Friday, July 29, 2011

Day 2 - Listening

Day 2: Listening

"The first duty of love is to listen" - Paul Tillich (20th century Germany)

"Torah is greater than the priesthood or sovereignty, for sovereignty is acquired with thirty virtues, the priesthood with twenty-four, and Torah is acquired with forty-eight qualities. These are: studying, listening...

This one seems simple enough, right? Except questions of clarification abound. To what and whom should we be listening? What does it mean to really listen? What kind of listening helps us to acquire Torah? How does listening give us more Torah?

In all of our relationships - spouses, parents and children, siblings, friends, human and Divine - it probably could go unsaid: listening is critical. The listening we do is two-fold. First we have to listen to our voice, our conscious, our divine spark - who are you? What do we need? What is your tafkid, our purpose? Second, we have to listen to the other - what does he/she need from us? Have I really heard what the other person said? In a moment of tension was able to hear their voice calling to me and respond with kindness, compassion and respect?

In a famous tale from the book of Genesis Abraham's concubine Hagar and their son Ishmael are cast out to the wilderness in a fit of rage and jealousy, by Abraham's wife Sarah. A searing scene follows. Hagar, out in the wilderness with her young son on the brink of death is frightened, alone and hopeless. She cries out to God and the Torah says, "God heard the cry of the boy." The problem here is obvious the boy doesn't cry out, it is his mother's cry which rises from the depths so what is God hearing? What is the Torah trying to tell us?

Perhaps, it is those voices, inside of ourselves and others which are a whisper, barely audible to the human ear are those voices for which we should be listening. God exemplifies here in this story the ability to, in a moment of difficulty and fear, pain and suffering come to the ultimate listening. God hears the crying out behind the voice, the real need, the true suffering. It is a listening which goes beyond our ears and our voices, a listening which is about hearing the other - their emotions and their point of view. Perhaps then the rabbis' are saying To truly understand Torah to internalize it we must listen to the quietest voice- in our own hearts and souls and in others. We must listen to the most difficult and challenging words that we might disagree with or that are whispered to use as critiques. The Torah is acquired through listening because it is in the white spaces between the black letters where we come to understand, to hear the Torah's voice. By listening to the in between we hear the cries and the wisdom buried inside the message.