This coming Shabbat (August 5) we meet a powerful portion. V’etchanen includes the Sh’ma and V’ahavta as well as a re-telling of the 10 Commandments (5) It begins with a heart-rendering statement by Moses as he recounts his plea to God to cross over into Canaan. “V’etchanen”, says Moses, “I pleaded with God” (3:23). How often have we and do we “plead” with God to hear our voice? Indeed, every Shabbat we ask for that when we pray for healing and ask that God “hears our prayer”. We ask God to hear us, but do we “hear” the voice of God?
Now that is a challenge for us, especially as we get older and find, often, that we wish to hear that voice. Indeed, we do read in this portion the Sh’ma and the call to “Hear” (6:4). We hear many voices in our world today. In fact, as many have commented, so much of what we hear is “noise” that is often tuned out. Look around at so many people plugged in to head phones and ear buds. Escape? Interestingly, so many commentators take this portion and look at the difference between hearing and listening. We “hear” a lot of things, yet how often do we really listen to what we hear?
I think one of the key messages for us in the portion is the discussion, on a very personal level, of the difference between hearing and listening. One wonders of the “Sh’ma” could not be better understood as “Listen Children of Israel”! It seems that all too often we hear the words of Torah, but they pass over us like clouds and are ignored. What we need to do is listen. Even in our own personal relationships, how many times do we “hear” someone say something but do not really “listen” to them.
Which allows us to look at the link between the “Sh’ma” and the following passage in chapter 6, the “V’ahavta”, that text which reminds us to love God with our heart and soul and might. (6;5). This speaks to the holistic approach to life that I feel Judaism represents. Consider that this portion is telling us, or asking us, to “listen” to the voice of God in our life, not only intellectually, but with all of our faculties; our heart and soul and mind. As we get older, I think that we actually are more open to experiencing the sacred in more ways than we did when we were younger, when we, perhaps, were more conditioned to find the sacred in specific times and places. Now, as we age and are more open to seeing life in all of its various experiences, we may actually be better equipped to actually listen to that “still small voice” that comes to us through all of our senses. Listen, with all of our heart and mind and soul, and in doing so we may be able, perhaps for the first time in our lives, to “hear” a “call”. Perhaps, as so many have considered, that voice of God–no matter how you choose to define that voice–has been calling us for years and we have not yet chosen to hear it and listen. It is never too late!
Rabbi Richard F Address
Rabbi Richard F. Address, D.Min, is the Founder and Director of www.jewishsacredaging.com. Rabbi Address served for over three decades on staff of the Union for Reform Judaism; first as a Regional Director and then, beginning in 1997, as Founder and Director of the URJ’s Department of Jewish Family Concerns and served as a specialist and consultant for the North American Reform Movement in the areas of family related programming. Rabbi Address was ordained from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1972 and began his rabbinic career in Los Angeles congregations. He also served as a part time rabbi for Beth Hillel in Carmel, NJ while regional director and, after his URJ tenure, served as senior rabbi of Congregation M’kor Shalom in Cherry Hill, NJ from 2011-2014.