“There’s a lot of difference between hearing and listening.”
“Hear, O heavens, and I will speak.
Let the earth listen to the words I utter.”
-Deuteronomy 32:1, opening of portion Ha’azinu
As G.K. Chesterton notes, there is a significant difference between hearing and listening. Hearing is a passive, automatic action for most of us. Listening, by contrast, is a skill—which seems increasingly difficult in our world of digital distraction and information overload. Listening is hearing—plus the critical elements of focus and attention. And so our portion for this week, Ha’azinu, opens with the easy part—hearing—but immediately shifts to listening, which is the challenging heart of the matter.
We are entering a season full of hearing. During the Days of Awe, there is a lot to hear: prayers and petitions, songs and sermons, exchanged expressions of apology and forgiveness, given and received. And, of course, the sound of the shofar, which calls us to wakefulness, remembrance, and action. Our challenge is to move beyond mere hearing and really listen to these words and sounds—to reflect on them and use them as a springboard for true teshuvah and personal and communal transformation.
I’ll be starting the new year, Wednesday night, with a little less talking and, hopefully, a little more listening than usual. In the spirit of portion Ha’azinu and the shofar’s call (for which the mitzvah is the listening rather than the blowing), I am going to forego the usual sermon on Rosh Hashanah eve. Instead, I will be listening with all of you as, over the course of the service, my fellow CABI staff members Rebecca Groves (education), Joanna Jost (PJ Library), Nina Spiro (synagogue director), and Beth Harbison (education and teen advisor) share their reflections and draw connections between their work and the liturgy for this sacred season and beyond. I’ll frame this conversation with an introduction and a “conclusion” of sorts—but my strong hope and belief is that over the coming year, this will be an ongoing exchange in which every CABI member shares as we explore how to best empower one another to live richer Jewish lives. I’m not sure where—or even if— that conversation will end, but I know that if it is to succeed, it will, like our portion Ha’azinu, begin with a commitment to listening.
May this be a sweet year for us all. May we all be written and sealed in the book of life.
L’shanah tovah u-metuakah—