From the Pulpit: Let’s make this a year of listening

By Rabbi Daniel Mikelberg, Temple Israel

In weeks past, we’ve gathered as communities in honour of the chaggim. Significantly, we have also been immersed in a hard fought election campaign. We may even have found ourselves sitting beside those in opposing camps. This is beautiful as it represents that there is more that we share in common than what separates us. Too often we lack settings where we gather amidst those with contrasting views. This, unfortunately, is countercultural and does not reflect our present day reality. We erect walls, be they physical or virtual, blocking out that which we don’t like. It’s as if we’re afraid to encounter the other. After all, listening to their words might modify our own opinions.

Alas, we’re too fixated in our own spectrum. There’s a Chasidic legend passed down in many variations that speaks to this topic:

On an evening stroll, a leading rabbi heard the cry of a baby coming from his student’s house – a cry that pierced the night. He rushed into the house and saw his student enraptured in prayer, swaying in pious devotion. The rabbi entered the home and cradled the baby to sleep. When the student emerged from his prayers, he was shocked and embarrassed to find his master in his house holding his baby. He justified his absence by elaborating on his obligation to pray. But the Rabbi responded that he could not ignore the needs of the little one: “My dear student, if praying makes one deaf to the cries of a child, there is something flawed in prayer.”

The student in this story – paraphrased from Rabbi Donniel Hartman’s book, Putting God Second: How to Save Religion from Itself – is so focused on his exclusive call to follow God’s word, that he is oblivious to the needs of his daughter. And many of us are also stuck in our ways, unable to recognize the cries of the other before us. At this season of new beginnings, we are called to listen carefully to the voices around us, to the immigrant, the Indigenous Canadian, the Black Canadian, the impoverished, etc. As we open ourselves to the stories beyond our own, we enable ourselves to step forward together.

Our blinders keep us focused on the here and now. It’s all about winning the game. Now that the election has passed, it would be better for us to look beyond, to the long-term impact of our actions. We can keep the ring of the shofar with us year round. The shofar reminds us that something is being asked of me, of each of us. As we respond to the demand, we find purpose and meaning. Too often we get distracted and move in our separate individual directions. Imagine a world where we listen attentively to the other in the same way that we approach the shofar call.

Let’s make this a year of getting back to basics. Let’s put down our smartphones and speak to those around us! More importantly, let’s get away from our preconceptions, the obstacles that get in our way. Let’s focus our attention on listening and working together. Even when we don’t always like what we hear, let’s still find space to integrate these words of opposition. This will likely be jarring and uncomfortable, but it will also be inspiring, unifying and beautiful!