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Parashat Ekev: What it Truly Means to Listen

Parashat Ekev is the third in the Book of Devarim, or Deuteronomy. Ekev features a term that is repeated several times, actually more than 90 times throughout the Book of Devarim. This term is "Lishmoa."


Last week, we read the Shema, its proclamation, and the first paragraph, where this term appears once again. "Lishmoa" translates to listening, hearing, understanding, comprehending the other in some way, or engaging with the other. There's an important distinction in Jewish culture compared to Western culture. Perhaps stemming from the Greco-Roman heritage, Western culture grasps things by seeing, looking, observing. In our tradition, however, in the Torah, when the text claims someone knows another, it employs the verb "ladaat," which in modern Hebrew means "to know," but in the Torah, it's used in a more intimate sense, often referring to the act of sexual union. Knowing someone in this context goes far beyond mere observation; it encompasses a deep, profound connection.


But let's return to listening. Listening involves understanding the other, engaging with him or her. It's not the same as merely looking at them, not the same as seeing them. One must listen and comprehend.


When the prophet Samuel chose the king for the people of Israel, he understood that there had been an error in selecting Saul, the first king. Saul appeared as a king, he had all the outward appearance and bearing of a king, but he lacked the internal qualities necessary to be a king. Samuel listened and the midrash teaches us that he understood that there was something within him that wouldn't function properly as the King of Israel; and so it was.


The same Samuel, when he went to choose the second king of Israel from among the sons of Ishai, had to pick one. He chose the firstborn because he too, seemingly, had the image of a king. It was then that the Kadosh Baruch Hu (The Lord) told him not to do it. He told him he should look within, comprehend the essence of each of the sons, listen to them. Then Samuel chose David.


In the Talmud, we encounter the Aramaic terms "Ta Shema" and "Kamashmalan," meaning "come and listen," or "as it was taught," "as it was understood," both rooted in "Lishmoa," to listen. There's something in listening, in the commitment to a God we can't see but can hear, to a God who uses words to create and uses those same words for us to listen and understand his will.


This is what we must replicate with those around us, not just seeing them, not merely attempting to ensure they like us or that we are likable to them, but listening to them, understanding them, comprehending what they need and ensuring they understand what we are saying.


This is the connection we must achieve to improve into a better world as well.


In a world increasingly focused on individual desires, let's endeavor to make a difference by maintaining the essence of our Torah in our commitment to our neighbor, our fellow human, and those who are different in thought and being. And above all, let's listen to them and understand them.


Shabbat Shalom


Rabbi Gustavo Geier

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