Shema, Listen, with the Intention of Hearing

This Dvar Torah was written by Rabbi Laila Haas, CAJE’s Director of Adult Learning & GrowthRegister now for Adult Learning's upcoming series THEMES OF THE SEASON: A Meaningful Exploration of the High Holy Days!

Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

In this week’s Torah portion, Vaetchanan, Moses continues to deliver his final words to the Israelites, recalling the joys and the oys of their wilderness journey. Throughout the text the command to listen, Shema, is repeated on four different occasions, culminating in the powerful phrase: Shema Yisrael Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Echad: Listen, O Israel, Adonai is our G-d, Adonai is One! (Deuteronomy 6:4) The Shema is the centerpiece of our worship service and demonstrates the essence of our relationship with God. The repetition of the word, Shema, suggests that we pay special attention to its meaning: listen.
According to a study conducted by Ohio University, “the average adult spends about 70% of their waking hours communicating in one form or another. Of that time, 9% is spent writing, 16% reading, 30% speaking, and 45% listening. With 45% of our communication time spent listening, it is critical that we learn how to listen effectively to reap the full benefits.”
Listening is multifaceted, requiring the listener to be actively engaged to hear, process, and understand the words being shared. In a world with so much noise, distractions and demands —how do we engage in the act of Shema, listening, with the intention of truly hearing and connecting more deeply?
Abraham Hasdai, a thirteenth-century translator, and philosopher, taught, “the difference between your ears and your mouth is that we were given two ears and one mouth so that one might listen twice as much as they speak.”
An active listener engages their full body in their practice. Being a good listener can be just as active as running and walking; just as tiring and just as invigorating. If we engage in the art of active listening and are intentional about taking the time to hear, over time we build the muscle memory needed to block out the distractions, mute the noise and allow for moments of escape from all the distractions. The practice of active listening allows us to deepen our relationships, with one another and with the Holy One, as well as experience meaningful moments when we least expect them.
On this Shabbat, focus your attention on the word Shema, listen. Allow the word Shema to serve as a reminder to reduce excess noise and distraction and grant yourself the blessing of being able to hear the melodies of your own soul. When you utter the word, Shema, internalize the meaning of the word, engage actively in the listening experience, and reflect on all the new things you hear this coming week.
Shema, b’chol levavcha: Listen, with all your heart: u’vchol nafshecha: with all your soul, u’vchol meodecha: with all your being. Transform Shema into your word of intention.

Shabbat Shalom