Listen and Respond

On the New Year we learn to pay closer heed to the words we speak, their impact on others and the subtle messages our words convey. As we listen more acutely
to the call for help from others, we also take upon ourselves the duty to respond in a timely manner and rally around those in need.

Ha’azinu begins with a word for careful, intentional listening. It is a type of focused attention. The root of the Hebrew word is ozen, an ear, or to lend an ear. One commentator suggests that it was strange to be told to listen before God’s words were actually spoken, but in reality, the opening of the heart and mind is a form of preparation to hear and receive (Kabbalah).

To paraphrase Rabbi Sidney Greenberg, who in his prayer book presents a prayer preceding the “Shema” that speaks volumes on this subject: Judaism begins with the commandment “Hear O Israel!” But what does it mean to hear?

The person who hears the news and thinks only of how it affects the market hears but does not really listen. The person who walks amid the songs of birds and only thinks of what will be for dinner hears but does not really listen. The person who hears the words of friends, husband, wife or child and does not catch the note of urgency — “Notice me, care about me, help me” — hears but does not really listen. The person who stifles the sound of conscience and says, “I’ve done enough already,” hears but does not really listen.

Cultivating our sense of listening is an essential skill for the sacred moments of a New Year. In the blessing we are commanded not to sound but to hear the sounding of the shofar. It gives us an opportunity for the sacred through holy listening.

Once we listen fully, how do we respond? Also contained in the sedrah for this Shabbat is a word that appears only twice in the Torah. “Like an eagle lights over its nest, over its young, does it hover.” The Hebrew word merachef, or hover, near the end of Deuteronomy, is found in Genesis describing God’s presence “hovering over the face of the waters” during creation.

Hovering implies an act of concern and an immediate presence. Our reaction to a call of distress cannot wait. On a personal note, friends who have lost loved ones, especially children, need to be surrounded by and given the overwhelming embrace of friends and family.

A time of crisis for our people demands no less. When we find Israel vilified at the European Parliament and by a former American president as an “apartheid state,” we cannot allow that perversion of truth and defamation to stand. When journalists like Philippe Karsenty expose the irresponsibility of the French state television in airing the fraudulent depiction of the killing of a Palestinian father and son, which resulted in mass hysteria in the Arab world, we must stand by him and demand justice. There will be many opportunities for us to listen and to hover in the coming year.

On these days of repentance and soul-searching, it is worthy to note that a teshuva, most commonly defined as repentance, also means a response. Let us listen and respond rapidly to the needs of our friends and neighbors. Let us be fully present for each other. May our prayers lead to actions that merit our inscription for a sweet year of life and peace.

L’Shana tova tikateyvu.

David Baron is rabbi of the Temple of the Arts at the Wilshire Theatre in Beverly Hills.

Monk Could Be Way to Mideast Peace

Next week, I am sponsoring a group of Israelis and Palestinians to spend a few weeks in a small village in southern France with a Buddhist monk named Thich Nhat Hanh. These two disparate groups of people do not know each other, but often feel hatred toward each other. Some of them have been hurt in the war.

But by the end of the two weeks, under the guidance of the monks, the Israelis and the Palestinians will learn to listen to, understand, forgive and maybe even like each other. They will be at peace.

Could this work on a larger scale for their respective countries? I think so.

There are only two ways to ever make peace in the Middle East, and both are extreme. One is for one side to obliterate the other in a military conquest. The other, far more favorable approach, is for an unrelated third party to broker peace. For this to succeed, this person must come with absolutely no agenda — not one of country, religion, politics or money. Just peace.

That’s the one we are going for, because we have found such a person.

Nhat Hanh is a world-renowned Vietnamese Buddhist monk, scholar, poet and peace activist who lives in Plum Village, France. Martin Luther King Jr. nominated him for a Nobel Peace prize. He has written almost 100 books. All over the world, he teaches what he calls mindfulness — peaceful, joyful living.

He is in a unique position to help the world now. We are trying to help him.

I met him because I read one of his books and it really helped my life as a movie producer. I learned to listen more, scream less, appreciate everything around me and focus. I even learned to “de-multitask.” And now I get more done, and am happier and calmer about it.

I figured if it worked for me, it could work for my friends in the entertainment business, who could sure use his help. So I offhandedly suggested he do a seminar in Hollywood.

Three months later, he called and said, “How’s next Tuesday?” I had Nhat Hanh and 15 monks over to my house to meet about 50 agents, producers, directors, studio executives and actors. I love these people, but they would stab themselves in the back if they could.

In one night, he changed some of their lives. Nhat Hanh does not try to convert people to Buddhism or get them to shave their heads. He teaches them how to listen to others and appreciate life more.

I thought it amazing what he did in Hollywood, but there are people with a lot more to be angry about than their TV series getting cancelled. He has done this for senators, cops, prisoners, people battling AIDS, victims of prejudice and hate crimes. And for Palestinians and Israelis.

Every summer people come from all over the world to Nhat Hanh’s retreat center in France to learn from him and his spiritual sidekick, Sister Chan Khong. A few years ago, they invited some Israelis and Palestinians — a few severely wounded in their war with each other. They forgave.

That gave me the idea to try this on a larger scale, and to tell the world about it. If everyone sees what can happen next week in Plum Village, it could then be done on a much larger scale. I wasn’t sure if it was the right thing to do, so I asked friends, advisers and mentors — some of whom run charities. What really convinced me was their answer.

They all said, “No, don’t do it.”

They said don’t bother. It will never happen. They hate each other too much. It’s too late. One person even argued that if it cost a Palestinian more to fly to France than an Israeli, it wasn’t fair. Everyone was so far into their anger they didn’t even want to try.

That convinced me that we have to.

Nhat Hanh has no agenda other than peace. He has a great expression: There is no way to peace; peace is the way.

Something extreme must be done and will be. I vote we try extreme peace before the other alternative.

I hope the world watches what happens at Nhat Hanh’s village next week. Who better to do this, who could be more agenda-less than a peaceful Buddhist monk with unique gift for teaching people to listen and be mindful, who has no country, no desire for wealth, no stake in politics?

This is not about who is right or wrong or who started it or who is hurt the most. It is about peace.

It can happen.


Film producer Larry Kasanoff is chairman and CEO of Threshold Entertainment.

For the Kids

Listen With Your Heart

The word shema (listen) appears in its various forms in Parshat Va’etchanan 23 times. And to top it all off, the “Shema” prayer is also included. Moses tells his beloved nation: I will not enter Israel with you, so you are on your own. In order to do what’s right without me, you need to learn how to listen. It is only through listening that you will learn how to love (“And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart”). Loving will open your heart to the oneness of the universe (“The Eternal God is one”), and that will bring you understanding.

So, practice listening — listen to the trees in the breeze; listen to your cat purring; listen to your parents’ words of love. Every so often, stop what you’re doing and listen.

Lessons From Tisha B’Av

The fast of Tisha B’Av lasted from sunset on Aug. 6 through sunset on Aug. 7. Hope you had an easy fast.

Alex and Talya were driving in the car with their parents. They were reading license plates when Talya called out to her parents: “Did you know that this month is Tisha B’Av?” Here are the license plates she read that reminded her. What do they say?

A Shabbat Poem

by Reut Rotem, Age 7, Beverly Hills

Weekdays are very fun,

But when Friday comes,

It’s time to rest.

So we say the brachot

And we go to sleep.

And on Saturday,

It’s time to eat!

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