Hearing and Learning
Ayzehu chacham? Halomed mikol adam./ Who is wise? A person who learns from everyone.
Pirkey Avot 4:1
Dibor sh’lo shma ein dibor. / Speech that is not heard is not speech.
Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, Likutay Eytzot, Dibor
Sh’ma Yisrael Adonoy Elohanu; Adonoy Echud!
Hear this Israel, Adonoy is our God; Adonoy alone!
Devarim 6:4 The “Shma” recited numerous times in Jewish daily, Shabbat, and Holiday prayers
Tommy, can you hear me?
Peter Townshend, from The Who’s rock opera Tommy
We have just finished our yearly cycle of Torah readings. We start again. We have also completed the series of holidays and special activities that began with inaugurating a repaired and reinvigorated “new year” (in the seventh month of the calendar) on Rosh Hashanah, delving into deep introspection on Yom Kippur, enjoying the blessings and bounty of nature while we boldly make a statement about not succumbing to fear on Succot, and finally dancing and cheerily celebrating our Torah on Simchat Torah. Yes, it is our Torah, to cleave to, hold precious, analyze, criticize, understand, be creative with, and use as the most holy tool in helping us to understand ourselves personally and as special aspects of a unique people, the Jews, and to improve the lives of our loved ones and ourselves.
When I served as a rabbi in a small town in northeastern rural Connecticut in the late ‘90’s, I was the only rabbi in a rather large geographical area. There were, however, an abundance of churches of many denominations of Christianity. At one point in time, I was invited to attend some meetings of an “ecumenical council.” At this meeting a group of ministers and pastors shared their experiences as spiritual leaders and offered each other support and advice. While I couldn’t share in some of their religious experiences, I actually learned much from them about how to be more effective in serving the needs of my congregation. I also learned the concept of having a “calling.” Many of these clergy believed that they had been called upon by God personally to do the work that they were doing. They felt that as they attended to the spiritual needs of others that they were also doing what they were uniquely put into this world to do. I don’t share the theological beliefs that motivated my Christian colleagues, but I found that the concept of feeling and believing that I have a calling for what I have dedicated my life’s energy toward, being a rabbi to serve my fellow Jews, is a great misgeret or structure for me to perceive of my own career as a rabbi.
When I speak to you on Shabbat about the parsha or give my major drashas, “sermons,” on the High Holidays, it is my greatest hope that I will be “heard.” In rabbinical Jewish terms as well as in colloquial terms being “heard” means being understood. It is my hope that what we talk about in some way enhances your life experience and offers helpful and inspirational insight. I also hope that I provide you with an entertaining and enjoyable experience when you attend services.
We touched on a number of themes during the High Holiday services. I spoke with you about using the High Holidays as an opportunity for personal growth, going beyond the medieval concepts recited in the liturgy while using those prayers as a vehicle for that personal growth. We discussed engaging in our Judaism with honesty, about being willing to sacrifice our own personal prejudices and biases in order to live happier and more truthful lives. We discussed enhancing our ties to the whole Jewish people and the State of Israel. Most importantly I wanted to get across a message that Judaism is about pleasure. The experience of Judaism should be enjoyable and it should make your life more pleasurable.
I learned much from those Christian ministers and pastors in those years I served as a rabbi in Connecticut. I continue to endeavor to learn from a growing diversity of people wherever I am. I want to learn from you also. Please don’t be shy to email me or call me with your comments about both my articles in the Messenger and about what I speak about. After all like Rabbi Nachman says, if I’m not “heard” then it really isn’t even speech, it’s just words, and I want to also continue to learn.