In my role as a community rabbi, I spend a lot of time giving over words, whether it be through shiurim, song, halachic rulings, or advice. Like many people, I have always felt a tremendous amount of pressure when someone would confide in me in times of trouble. What do they really need to hear right now? Am I going to say the right thing? Am I going to sound smart enough? Sensitive enough?
However, over the years I have spent far more time listening than speaking. I sense that this is exactly how it’s supposed to be. More than expert advice or practical solutions, all people are really looking for in life is to feel heard. When someone opens up to you, creating a safe, soft, non-judgemental space for those words to land provides far more comfort than any words of wisdom ever could.
The Shabbat following Tisha b’Av is known as Shabbat Nachamu. Although it gets its name from the haftarah from Isaiah, which speaks of comforting the Jewish people for all of their suffering, I think the core of what really brings us consolation can also be found in the words of Parshat Ve’etchanan:
“שְׁמַע, יִשְׂרָאֵל: ה’ אֱלֹהֵינוּ, יְהוָה אֶחָד.”
“Hear, O Israel: the LORD our God, the LORD is one.” (Devarim 6:4)
This week’s Parsha contains the most fundamental tenet of our faith. From the most educated of our people to those who know almost nothing about Judaism, everyone knows that the Shema lies at the foundation of our religion. While most assume this has to do with our belief in monotheism, I want to suggest it has just as much to do with the first word in this eternal prayer.
This Shabbat, may we be blessed with the ability to truly listen and deeply hear one another. Even when it’s painful, and especially when we don’t agree. Only this can bring our people and the world true consolation in troubling times.