Listen up!

It could be argued that most problems between people are the result of an inability to communicate effectively.  Or, at least, problems between people are exacerbated by the inability or unwillingness to listen to one another.  The need for sensitive and compassionate listening is an insight that can be gleaned from this week’s Torah portion.

In Parashat Bechukotai, the second of the two portions read this Shabbat, we find these verses:

And your threshing shall last to the time of vintage, and the vintage shall last to the sowing time; and you shall eat your bread to the full, and dwell in your land safely.  And I will give peace in the land, and you shall lie down, and none shall make you afraid; and I will remove evil beasts from the land, nor shall the sword go through your land. (Leviticus 26:5-6)

Always responsive to apparently redundant wording in the Torah, some of the commentators ask why, after saying “you shall dwell in your land safely,” the text finds it’s necessary to follow that phrase by saying “And I will give peace in the land.”  Don’t these two phrases say essentially the same thing?  One commentator answers that the first phrase “you shall dwell safely in your land,” refers to internal peace, peace between individuals and between communities, while the second phrase, “I will give peace in the land,” refers to the absence of conflict, in the sense of war and violent struggle.

Whether or not any of us would understand the phrase “getting along safely” to mean that we have peaceful relationships with one another and listen to each other with sensitivity, we certainly can agree that compassionate listening is essential to good relationships.  Rabbi Avraham Kook, the first Chief Rabbi of the State of Israel, goes one step further by suggesting that an open, honest exchange of views between people increases wisdom.  What we may perceive to be conflict is actually a necessary an enriching, refining process of thinking through our ideas by debating them in a respectful manner. He writes:

It is precisely the multiplicity of opinions that derive from variegated souls and backgrounds that enriches wisdom and brings about its enlargement. In the end all matters will be properly understood and it will be recognized that it was impossible for the structure of peace to be built without those trends that appeared to be in conflict.

I find Rav Kook’s perspective very uplifting and insightful.  We need to exchange our ideas with others.  We need to confront one another with opposing views.  When we do we can achieve greater wisdom and clarity.  This is true for individuals as well as communities.  One can only imagine what the world would be like if we listened to one another, unafraid to share our views, and willing to listen open mindedly to others.  It’s something so simple to do, so why not try?

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