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{Originally posted to Rabbi Weinberg’s website, The Foundation Stone}

Perhaps one prayer more than any other has been on the lips of Jews whether gathering to celebrate or lining up for the gas chambers; the Shema, “Hear, Israel!” Yet, the man who successfully taught these words to the people, who, at Sinai, would declare to God, “We will do and we will hear,” began his journey as leader, speaking, cajoling, promising, without anyone hearing him. Moses may have complained that, “I have sealed lips,” but he could have said, “I might as well be mute!”

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“They did not hear Moses because of shortness of breath and hard work.” “Behold! The Children of Israel have not heard me, how will Pharaoh?” “The heart of Pharaoh was strong and he did not hear them.” Why did the man who spoke for God have to begin by speaking without anyone hearing? Why did the man whose voice resonates more than three thousand years after his death have to experience living in a world in which no one would even hear his voice? How is it that the teacher who heard, as no other, God’s call, could cry out in such devastating silence?

“Moreover, I have heard the groan of the Children of Israel (Exodus 6:5),” says God, “I listened before I spoke!” Moses cared for his relatives, “It happened in those days that Moses grew up and went out to his brethren and observed their burdens (2:11).” The man raised in the splendor of Pharaoh’s palace went out of his way to empathize with his people. He “observed their suffering,” but we never find him listening. A person who does not listen will not be heard.

My first response to parents who complain that their children don’t listen to them is, “Do you hear them when they speak?” The answer is usually, “No! I’m too busy, stressed, overwhelmed, and I don’t have the patience.” When a doctor tells me that his patients often don’t listen and follow his instructions, I suspect that he doesn’t bother to hear his patients. Moses, perhaps the greatest teacher, had to learn that he had to first hear his students before they could hear his message.

God listens before He speaks. We do not need to call out to Him to attract His attention to our prayers. He’s already listening, long before He asks anything of us. My experience is that I only feel that God does not hear my prayers when I am not listening for His words. God hears before He instructs. We hear God before we pray. There is that perfect moment of silence when we face each other, each waiting, prepared to hear before speaking. That silent moment is the Amidah; the Silent Prayer. Savor the moment. Consider whether to allow God to be First to hear, or, if it should be we who stand in silence, listening. Who knows what we’ll hear?

God hears, and responds. God hears our prayers, and in so doing, gives voice to a powerful message of love. Can you hear it?

Shabbat Shalom

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