True Listening

Israel

Photo Credit: Jewish Press

Have you ever felt an emotional tsunami hit you? Or an emotional train run you down? Since the damage that is felt after such an occurrence is emotional and not physical, it doesn’t get the proper attention from others. If someone, Heaven forbid, falls down and breaks a limb or gets bruised, everyone can see and sympathize, and be supportive. However, when something happens to us on an emotional level, the most one can see is a bad mood or a sour face. No one can see the broken heart or wounded “limbs” inside one’s soul.

The most help one might get in that situation is a word of encouragement or a pick-me-up slogan – “Cheer up, things could be worse,” or “Don’t worry, the sun always comes up tomorrow.” Anyone who has been greatly disappointed, turned down in some harsh way, or rejected, can definitely connect with and understand those hurtful feelings. At times the hurt is so painful that no words in the world can describe what the person feels.

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The wise sage Hillel said in Pirkei Avot not to judge others until you are standing in their place. Sometimes we think that something someone else is going through doesn’t seem so bad. However, we are not standing in that person’s spot. We do not feel the hurt in our heart like he might be feeling in his. Therefore, our Sages encourage us to at least try to develop a sensitivity and awareness toward those we love and all the people we come in contact with in our lives.

When you are at your job and someone comes to work in a really bad mood, cheering up isn’t always the right medicine. Sometimes a person just wants empathy, understanding, and having someone just be there in the moment with a hug or a listening ear. Often we want to fix everything so quickly that we don’t really hear what the other person needs.

I had such an incident happen to me recently. For quite some time, I had been working very hard toward getting a certain job in a school I truly want to work. I was about a month away from finally receiving that job when suddenly I was summoned by the manager of the institution for an urgent meeting. At this meeting I was told that despite the hard work and great effort I had put in towards reaching this high position, they had given it a second thought and decided to suspend my request to work with them for at least a year. I could only apply again next year. I tried to plead my case and show all the hard work that I had put in until that point toward receiving the position, but my cries fell on deaf ears.

I felt the earth beneath me tremble. My mind shut down at once like an electrical shortage, and all I could see was all the hard work, time, and money I had invested in order to ensure my appointment to this new job. I could hear no one; I could barely feel my body, let alone my heart. I was numb and hurting beyond words.

Soon after, my phone started ringing with all the curious and worried friends and family on the other end. All of them tried to comfort me and tell me that for sure there is a way around, and that I will be working in that school in no time. I couldn’t hear a thing. All I felt was my pain. True, all their words were nice and encouraging, but I was hurting and needed some time.

It’s been some time now since I received the disappointing news. My emotional pain has subsided and my mind has tried to take over. I contacted some associates in the field and am back to working toward my goal. This ordeal just strengthened in me the point that there are so few people who really listen and so many people who know how to give lots of advice.

How well do we listen? How well do we know to be quiet at the right time, and speak at the right moment? Are we good at giving advice? At comforting? At “seeing” the other person?

Judge favorably, or as Hillel said, “Don’t judge others until you are standing in their place.” This teaching isn’t just speaking of a situation when we see someone who looks unhappy and give her the benefit of the doubt. It’s about standing in the other person’s spot when she is hurting. It’s feeling her frustration or hurt, and being there with her in the moment without saying any words.

The wise King Solomon said that there is a time for everything under the sun. We need to learn that when others are hurting, it’s a time to listen and just be there for them. I assure you that when the pain passes or lessens, their minds open up and they can hear us 10 times better than when they were in pain.

We read about Avraham Avinu in this week’s portion. He was the epitome of caring about and helping others. And how was he so caring? He listened to everyone and let them all feel that he was with them in their hearts and souls. They felt it, and therefore were open to Avraham’s encouraging words in return.

This Shabbat is also the date of the passing of Rachel Imeinu, one of the four mothers of Israel. She, too, could hear her sister Leah’s cry, her sister’s pain. Rachel was able to put herself in her sister’s place, and from that vantage point she was able to sacrifice her own marriage to Yaakov.

May we merit walking in the footsteps of our ancestors and learning from their good deeds and behavior, and as a result become more sensitive and caring to others around us.

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