Jews, listen up carefully

Israeli government should lead by example, begin to listen intently to all citizens

This week National Public Radio in the United States did a story about how Israel may be heading towards serious civil strife between the Right and the Left. The story quoted professor of political science at the Hebrew University Gadi Wolfsfeld, who blamed Netanyahu for potential violence saying, "Once again, he has stood on the side as the flames of hatred are rising, and I think violence is inevitable at this point."


Having just returned from Israel I can see that there is a problem. However, it is not just one of politics, it is one of communication. In fact humanity as a whole seems to have the same issue. In Israel it is accentuated.


The importance on listening in any relationship is well documented. The problem is that we as humans tend to overlook this necessity. In Israel it seems the mentality makes this problem all the more difficult. While in Israel last week my wife and I were amazed by how much unsolicited advice we were given about our children. While we consider ourselves good parents and our children seem to be well balanced, we still allowed them to enjoy candies that their grandparents gave them. But as we were out and about we started to receive unsolicited comments about how bad candy is for children. There were numerous other examples of this phenomenon--something we never experience in the United States.


We took this with charm. We felt that we were home with family who cared for our children and therefore felt a responsibility to chastise and advise us on how to bring them up. We were always polite and thankful when these comments were offered. However, this is exactly the issue. Jews living in Israel really are like one big family with all the dysfunction that comes along with that. And just as we think we know what is best for our brother, sister, son or daughter each Israeli feels that they know what is best for the other. Just like families tend not to really listen to each other, Israelis also enjoy dishing out advice but often don’t really listen to different perspectives. It is not that they don’t care for each other--they certainly do. It is just that they don’t know how to properly listen to each other.


When God wanted to give the Israelites the Torah He told Moses to tell the children of Israel, “And now, if you listen intently to My voice and keep My covenant, you shall be to Me a treasure out of all peoples, for Mine is the entire earth,” (Exodus 19:5). The word for “listen intently” is a double expression of listening (שָׁמוֹעַ תִּשְׁמְעו-Shamoa Tishmeuּ). This connotes the idea of passive listening where the ego, meaning ones own thoughts, are put aside for the duration of the listening. This is a precursor to keeping God’s covenant. It is impossible to fully appreciate the needs, desires and wants or another, be that God or another person, if one is not listening properly and without ones own perspective interrupting what the other is trying to convey.


All God was asking of the Jewish people was to listen to Him properly, and if they did they would be able to keep the covenant because they would comprehend what He wanted fully. While this is a simple request it is really difficult to perfect--especially for Jews who are by nature opinionated.


Indeed Jews have been challenged in this department ever since the Torah was given more than three thousand years ago. It should come as no surprise that Israelis (and all Jews) continue to be challenged in this area. If anything, therefore, the Israeli government should first lead by example and begin to listen intently to all of its people. In addition a national campaign to get people to listen to each other, rather than just offer unsolicited advice, would also be a great step forward in helping to heal the Left/Right and haredi/secular divide.


Rabbi Levi Brackman is author of Jewish Wisdom for Business Success: Lesson from the Torah and Other Ancient Texts



פרסום ראשון: 01.24.11, 14:00
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