָ֥ה†דַקָָּֽה†, the still small voice of God which Elijah heard. 
The voice I long to hear is not always God’s though. Often I long to hear the voice of a loved one.
Consider how many voices we instantly recognize. Maybe the voice belongs to a sibling or a child. Maybe it is our parent’s voice or a friend’s voice from long ago. We can hear the intonations and instantly recognize the person.
Our ability to recall voices is remarkable. Scientists study how voices are implanted in our memories. They want to know how the brain catalogues, stores and retrieves voice patterns. It is called ‘lexical access.’ 
But I don’t need to study the human voice to believe that a voice implants itself in our hearts first, and then in our brains.
A best friend’s laugh or a lover’s whisper – the emotion tied to the speaker makes a voice resonate for each of us. It is a parent’s breakfast table conversation or a child’s glee at figuring something out. It is a teenager’s changing voice – at least in my house.
Researchers might need data for their publications but I believe that emotions determine if a voice implants itself deep within me.
The familiar pitches set in our hearts first, then our brains.
A recent story I read captured my imagination. “Housewifely Acts” by Megan Mayhew Bergman is the story of daughter longing for a voice.
Years after the character’s mother died, she sets out on a road trip in search of her mother’s parrot.
Can you guess why she is looking for the parrot? The daughter wants to hear her mother’s voice again. Bergman writes about the parrot:
He could replicate my mother’s voice completely, her contralto imitations of Judy Garland or Reba McEntire, the way she answered the phone. What are you selling? I’m not interested. 
The daughter wanted to hear her mother’s voice… even if it was from a feathered ventriloquist.
Her longing was as powerful as thirst.
I relate to that longing which set this daughter out on the road trip. There are voices I am missing today; I long to hear my father’s voice again.
I can still hear his voice when I play a video cassette or watch a DVD. As I press play, his voice fills the room as it once did. The intonations surround me. The comfortable cadence soothes me. I am transported right back to that day and to the naive expectation that life would offer my father and I unlimited time together.
It has been years since I heard his voice but for that moment, my heart is full. It is full of love.
Almost instantly, I feel a wave of sadness too. I am sad from being reminded of what is now missing in my life. I am filled with a melancholy from the acute awareness that the recording is just that – a recording.
Watching the screen, I realize that more than hearing his voice – I feel it.
My emotions well up. I feel the joy and laughter of that day. In my mind’s eye, I picture the entire breadth of the room, far more than what the view finder could record.
I remember moments earlier in the morning and later that evening. The voices unlock an abundance of memories… and longing.
I long for his voice… I long for the silences between the words.
Now, I only hear his voice in an occasional dream. Like the still small voice, maybe a dream can be considered a קֹ֖†ול†דְּמָמָָ֥ה†דַקָָּֽה†too.
Whose voices do you long for?
Take a moment to recall the voices of your loved ones. Hear them… feel them.
Voices are tied to our hearts, not just our brains.
If I finish my talk now, it would be a nice nostalgic sermon but I want us to push deeper.
I know that not all of the voices in our lives are nurturing and respectful. From the confidential conversations I have in my office, I know there are those sitting near us who struggle with condescending and critical voices echoing throughout their lives. Sometimes, these negative voices come from others and are directed towards us. Other times, our own voices do the most damage. We myopically fixate on a perceived shortcoming and become our own harshest critic.
There are voices in our lives we have purposely avoided and do not wish to recall.
If we hear these toxic voices, I wonder how we can move beyond them. I wonder if it is possible to recall a moment when that critical voice was quelled. I do not know, but maybe there is a space where a voice of teshuva can be heard. Not of forgetting and maybe not even of forgiveness… but of offering ourselves a respite from those unkind voices. We do not have to accept venomous critique from others or ourselves.
Because I long to hear my father’s voice, I understand the daughter’s search for the parrot. Longing is as natural as a deer wanting to quench its thirst at the river.
While I know I will never hear my dad’s voice again, I also know my heart continues to be full of the love he shared with me.
I pray the voices which fill your heart, bring you inspiration and comfort as mine do.
1. Psalm 42:2
2. I Kings 19:12
4. Megan Mayhew Bergman, The Best American Short Stories 2011, “Housewifely Acts”