“If only you would listen…”

Vehaya ekev tish-m’un et ha mishpatim ha’eleh – ‘and it shall be (that) you will obey (tish-m’un) these judgments (laws, rules)…'( Deut 8:12). That was the opening sentence of last week’s Torah reading. The word used for “obey” is tish-m’un. The root of tish-m’un is sh’ma, listen! Many translate tish-m’un as obey but since its root is sh’ma it might mean, “If you listen” or “If you hear”…

But it is clear that the intention of this sentence is obedience. Using the word “sh’ma” makes me think of the colloquial expression, “listen up”, pay attention. The phrase “if only you would listen…” appears no less than 92 times throughout this last Book of Torah, Devarim (Deuteronomy).

To really confuse us, this week’s Torah portion begins with the word, “Re’eh” – See or look! In preparing for his d’var Torah (words of Torah) for this Friday night, Mel Weisblatt asked me about this word and I continued to wonder about it, because it comes right after tish-m’un in last week’s portion. Last week it was listen, this week it is see – what are we to make of this?

I think the lesson is that Torah recognizes that some of us need to see to believe, and others can be convinced by hearing – or in modern jargon, some of us are auditory learners and others learn visually! Whether you must sh’ma, listen, or re’eh, pay attention, to learn, the message is consistent. God has given us commandments on how to live a life that is ethically and morally pure, and this is the pathway to a life of blessings.

May you have a week of blessings and a Shabbat of peace,
Rabbi Debbie Israel