Listening matters in a moral environment as insistent on human dignity as is Judaism. The very act of listening is a form of respect. The royal family in Britain is known always to arrive on time and depart on time. I will never forget the occasion – her aides told me that they had never witnessed it before – when the Queen stayed for two hours longer than her scheduled departure time. The day was January 27, 2005, the occasion, the sixtieth anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. The Queen had invited survivors to a reception at St James’ Palace. Each had a story to tell, and the Queen took the time to listen to every one of them. One after another came up to me and said, “Sixty years ago I did not know whether tomorrow I would be alive, and here I am talking to the Queen.” That act of listening was one of the most royal acts of graciousness I have ever witnessed. Listening is a profound affirmation of the humanity of the other.
In the encounter at the burning bush, when God summoned Moses to be a leader, Moses replied, “I am not a man of words, not yesterday, not the day before, not from the first time You spoke to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue” (Ex. 4: 10). Why would God choose to lead the Jewish people a man who found it hard to speak? Perhaps because one who cannot speak learns how to listen. A leader is one who knows how to listen: to the unspoken cry of others and to the still, small voice of God.