Last year for Purim, the Foundation School (our synagogue preschool) teachers got together to discuss what theme we would use to tell the Purim story this year. What came up over and over again was the idea of how we listen to one another. King Achashverosh has the opportunity to listen to Vashti when she shares her wishes, but he doesn’t open his ears. Later, the king listens to Haman when he shouldn’t have, another poor choice. Finally he makes a better choice listening to Esther, as she tries to save the Jewish people. In the telling of the story, we use catch phrases the kids can shout out when they hear a character’s name. It’s not just booing for Haman, it’s also cheering or describing the others. When we asked our students to share a phrase for King Achashverosh’s name, they suggested “I’m listening.”
How often do you say the words “I’m listening” to someone else? And how often do you actually listen and hear exactly what that person is trying to convey? Now more than ever, we’re relying on what we hear from others. We don’t currently have the benefit of live gestures or physical contact to convey what we mean.
This week we read Parshat Ha’azinu, the penultimate parshah in the Torah, and one which reminds us of the importance of actually listening to one another. This portion includes Moshe’s final poem to the Israelites; in it, he reminds the people of God’s grace, compassion, and loving leadership, while at the same time criticizing the Israelites for their lack of faith and understanding. In this poem we read:
Remember the days of old
Consider the years of ages past
Ask your father, he will inform you
Your elders, they will tell you.
As Moshe is nearing his final farewell to the people, he implores them to ask their elders to clarify laws and to share their stories. The text begins with the words “Give ear, O heavens, let me speak; Let the earth hear the words I utter!” As the Israelite nation is moving into their own land, out of the adolescence of wandering in the desert, Moses pleads that God should listen to him, that the people should listen to him, and that ears and hearts be opened to really hearing one another.
In essence, as his final wish, Moses simply wants to be listened to. Isn’t that what we’re all seeking? We all want the reassurance of knowing our voices are being heard. May the gift of listening – both giving and receiving – be something we take with us into the new year.