LESSONS OF LISTENING
It is often assumed that talking therapies are new, having developed from the work of Freud and others. In fact, “healing through words” is known in a number of ancient cultures, not least in our Jewish tradition. The Talmud (Yoma 75a) interprets the verse in the Book of Proverbs (12:25) “if one has a worry, let him relieve himself of it” to mean that one should tell it to another person because this is likely to bring him relief.
The Sfat Emet notes that the same idea is expressed in this week’s parasha. Moses sets up a system to administer justice. He gives the instruction: “If you have something that is too difficult for you to resolve, bring it to me and I will listen to it.” (Devarim 1:17)
Moses does not say, “bring it to me and I will solve it for you,” only “bring it to me and I will listen.” Simply listening and allowing the other person to articulate the problem, may well help find the solution.
In the previous verse, when instructing the judges, Moses says to them, “Listen [to the issues] between your brothers and judge righteously…” (Devarim 1:16)
Obviously, judges are required to listen carefully to both sides and allow the disputants to fully present their case. Nevertheless, the same applies whenever a point of view is being expressed from one party to another. Thus, spouses must listen to each other. Employers and employees must listen to each other. Colleagues must listen to each other. Friends must listen to each other. Teachers and pupils must listen to each other and parents and children must listen to each other.
We are at a time of the Jewish year when the lessons of listening are of paramount importance. Next week is Tisha B’Av, when we recall the destruction of the Temple. The Talmud (Yoma 9b) states that the Temple was destroyed because of Sinat Chinam, “causeless hatred”. This is certainly apparent when we look back to the political conditions of the time. Jerusalem was riven with factions. There were zealots who wanted war to the death with Rome. There were those who supported the Romans. There were pacifists who did not want to offer any resistance. There were pragmatists, like Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai, who saw the need to negotiate with Rome. Ironically, each group had a cogent opinion. Tragically, there was no meaningful dialogue between them. They were not able to hear each other’s point of view. Their Sinat Chinam, “causeless hatred,” was a self-righteousness that did not let them admit the possibility that they were wrong. [Fortunately, Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai was able to achieve a settlement with Vespasian, the Roman general, and relocate the centre of Jewish life to the coastal town of Yavneh.]
The challenge of Sinat Chinam, “causeless hatred,” is very much alive today. The rise of “cancel culture,” with an attitude of delete rather than debate, inhibits the opportunity of shared understanding. The use of social media to “call-out” someone and turn them into a non-person simply for going against the moral fashion of the moment, stifles reasoned argument.
We have a responsibility to listen to one another, to hear each other out, respectfully and attentively. This is the basis of what Rav Kook famously called Ahavat Chinam, “causeless love,” that the world needs for the Temple to be restored. By validating one another, even when we disagree, we establish a path that will lead to the establishment of G-d’s kingdom on earth.