In this week’s Torah portion, Moses poetically implores the world to listen to his words:
Give ear, O heavens, let me speak;
Let the earth hear the words I utter!
May my discourse come down as rain,
My speech distill as the dew,
Like showers on young growth,
Like droplets on the grass. (Deut 32:1-2)
Over the last few days, we have done a great deal of listening, speaking, and singing. We have been engaged in self-reflection and repentance. But as someone once said, “it matters less what we do between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur than what we do from Yom Kippur to Rosh Hashanah.” The Torah commands that we listen to its words, not merely hear them, and that the words have an actual effect on us – like rain, nourishing us, giving us the opportunity to grow and change. How do we incorporate these teachings rather than letting them evaporate over time?
The Torah’s repeating focus on the concept of listening demands our attention. What is true, active listening? If we are formulating a response as a question is being asked or a statement is being made, we are not listening with a whole heart. When I counsel couples before a wedding, I ask them to engage in an active listening exercise. They are to repeat back what their partner said without response or interpretation. This is more challenging than it would seem, but the results are important. Really being heard and understood has a profound effect. If we take the time to really hear those we love, to allow their words in, to repeat them back and allow them to clarify, we will be so much less likely to accidentally hurt them.
Active listening means turning off our internal dialogue and opening ourselves up to the other. Active listening isn’t only about human relationships, though. When we take a walk and turn off our music, and take a moment to listen to the rustling of the leaves, the birds, we create a spiritual space, an opening where once there was noise. If there is no opening for spirituality, how will it find us? Listening, creating moments of space and silence makes room for so much more.
I wish you a Shabbat filled with warmth and beauty, moments of music and connection, and moments of silence. I wish you a Yom Kippur to Rosh Hashanah filled with health, openness, strength, growth, trust, and love.
Cantor Sally L. Neff