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Elul 8

#BlogElul – Hear

The problem with hearing is that it involves listening. I do that like crap. My mind is busy, my life is busy, my heart is busy. I have my own thoughts going through my head. So, I don’t always listen to people as well as I can. Which means I don’t always hear what they’re saying. On top of which, 80% of communication is non-verbal and I hear little of that – this also makes the whole hearing thing more difficult.

Hearing also makes me feel guilty and so I don’t like to do it. For instance, is that surly voice or pouty face on the part of a loved one due to my actions? If I acknowledge it is, and I actually pay attention to the fact that she just made a comment about something I do, then I might have to realize that this is important to her and that I need to do the work of changing it. If I just say, “oh, she made a minor comment and there’s nothing there,” I don’t have anything I have to do. Having less to do is good, as I have a lot to do. So, I cheat and pretend I didn’t hear.

The problem is that like any other skill, the skill of paying attention only gets better as I practice it. The more careful attention I pay, the better I get at hearing others. The less attention I pay, the more I avoid listening, and make excuses not to understand, the better I get at that.

Hearing is so crucial to being Jewish that our key prayer begins with this word. It is called the Shema, the Hearing. It says “Hear, oh, Israel, the Eternal is our God, the Eternal is one!” We have to pay attention to the existence and unity of God. That’s it. That’s what the prayer says every day. I say it to myself 2-3 times a day. I say it to the kids when I put them to bed. I say it every time I pray in Shul with others. I say it a lot. And its main reminder is to hear.

One of the people I care for said he read my blog and it was good, but he didn’t really remember what it was about because they’re all kind of the same aren’t they? So, I need to hear that too. There’s no point saying the same thing over and over again. Today, maybe I’ll look at the Shema. That’s different.

Hear – pay attention. Focus. Stop thinking of yourself and your own plans and your own needs long enough to recognize that others have plans and needs and that the world has beauty and love and goodness and flowers and kittens.

Israel – struggle with God (the real meaning of that word). Realize it isn’t easy. Accept the challenge. Answer back when you disagree (it’s a good way to show you’re at least paying enough attention to disagree.)  Allow unhappy feelings. Allow happy ones.

Eternal – there are things I don’t know and won’t know. There are limitations. Accept limitations and lack of understanding and appreciate how far beyond me the universe extends. Feel small and hear the world as a tiny intrinsic part of it.

Our God – Belong. Follow the example of God, who hears. Know that there is a community of people you are a part of and be part of that community so that others have it too. Hear so that God is truly “our”.

Eternal – Go from small to large. Appreciate vastness. Appreciate difference. Appreciate that every situation and every word said and every experience is different and there are an enormous number of them. Hear to be part of infinity.

One – Connect. Build the connections that hearing can form. Experience interconnectedness and hear the fact that there’s a little need you can fulfil. And as you bring a glass of water, read a story, call or text, write something – realize you’re building the Oneness of God.

Today, I will once again say the Shema. Today, I will try to pay attention to the God in everything. Today, I will exercise my hearing muscle just a tiny bit. I may never be good at hearing but with practice, I can be better.


Av 5

You know, words are a special sort of thing for me. I like words. I like writing them. I like reading them. I like playing with them (please come over and ask for a game of boggle any time.) I like working with them.   It’s why I blog after all. So, I like prayers. Prayers, after all, are words that I say to God. They are words worth playing with – the best game ever, really. I like the words in prayers and I like what I hear in them, because it’s something different every time and it’s always exactly what I need.

Take the Shma for example. I’m going to just look at the first line – so much in it. “You shall love the Eternal your God with all your hear heart/mind, with all your soul, with all your might/ strength/ being/ possessions.” So, when I come to it fretting about a person in my life, I hear “you shall love the *eternal your God* – and not a person, so think bigger than so & so and focus on God instead.  When I am uncertain of my next choice of action, I find clarity and simplicity in an instruction to love God and do things that God might approve of. If I find myself depressed and defeated, not feeling like I can get through another day, I see the prayer as hopeful, with an emphasis on the *shall* – not as a command, but as a promise that soon I will be able to. I can simply resonate and celebrate with it, then, when I am feeling positive, hopeful, or optimistic. Yes! I shall love God, and it will be easy to do so!

I turn to the prayer to deal with anger for when I am angry, I remember that I should love God, and the people made in God’s image. It’s a reminder to do tzedaka, for the word m’odekha can be translated as belongings. On the other hand, it can also be translated as physical self or being, reminding me to take good care of my body, for how else can I love God with it? I know, when days are busy, that I need to take time for spirituality – to love God with all my soul. Should I have much work to do – well, mind, body and soul need to be doing it in honour of God, as the prayer says. 

Always, it is a call for balance – too much work, and are you really being loving with all your heart and soul? Take time for study, so that the heart/mind can love God as well. However, don’t spend all day in a library, or your soul and your might don’t get their opportunity to love God. Wherever I am, whatever I’m working on, I can take a second to dedicate it to God, says this prayer. It’s a good reminder, an added spiritual dimension to what I do, and a necessary part of everyday life.

This of course, is just the first line. I can (and have, and do, and will) make the same analysis of each of the others. (In fact, here is a thought for you, my readers and followers – give me your favourite line or prayer in the Siddur, and I will do a blog about it. How cool is that? And no, I’m not smarter than you. If you want to write the blog, I’d be happy to feature it.)

Words – prayers – are fun. That’s why the facebook games of looking at the first line of page 45 of the book closest to you to understand your love life – or putting together your favourite flower and ice cream flavour to find out your magic fairy name (I’d end up being Forget-me-not Sweet cream – try to say that with a straight face) work. Words are powerful and prayers, even more so. As the people of the book, playing with words is our heritage and our destiny. I, for one, intend to embrace it.