There is a story from our tradition that I used to find kind of puzzling. King David, who was known as a great musician and poet, asked God, “What do you think of my music?” God said, “They are good, but not as good as the croaking of a bullfrog.” I thought God was being harsh to David, trying to keep his ego in check.
My understanding of this changed when I was at a retreat in the Catskill Mountains. It was late at night, and I was sitting by myself at the edge of a lake. I soon realized I was listening to some of the most beautiful “music” I had ever heard. It was the croaking of bullfrogs and the rustling of the water and the swaying of the trees, all in perfect rhythm and harmony. This was the music God was talking about. It was a true psalm, a true prayer to God.
Rabbi Nachman tells us that the entire world and the universe itself makes wonderful music, if we would only listen to it. I think this is the key to understanding what the prayer “Shema” really means. It is usually translated as “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One.” What is the significance of “hear”? This is clearly a significant declaration of faith, but even The Ten Commandments do not start that way.
I prefer to translate it as, “If you listen, then you will know that God is God.” If we pause for a moment, and sit in absolute quiet, then we will hear the world that God made, and the prayer that the world offers.
I think it is easiest to do this in nature, even in a park, but it can be in a city, as well. There are beautiful and strange sounds in the world, sounds that harmonize with and reflect each other. The next time you go for a walk, even in a mall, listen to everything around you. You will be amazed by the wonderful rhythms. It will no longer feel like noise, but a prayer.