The Ability to Listen
The first word in this week’s glorious parsha, though addressed by Moshe
to the heavens, really sums up the Torah and its demands upon us. Haazinu
means to listen, to pay attention, to concentrate, if you will. The Torah
often emphasizes the value of listening. The entire Torah in fact is based
on listening – after the commitment of naaseh, appears the equally
important and vital commitment of nishma.
It is apparently not sufficient to merely do but one must also have the
ability to listen and understand. The Mishna tells us that there is an
echo of Sinai that may be heard every day of our lives. Many Jews do not
hear that echo of holiness and purpose simply because they do not listen
for it. The voice of Sinai, like the voice of Haazinu itself, is an inner
voice that emanates from our souls and conscience. It instinctively tells
us what is right and what is wrong, what we should do and what we should
But the inner voice, persistent as it may be, can easily be ignored and
tuned out. If we are not willing to hear it out and truly listen to its
message it eventually becomes fainter and fainter until even if we now
wish to listen to it, its lack of strength prevents our hearing it.
Therefore, at all costs in life, we have to concentrate on listening, on
hearing the echo of Sinai within us and then acting accordingly to its
bidding and advice.
Listening may often be difficult. We are innately averse to hearing
criticism of ourselves and our behavior, especially if it is of
the “constructive” sort. But being able to hear what others say about us,
to listen carefully, even if one feels the words and accusations to be
unjustified, is the mark of holiness and commitment to self-improvement.
Rabbi Yisrael Lipkin of Salant, the great founder of the mussar movement
of nineteenth century Lithuania, once interpreted a verse in psalms
thusly: The verse reads “that when people who seek to do me harm rise up
against me, let my ears hear them.” The plain and simple explanation is
that when people can arise to harm me, let me have advance warning so that
I can prevent their plans from actualizing.
But Rabbi Yisrael put a different twist on it. He said that when people
who are my critics, who do not especially like me and vice versa, come to
say things against me, give me the strength of character and fortitude to
hear them out. Maybe there will be a point or two that is correct in their
criticism and that therefore I can correct neglected faults and gain from
The key to self improvement is therefore clearly the ability to listen –
to others and to our inner voice of Sinai as well. Moshe’s great words of
the parsha to listen are spoken not only to the heavens but to us as well,
in order to lift earthly beings towards a heavenly direction and way of
Gmar Chatima Tova.
Rabbi Berel Wein
Rabbi Berel Wein- Jewish historian, author and international lecturer offers a complete selection of CDs, audio tapes, video tapes, DVDs, and books on Jewish history at www.rabbiwein.com
Text Copyright © 2007 by Rabbi Berel Wein and Torah.org