In the Talmud we are told that Rav Eliezer ben Hyrcanos never taught anything that he had not heard from his teacher. Then, in Avoth D’Rabbi Nathan, we are told that “Rav Eliezer taught things that no ear had ever heard.” The two texts seem to contradict each other; so which is true? Did Rav Eliezer only repeat what he heard or did he innovate new teachings?
The answer comes from Rav Kook. He wrote that Rav Eliezer in fact only taught what he had heard from his teacher, but he listened so carefully that he heard things no one else had. Listening carefully is also a way of innovating.
More than 2,000 years ago our Rabbis knew about active listening. Deep statements carry multiple levels of meaning. The one who pays attention comes away with a profoundly enriched understanding. In a world of constant communication we need to re-learn the art of genuinely absorbing the written and spoken word. This is the theme of our central prayer declaration: Shema — Hear, O Israel. Our world is filled with inspiring and important messages, and our tradition with teachings that can change your life. But you must listen to them.
Rabbi David Wolpe is spiritual leader of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter: @RabbiWolpe. His latest book is “David: The Divided Heart” (Yale University Press).