Who Taught You How To Listen?

Dear Friends,

Who taught you how to listen?

As a babe fresh from the womb, the faces of your mother and father responding to your cries, did they teach you how to listen? Or you had a teacher in your youth who heard you, and whether you knew it or not, she taught you? Maybe as an adult, someone taught you how to find your stillness, so that even hearing stories of pain and hardship you refuse the inclination to turn your heart away and stay, listening to whatever greets your ears? Or maybe, no one ever taught you to listen?

I am amazed that our culture assumes that the most fundamental spiritual tasks can be acquired without consciousness. Did anyone ever teach you how to breathe? Of course you can breathe. But did anyone ever teach you how to draw a mighty quiet breath from the depths of your belly and your toes, to let it rest and permeate after you take it in, how to release air like a flautist does, every breathe music, and how to be in the emptiness at the end of every cycle as a lesson in contentment?  Why didn’t you learn that in school, alongside the alphabet and Dr. Seuss?

One day The New Shul will pioneer spiritual education 101, and I imagine our course will begin with breathing and listening. Why? Because these arts are the doorways between the individualized bodies of the cosmos – listening and breathing - they are the current of blood of the one world. They are all that is between us.

To prepare for the High Holy Days I have ordered many books about listening; the New Age books and the Ted talk videos, they are a decent place to start but they do not touch the difficulty, nor the poetry, of real listening. Last night before me sat John Cage, the father of post-modern sound, his book Silence, and I introduced him to my great-grandfather, Menachem Mendel Kasher, who wrote an entire encyclopedia of commentary on the Shma and listening. By way of devotion, we arrive at profound questions. Can we hear silence? What are the preconditions for listening?

The language of “Listen Israel,” appears one other time in the Torah, preceded by a word, hasket – be silent!  Silence first, then listening.

The real work of preparation has been my focused attention on how I listen. Am I always capable of listening? No!  What brings me to listening? And if someone is talking to me, and I am not in a place of listening, how can I get there quickly?

Maybe listening is something we have to teach ourselves, and teach each other in community? To a year of listening, and learning how to listen.

Shabbat Shalom my friends,

Rabbi Zach Fredman

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