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Rabbi Doniel Staum - Parshas Ha'azinu 5777 "Hear Here"
by Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

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Rav Elimlech Biderman shlit’a repeated a story that someone related to him[1]:

“One Rosh Hashanah I was hospitalized and someone was blowing the shofar in my hospital room. There was a non-religious Jew in the bed next to me who was intrigued by the shofar. He asked us a lot of questions, because he wanted to understand what it was all about.

Then he told us his story: "I served in the Israeli Navy," he said, "in a submarine. Under the water, the means of communication is with the Morse code. (Morse code is a signal system comprised of sounds. Two sharp beeps represent one letter, two long beeps is another letter. One long beep and one short one is a third letter, and so on.) I was an expert in the Morse code. I could send and decipher messages very quickly.

"A couple of years after serving in the navy (and after spending a long time in India) I saw an advertisement: The army was looking for a Morse code expert to be in charge of several submarines. To apply for the job, we had to be at a certain office between 10:00 and 12:00 in the morning.

“I arrived at 11:50. I saw a packed room with applicants, but no one was being called inside. There was music was playing in the background and I sat down for a few moments, and listened. Then I got up, brazenly opened the door to the office and announced that I was there for the interview. "There are many people waiting in line ahead of you," the secretary said. "And you just came. Wait your turn." "But I didn’t listen to her. I marched into the room and began conversing with the person in charge. After speaking for a few moments, he hired me on the spot."

“The interviewer went out to the waiting room and told everyone that they could go home, because I was already hired. The other people were very upset and protested. "It isn't fair. This man came in last. Why did you interview him before us?"

“The man in charge replied, "Did you pay attention to the music that's playing? Don’t you get it? It is in Morse code and it's saying, 'If you've come for the interview, just open the door and walk in.' This man heard the message. You didn’t hear, so you're obviously not fluent enough in the language."

“That's how the irreligious man in the hospital understood the meaning of shofar. The shofar is conveying to us a powerful message - "Just open the door and come inside. Change your ways and improve your connection with Hashem."

“The man also told us that one person waiting in the waiting room claimed that he heard the message in the music, but he didn’t walk in, because I didn’t see anyone else who did. The interviewer told him that it was not a valid excuse. "If you heard the message, you should have come in. Why do you care what other people are doing?"

“Similarly, concerning the shofar, it’s inexcusable for us to say that we heard the message but didn’t follow through because we saw that other people weren’t doing teshuva either. That's not a valid excuse. If we understand the shofar's message, we have an obligation to open the door and come close to Hashem, regardless of what others are doing.”

Rabbi Yisroel Salanter zt’l once went with his students to be menachem avel one of his students who was sitting shiva. After a few minutes of sitting in silence, Rav Yisroel initiated a conversation, and the student sitting shiva began to converse with him.

After they left the shiva house, one of the students asked Rav Yisroel how he was allowed to initiate a conversation if halacha clearly says that one may not speak until the avel speaks. Rav Yisroel looked at his student with surprise, “You didn’t hear? His heart was screaming out in pain. That was enough of an initiation for me to continue.”

A few years ago, just prior to Erev Rosh Hashanah, I heard a rebbe tell his students: “Make sure you’re in shul on Erev Rosh Hashana so that you hear that they do NOT blow shofar.”

Similarly, my rebbe, Rabbi Berel Wein once quipped: “For years I’m trying to get my congregants to hear the things I don’t say, more than the things I do say!”

Rabbi Wein also quotes his rebbe who said that in the back of the Shulchan Aruch one finds G-d. One must always also focus on the white part, in between the text, where G-d speaks to us.

The timeless Shiras Ha’azinu, the great “song”, which Moshe conveyed to Klal Yisroel, on the final day of his life, begins “Pay heed heavens and I will speak; and the earth will hear the words of my mouth.”

Perhaps the opening of the shirah reminds us that that the heavens constantly sends us messages, but they aren’t clear. They are the messages that are implicit and vital, but never verbalized. It is incumbent upon us to pay careful heed, to discern those celestial messages through Torah study, and the guidance of our Torah leaders. Only if we pay heed to those heavenly messages can we on earth hear the words that are actually verbalized and expressed.

[2]Judaism is full of special berachos that we recite at various times and situations throughout the year. Each of those unique berachos begins by first thanking Hashem for sanctifying us through the performance of His mitzvos (asher kidshanu b’mitzvosav), prior to mentioning the specific mitzvah we are about to fulfill.

Those berachos include actions such as eating (matzah/marror), reading (megillah on Purim), lighting (Chanukah candles), sitting (in the succah), taking (the lulav – and other species), separating (terumah/ma’aser), circumcising, affixing (a mezuzah), etc.

However, there is only one blessing throughout the year which specifically includes hearing – the mitzvah of hearing the blowing of the shofar.

Rambam writes that if one hears shofar on Rosh Hashanah without having specific intent to fulfill his obligation, he does not fulfill his obligation, and must hear shofar again.

Thus, on Rosh Hashanha, we all listen intently to the blasts of the shofar on Rosh Hashanah, with complete focus. The day and the holiday when we emphasize listening is a stark reminder for us of just how important, and how remiss, we are when it comes to listening.

William Ury, an expert negotiator and motivational speaker, explains[3] that there are three important reasons why it’s important to listen during any negotiation or conflict: Firstly, it helps us understand the perspective of the other person/party. Negotiation is an exercise in influence, trying to change someone else’s mind, and to accomplish that, listening is the key. Secondly, it helps us build rapport and trust, by showing that we care. Finally, listening to someone makes it more likely that the person will then listen to us. It’s the golden key that opens the door to human relationships.

Generally, when we listen to others we are simultaneously thinking about where we agree or disagree, and what our response will be. In other words, the focus is upon ourselves. In genuine listening, however, the spotlight moves to the other person. We put ourselves in their shoes, and try to tune into their wavelength. We listen from within their frame of reference, not just ours. It’s easier said than done.

Ury points out that in genuine listening, we listen not just for what’s being said, but also for what’s not being said. We listen not just to the words, but to what’s behind the words - the underlying emotions and needs of the other person.

In Ury’s words: “So this is my dream. A listening revolution that can turn this Age of Communication into an Age of Listening…

“What if we taught listening in school, like we teach reading, as a core skill? Imagine a world in which parents learn to listen to their children. What better way after all, is there for us to teach our children to listen to us than for us to listen to them? What better way for us to show our children that they truly matter? What better way is there to show our love?

“And as an extra bonus, maybe we’d see happier marriages and fewer divorces, as couples learned to listen to each other. Imagine a world in which leaders learned how to listen to their people. What if we chose leaders based on their ability to listen, not just talk? What if listening became the norm in our organizations and not just the exception? What if on radio and TV we had not just talk shows, but listen shows? What if we had not just peace talks, but peace listens? I firmly believe that we’d get to ‘yes’ a lot more often. We might not eliminate all conflict, but we would avert a lot of fights and wars. And everybody would be much better off. I, very happily, might be out of a job. That’s my dream...

“In your next conversation with a colleague, or client, a partner, or a child, a friend or a stranger, give them your full attention. And listen to the human being behind the words. Because one of the biggest gifts we can give anyone is the gift of being heard. With the simple power of listening now, we can transform our relationships, our families, and our world for the better, ear by ear.”

The Medrash famously notes that the Four Species taken on Succos represent four major organs in the body. The lulav represents the spine, the hadassim the eyes, the aravos the lips of our mouth, and the esrog the heart.

Why is there no species representing the vital sense of hearing?

Perhaps the representation of hearing stands alone. In fact it is the perquisite for all of the other organs, symbolized long before Succos ever begins, in the shofar of Rosh Hashanah.

If we are unable to listen and hear G-d’s message to us, we will never be able to even approach G-d to serve Him with our eyes, lips, heart, and spine. It is analogous to the emphatic declaration of na’aseh v’nishma that paved the way for Kabbolas HaTorah.

“Pay heed heavens and I will speak”

“Sanctified us… to hear the sounds of the shofar”

Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW

Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead

Rebbe/Guidance Counselor – ASHAR

Principal – Ohr Naftoli- New Windsor

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[1] Be’er HaChaim – Rosh Hashanah 5777 (Rav Biderman’s beautiful thoughts can be received via email each week. Send request to:

[2] The following is based on the speech I gave at Kehillat New Hempstead, prior to shofar blowing, on the second day of Rosh Hashanah 5777.

[3] TED talk “Turning No to Yes”

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