This week’s Torah portion, Vaetchanan, has many verses we recognize from within our Siddur. One of the things we immediately notice is the statement of Shema Yisrael, a core statement of Jewish unity and declaration of monotheism.
Interestingly, the statement is most often translated as: Hear, O Israel, the Lord, our God, the Lord is One. But the word shema’, in Biblical Hebrew, doesn’t mean ‘hear’ as much as it means ‘understand’. We are not telling each other to listen up, we are telling each other to try and understand this all important statement.
Once we reframe the meaning in our minds, we start to notice how many times the word shema appears in this parshah -suddenly it’s everywhere. Moses tells Israel that God is not ‘listening’ to his need to enter the land; Moses repeatedly tells Israel they must ‘listen’ to the commandments; Moses declares to Israel they must ‘listen’ to each other.
In other words, we often tell people they’re not listening to us when we actually mean they’re not understanding us. Rather than putting the focus on the other person and their listening skills, perhaps the focus should be self-directed by asking if we are expressing ourselves in order to be understood. If not, we should change our communication, not assume the other person has to change how they listen.
Moses has named the relationships in our lives that are key for understanding each other: God, the society we are building together, and our personal community. Even as Moses faces his final days, he continues to lead and inspire.
I’d like to wish everyone a sweet and peaceful Shabbat –our Jewish time to regroup, rest, and reinvigorate.