Listening with Your Heart

In parashat Va’etchanan Moses continues the farewell speech he began on parashat Devarim. In parashat Va’etchanan the shema appears for the first time.

The main sense that we are required to turn towards God is hearing (shema), why is hearing so important? Why “shema Israel?”

In the Book of Creation, an ancient kabbalah book, three organs are named as “the organs of love: the heart and the ears.”

In proverb it is said “So that thou make thine ear attend unto wisdom, and thy heart incline to discernment.”

The Gra (the Vilna Gaon, 1720-1797) interprets: wisdom is what you hear and accept from others; insight is what you infer. Hear and accept – are the ears, Insight – is the heart.

Ma Lin, Quietly Listening to Wind in the Pines

We hear because we have ears. Listening, as opposed to hearing, is active: a choice of the heart. We don’t do much when we listen, but the type of listening that comes from the heart requires our full attention. Listening is a sign of love: when we love someone we are interested in what he or she has to say. When we dislike someone, if we listen to him or her, we might develop compassion or understanding. We would be able to walk a mile in his or her shoes.

How is this connected to the Shema?

Out of the demand “Hear, O Israel: the LORD our God, the LORD is one” (ears), we reach love “And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might” (heart).

Can love be commanded?

We cannot keep or hold the kind of love that is created through listening and insight. This is the kind of love that is created and re-created from word, to sound; from one act of listening to the next. This is a command that means attentiveness, an inner reminder to actively listen.

Who did you listen to today?

Deer image by Magda Ehelers

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