Volume 30 Issue 22 30 Jul 2021 21 Av 5781

From the Head of Jewish Life

Rabbi Daniel Siegel – Head of Jewish Life

Hearing Voices

We all, at times, imagine what one thing we might wish for if it would be granted to us.

There is only one person in the recorded Jewish tradition that is given the opportunity to have one wish, and have it granted. It is King David’s son, Shelomo.

So, given this once in a lifetime opportunity, what does he choose?

לב שומע-Lev shome’a!

Lev means heart.

Shome’a comes from the root word shema, as in Shema Yisra’el.  This week’s parashah, Eikev, is replete with the word shema, and the consequences of our whether or not we are shome’a.

What does shema mean?

Some say it means “listen”, but it is more than that, as one may listen but not hear anything.

Often shema, therefore, is translated as “hear”. But one may hear but not understand – as when someone says: “Do you hear what I am saying”? Meaning, “I know you can hear me, but do you understand me?”

In asking for a לב שומע/lev shome’a, Shelomo is asking for more than the capacity to listen and hear, he desires an understanding heart.

Was he wise in what he wished for?

In last week’s מה נשמע/Ma Nishma, I spoke of a tragic event at the Kotel during commemoration of Tish’ah BeAv. An egalitarian prayer service was violently disrupted by those who deemed it a violation of Jewish law and a desecration of the name of God.

A recent Harvard University study speaks of “multi-vocal individuals”. Multi-vocal individuals are those who can identify with the sentiments and mindsets of diverse individuals. The voices they hear go beyond their own. This is to be differentiated from what is called “self-serving bias”- those who can hear only their own voice.

And, by hearing we mean understand. Everyday, Jews around the world sing together the prayer /שמע קולינו shema koleinu – Hear our voices, understand the needs of each of us in our diversity, in our uniqueness.

We are asking God to be multi-vocal. How can we ourselves, then, say this prayer three times daily, and, in the name of God, dishonour our fellow Jews out of a self-serving bias, denying a multi-vocal God and any voice that is not our own.

ירושלים/Yerushalayim means city of wholeness/city of peace. It is not insignificant that the one who gained a heart of understanding is called שלמה/Shlomo, which means wholeness and peace. For, until we can have a heart of understanding, in hearing the voices of others as we do our own, we cannot make for a city of peace that goes beyond the self-serving bias of one to the divine community of a multi-vocal whole.