"See, I am giving you today a blessing, & a curse: The blessing, if you will listen to G-d’s Mitzvot…..the curse, if you will not listen to Hashem’s commandments…"
This opening pasuk from our Sedra is perplexing, is it not? It never finishes the sentence! It informs us that there is a blessing if we listen to the Mitzvot, & a k’lala if we do not listen, but it never tells us exactly what that bracha (or k’lala) is!! Will we be rich, safe, healthy, if we follow the Mitzvot? We're never told; the verse just leaves us hanging there, scratching our heads in puzzlement!
When I was younger, my father z"l used to give our family a riddle or quiz at Shabbat dinners (maybe that’s how I got hooked on trivia!). One of his more famous riddles was, "How long is a Chinaman’s name?" We looked at one another with a blank and bewildered stare - we had no clue! Maybe it was short, like Mao, or long like Chiang Kai-Shek; how the heck were we supposed to know how long his name is?!
We agonized for quite a while over his question until Dad finally smiled & said, "Who ever told you it was a question?!
And then we figured it out, of course; dad was not ASKING anything; he was making a definitive statement: "How Long is a Chinaman’s name!"
And now the pasuk makes perfect sense: Blessings come to us when we listen; curses when we don’t. The ability to listen is in itself a great bracha; one need look no further. By listening to Hashem, we discipline ourselves into becoming listeners and THAT is its own reward! For when we listen, we learn (that’s why we have two ears, but only one mouth!). When we listen to others we connect to them, relate to them, form a bond with them.
We Jews are expert talkers. We all have our own cell phones & 100 different ways to talk to one another (Skype, Viber, Noknok, FaceTime, etc). But listening has
become somewhat of a lost art, perhaps because we are too busy, too impatient, too self-centered. We seem much more interested in having others know what WE think,
rather than discovering what THEY think & feel. But, as Susie smartly says, sometimes people aren't looking for an answer; they just want to know that others hear them, that someone out there is listening – and that’s enough.
We are about to enter Elul, the gateway to the High Holy Days, the month of "I am my beloved’s & my beloved is mine." We want to hear the sound of the Shofar & be
spiritually aroused; we want Hashem to hear our prayers & bless us with new life. The key to that happening is to talk less, & listen more. To hear the sounds of the world
around us, the call of the Divine, & the pleas – spoken or unspoken – of our fellow Jews. I'm sure you would agree that G-d is the universe's greatest listener; millions of prayers are directed towards Him every day, one of the most potent being "Shma Koleynu - Hear our voice." Shouldn't we emulate Hashem and be a good listener, too?
Listening, I suggest, is the surest path to blessing. You hear?