Arguably, truly listening to someone is one of our hardest tasks as busy human beings. Often we think that we can listen while multi-tasking. Doing laundry, checking emails, washing the dishes…listening feels like something we can do while engaged with something else.
But try an experiment: listen to a loved one or a friend while multi-tasking and then listen to that person while focused solely on them. Sitting down next to them, looking in their eyes. You may have “listened” to the exact same words but guaranteed the person will feel both seen and heard the second time around.
The parasha, Haazinu begins with the following words, “Give ear, O heavens, let me speak; Let the earth hear the words I utter!” The Hatam Sofer, an 18th century authority on Jewish law, explains that Moses is rebuking the Israelite nation. He suggests that the opening verse displays Moses trying very hard to get the attention of every Jew. Whether the Israelites are individuals with their “heads in the clouds” or people able to connect to the here and now, Moses understands that the values of Torah will only be embraced if each Jew “hears” and “understands.”
Rabbi Hillel Silverman shares a piece entitled, “Hearing But Not Listening”:
Paul Simon wrote a fascinating song titled “The Sounds of Silence” that frighteningly captures a truth of our society: “People talking without speaking/people hearing without listening.” A member of my synagogue told me of an encounter between his father and a rabbi acquaintance of his.
“How are you?” politely inquired the rabbi.
“My wife died two weeks ago,” responded the gentleman.
“That’s nice. And how is business?” continued the rabbi, who obviously had asked his second question before listening to the answer to his first.
Rabbi Silverman continues, “So ingrained within our social fabric is this habit of not listening that Emily Post insists that the only proper answer to the question, “How are you?” is, “How are you?” because people rarely listen to how you really are.
It is the Sabbath immediately following Yom Kippur. We are coming out of a time period of inner reflection, contemplation, confession and resolution. We are entering a time of repair, action, building and relating.
This week, Moses is speaking to all of us. May we listen so others feel heard.