Arik Ascherman
Arik Ascherman

Hearing Humanity, Hearing the Earth, Hearing God

This Shabbat we read “Ha’ezinu,” (Hear). Moses declares to the Israelites the poem God dictates to Moses in the previous Torah portion. In the tradition of epic poetry, Moses also calls upon heaven and earth to pay heed. Those of us who have been in the synagogue over the High Holy Days have just concluded hearing many many words, perhaps too many. If the number of words we prayed and/or heard created brought us to a spiritual level beyond the words, that is a good thing. If the words simply washed over us, and our prayers became rote, then they may have been a waste of time. God cannot be manipulated. prayers are not buttons that will elicit the desired reaction from God automatically. If they changed us, then we can hope that God took notice.

I don’t want to add make things worse with too many additional words. But the confluence of Ha’ezinu and Yom Kippur brings to mind a favorite meditation written by Rabbi Jack Riemer on Sh’ma Yisrael (Hear O Israel) Slightly altered for gender sensitivity:

Judaism begins with the commandment: Hear, O Israel!

But what does it really mean to hear?

The person who attends a concert with his/her mind on business,

Hears-but does not really hear.

The person who walks amid the songs of the birds

And thinks only of what s/he will have for dinner, hears – but does not really hear.

The one who listens to the words of his/her friend, or spouse, or child, and does not catch the note of urgency: “Notice me, help me, care about me,” hears – but does not really hear.

The person who listens to the news and thinks only of how it will affect business, Hears – but does not really hear.

The person who stifles the sound of conscience and tells him/heself “I have done enough already,”

Hears – but does not really hear.

The person who hears the hazzan pray and does not feel the call to with him/her, Hears – but does not really hear.

The person who listens to the rabbi’s sermon and thinks that someone else is being addressed, Hears – but does not really hear

On this Shabbat, Adonai, Sharpen our ability to hear.

May we hear the music of the world, and the infant’s cry, and the lover’s sigh.

May we hear the call for help of the lonely soul, and the sound of the breaking heart.

May we hear the words of our friends, and also their unspoken pleas and dreams. May we hear within ourselves the yearnings that are struggling for expression.

May we hear You, O God.

For only if we hear You

Do we have the right to hope that You will hear us.

Hear the prayers we offer to You this day, O God, and may we hear them too.

Found in “Likrat Shabbat’ pp. 74-75.

I have written countless times about seeing God’s Image in every human being. Human rights work is also about hearing the spoken and unspoken words of our fellow human beings. In this sabbatical year, we also make a special effort to hear our planet. And, we must hear how God is commanding us to respond.

Shabbat Shalom

About the Author
Rabbi Arik Ascherman is the founder and director of the Israeli human rights organization "Torat Tzedek-Torah of Justice." Previously, he led "Rabbis For Human Rights" for 21 years. Rabbi Ascherman is a sought after lecturer, has received numerous prizes for his human rights work and has been featured in several documentary films, including the 2010 "Israel vs Israel." He and "Torat Tzedek" received the Rabbi David J. Forman Memorial Fund's Human Rights Prize fore 5779. Rabbi Ascherman is recognized as a role model for faith based human rights activism.
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