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Rabbi Altein


Rabbi A. Altein, August 18, 2011


This Shabbat's Torah Passage (Ekev) emphasises the importance of listening. The Torah Portion concludes with the second chapter of the daily Shema that opens by saying, “If only you will be listening and listen to G-d's commandments, to love Him and serve Him with all your hearts and souls…”

The phrase used in the Torah “listening and listen” seems repetitious, but it conveys an important lesson. It teaches us that it isn't enough to listen with one's ears; a person must also listen with his heart and soul. Sometimes people are so preoccupied with their work and responsibilities that they lose the ability to listen. A Jew must be of the right frame of mind for the words of Torah to have an effect on him.

In the same passage the Torah instructs us to teach Judaism to our children. “Teach your children to speak the words of Torah.” The Talmud comments that Jewish education begins as soon as a child learns how to speak. At the early age of two, a child should be taught the words of “Shema Yisrael” and “Torah Tziva.” But it is not only a Mitzvah to teach children, it is also important to teach adults. There is no end to learning; as long as we live and our minds function, we will always learn new things and discover new insights to the Torah.

It is the role of the more knowledgeable Jews to share their knowledge of Judaism with others. But it is not enough to teach and instruct; the other Jew has to be willing to listen. So the Torah's directive “you shall listen” is a crucial component of the teaching process. How can we teach Torah in a world where there is such indifference and disinterest in Judaism?

Here is what the Lubavitch Rebbe, Rabbi M.M. Schneerson explained about speaking and listening:

“If you have spoken to another person and your words did not help, it is proof you did not speak with him. You've only spoken with yourself. Your words may be the words that you wanted to say, but they are not the words that he needed to hear. If you would speak to his heart, then certainly he would hear.”

The Talmud notes, “Just as much as it is a Mitzvah to speak to a person that will listen, so too is it a Mitzvah to keep silent when hostility. It certainly will not lead the listener to change for the better.confronted with a person who will not listen. Antagonizing another person does not generate warm feelings; instead it generates

But a clever person can even use silence to inspire his fellow Jew. The saintly Vizhnitzer Rebbe, Rabbi Yisroel Hager, once entered the house of a local bank manager. The bank manager was an assimilated Jew but he had deep respect for the rabbi.

He showed the rabbi a chair and waited for the Rebbe to state the reason for his unexpected call.

The minutes passed in total silence until the Rebbe stood up and walked towards the door. The bank manager could no longer contain his curiosity. He called out: “Rebbe! Please excuse me for asking, but why did you come to my house?” To which the Rebbe replied, “I came to your house to fulfill a mitzvah. Thank G-d, I succeeded.”

“Which mitzvah?”

“Our sages say 'Just as it is a mitzvah to speak out when you will be listened to, so is it a mitzvah not to say anything when you know you willnot be listened to.' I knew that you would not listen to me and so I visited you and I refrained from saying what was on my mind.”

"But how do you know that I wouldn't listen,” exclaimed the bank manager. “Perhaps tell me what you would like.” “I can't tell you,” the rabbi said, “because I would then lose the mitzvah of silence!” “But you can't know possibly be so sure that I won't listen. You must tell me what it is!” pleaded the bank manager.

“All right,” said the Rebbe reluctantly. “Yesterday a poor widow woman told me that your bank had notified her that it going to put her house up for auction next week because she owes so much on her mortgage. She and her little children will be out on the street. She asked me to speak to you, because she knows that you are Jewish. I, however, know that my talking to you would be useless and so I kept quiet because of the mitzvah not to say that which will not be heard.”

“But Rebbe,” cried out the bank manager. “It's to the bank that she owes the money, not to me. I don't own the bank, I only manage it.” “Right,” the Rebbe interrupted. “As I said, I knew you wouldn't listen. Good night.”

The bank manager was stunned. The matter entered his heart and he was unable to sleep. Before the week was up, he paid the widow's entire mortgage out of his own personal account.

Penetrating the heart of another Jew requires careful thought wisdom and sincerity. That is the Mitzvah of this week.

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