Rabbi Jonathan Gewirtz – Hear Me Out

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Operation Inspiration

One day, my wife looked at me and said, “You’re not even listening to me, are you?!” I thought, “Gee, that’s a strange way to start a conversation.”

Yes, this is a joke. It didn’t really happen, but humor is based in truth, which is why it makes such an impact when we can relate to a joke. There’s an idea that people tune out their spouses, when they should really be listening more, hence the joke.

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I recently had an experience which drove the point home to me. I’d gone into a drug store to get something specific. It was a store I don’t generally go to, so the layout was unfamiliar to me. Therefore, when I walked in, to save time, I asked the cashier where to find the item. She said, “It’s in aisle 14 on the left-hand side.” So, I headed over to aisle 14, looked on the left-hand side, and I saw similar items to what I was looking for, but not the one I wanted. Not just the brand, but the category was not there. I walked back and forth, up and down the aisle, trying to find it.

Finally, I spied what I was looking for. It was on the bottom shelf. Now, I’m used to the standard marketing procedures where expensive items are put at eye-level, and cheaper ones are at the bottom. This time, both the name-brand and generic items were on the bottom shelf. In fact, I couldn’t even stoop low enough to read the tags so I took a picture with my phone and read the price labels from it!

I made my purchase decision and headed to the register. The cashier asked if I’d found everything OK, as they are trained to do. I let her know that, actually, I’d had a difficult time finding the item. I said I was surprised that it was on the bottom shelf. She replied, “I told you it was. Aisle 14, left-hand side, on the bottom.”

I might have argued, to say that she’d told me aisle 14, left-hand side, but not that it was on the bottom shelf. I certainly didn’t hear her say that, or I’d have known where to look. But I couldn’t say for sure she didn’t say that. It’s quite possible that I just stopped listening.

I realized that quite often, when people are giving us instructions, we feel we have enough information and we shut off. Whether it’s listening or reading, we’re done. I’m sure many of you have taken that famous test which says at the top, “Read all instructions before taking the test.” Then it begins by saying, “Choose the correct answer for each question …” and “Fill in each circle completely…” et cetera, et cetera, ad nauseum infinitum.

Towards the bottom of the instructions is a line that says, “Do not fill in any circles on this page. Put your pencil down and wait for your teacher’s instruction.” Most students don’t get that far and furiously begin to fill in the circles to answer what turn out to be relatively easy questions. As they do, they’re smiling to themselves with how well they’re doing at answering the questions. Only at the end, when the teacher reads all the instructions out loud, slowly, do they begin to feel sheepish about what they’ve done. They don’t feel so smart anymore, because they got it wrong!

They should have been sitting there with blank papers, but because they didn’t follow directions, they ended up doing unnecessary work and looking foolish. I remember getting this test in maybe sixth or seventh grade and there were one or two kids who didn’t write anything. I’m not sure whether they read everything first, or had heard about this test before, but they certainly were smiling and proud of themselves for not getting caught in the trap.

When this occurred at the drug store, and I realized that I’d stopped listening, I considered that this is something many of us do. We think we understand; we think we’ve got it covered; and we don’t need to hear any more. Often, like in my case, we end up struggling because we didn’t pay attention; because we tuned out when we only had part of the message.

So often, people hear what they want to hear. They ask a question of a Rav or respected individual, and then they stop listening when they get out of the response whatever they were looking for. It sounds like a good plan, but they’re actually setting themselves up for failure, potential struggles, and not living up to Hashem’s plan.

When our parents or teachers say things, we think we know better. We forget they’re speaking from experience, or rationalize that the world is different and they don’t know what is correct in THIS situation. Sometimes, we might even do it to Hashem.

At Har Sinai, we said Naaseh v’Nishma, we will do and we will listen. One understanding is that we will do what Hashem wants because we’re willing to listen to Him. All I’m saying is this: word to the wise; make sure you don’t finish listening before He’s finished speaking.

 

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