By Laura Seymour
Shema is the first word in the most important prayer in Judaism — it means listen. Being able to see is a very crucial ability. To learn to see the world takes practice; learning to listen is even harder! Both skills must be practiced and the rewards will be great. Life is a journey and we must see and hear all the wonders in the world.
There is a wonderful story of a queen who wanted to find the perfect prayer. She sent her three advisors out to find that prayer. The first returned and said, “The perfect prayer is the sound of silence — of listening: Shhhhhhhh…” The second returned and said, “The prayer should be the sound of thinking — Mmmmmmm…” And the third said, “It is the sound of wonder: Ahhhhhhhh…” The queen thought and thought and then told her advisors, “You are all correct. To thank G-d, we must listen, think and wonder: Shhhh…Mmmmm…Ahhhhh… Shema!”
How can we practice listening? Try this activity:
- Go outside to a favorite spot — stand or sit and close your eyes. (If you do this with others, make sure that they are quiet and not talking to you or others.)
- See how many different sounds you hear in a minute — count on your fingers.
- Next, listen again and identify each sound.
- Try “cupping” your ears with your hands, fingers extending upward, imitating deer or bunny ears. Hearing should increase close to 20%. Next try putting your hands in front of your ears, facing backwards.
After listening, quietly recite the Shema:
Shema Yisrael Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Echad.
Listen, Israel, Adonai is our G-d, Adonai is One!
- What sounds did you hear? Were they human, mechanical or natural?
- How did the sounds affect you?
- Why do you think Jewish tradition says it is important to listen? What can we learn from listening to the natural world? What does that teach us about G-d?
Laura Seymour is Jewish experiential learning director and camp director emeritus at the Aaron Family JCC.