Ekev: If you listen, really listen

If you listen, really listen to My commandments…(Devarim 11:13).

Moses descends the mount
face aglow, tablets held aloft.
Worshipping the calf,
we never hear God’s words
call to us.

God sighs
over His stiff-necked people
and gives us
yet another chance 
to get it right. 

We assemble
at the brink of the land.
In the slander of the spies
we never hear God’s words
call to us.

God sighs
over His stiff-necked people
and gives us
yet another chance 
to get it right. 

It takes time to grasp the message:
we have to listen, really listen
until we truly hear.


In her blogpost on Parashat Ekev from 2011, entitled, On Repetition, http://parshathoughtsmore.blogspot.co.il/2011/08/parashat-eikev-on-repetition.html, Dr Rachel Anisfeld points out that the book of Devarim, of which Parashat Ekev is the third parasha, is a retelling by Moses of earlier parts of the Torah. The name Deuteronomy, like the rabbinic name for the book, Mishneh Torah, means “the second law.” Dr Anisfeld ponders why we need a “second” Torah? She replies, “Its very existence tells us something about the Torah’s attitude toward life and learning – that repetition is essential. Human beings don’t generally understand things the first time they hear them. We are slow learners. Hence in the first paragraph of the Shma, read in last week’s parsha, we say, Veshinantam levanekha – “you should repeat them [these words] to your children.””. Dr Anisfeld continues, “We were slow learners back in the days of the desert, too…” and she points out that we were called an “am keshei oref– a stiff-necked people,” an obdurate people who needed learn and re-learn the same lesson over and over.
Dr Anisfeld notes that at two of the most critical events that fashioned us into a people – the giving of the Torah and entering the land – we fell short and had to try again. She says, “Sometimes people can’t do things right the first time round. God doesn’t give up on us but merely tries again.” And she adds, “The message is that these things are not really one-time events at all, but works in progress. We are strivers, learners, always receiving the Torah and always on the cusp of entering the land.”

On the above phrase, Vehaya im shamo’a tishme’u – If you listen, really listen…) Rashi comments on the repetition of the word to listen (often translated “if you listen diligently”). He advocates hearing again what has already been learned, and repeatedly studying the old lessons. Regarding the first word of the verse,”Im – if” there is a strong sense here of choice: to listen or not to listen, to accept or not.
On this, the Sefat Emet comments that we have to choose to hear and then accept God’s word each day. He says that the words are really already imprinted within us, we have to answer their call. Rabbi Arthur Green, in his book The Language of Truth*, expands, “How is it that we are capable of hearing God’s word? What is it about the human being that gives us the consciousness with which to respond to the divine command? The Hasidic tradition answers that it is the Torah within us, the divine letters implanted within the human soul, that respond to those same letters when they arrange themselves as divine commandment The voice of Torah beyond calls forth to the Torah within. Our response brings about a renewal of life that affects not only us but all the world around us.”

In an article on Parashat Ekev 2014, To Lead is to Listen http://www.rabbisacks.org/eikev-5774-lead-listen/ Rabbi Jonathan Sacks points out, “…in Judaism listening is a deeply spiritual act. To listen to God is to be open to God. That is what Moses is saying throughout Devarim: “If only you would listen.” ”

*The Torah Commentary of the Sefat Emet

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s