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“Listen,” Rabbi Zecher’s Shabbat Awakenings

April 12, 2024 | 4 Nisan 5784

to Shabbat Awakenings, a weekly reflection as we make our way toward Shabbat.

You can listen to it as a podcast here.

This is a story about the difference between listening and hearing. We might hear what someone says, but not actually listen.

In II Kings chapter 5, we meet Na’aman, a warrior Aramean commander. His name meant faithful, but it was an ironic twist since faith is about belief, and belief is about paying attention, and paying attention is about listening.

Na’aman had a big problem. He had leprosy. In those days, there was no cure. But, his wife’s attendant, an Israelite girl who had been brought to Aram as a spoil of the war, listened to Na’aman’s lament and mentioned that there was an Israelite prophet who could heal him. Na’aman went to the King of Aram and told him what he learned from the Israelite girl. The King listened and sent a letter with Na’aman to the King of Israel. When the King of Israel read the letter, and even though it said that Na’aman was there to be cured of leprosy, the King of Israel heard threat in the words and rent his clothes as if in mourning.

But Elisha, the famous healing prophet, heard of the King’s behavior and recognized that it was possible to listen to what Na’aman requested. He told the King,

“Let him come to me, and he will learn that there is a prophet in Israel.” (5:8).

Na’aman arrived with a full retinue of horses and chariots, waiting to hear the instructions for healing his leprosy. Elisha sent word through a messenger for Na’aman to bathe in the Jordan River seven times and then “his flesh would be restored.” Na’aman was livid. He expected some grand gesture and instead Elisha didn’t even appear. Why bother? Na’aman protested. He had much better rivers in Aram.

The trouble was not that Na’aman didn’t hear what Elisha said but rather that Na’aman didn’t actually listen to the words.

Once again, like the Israelite attendant, a servant pushed him to comply. The servant had clearly listened to the potential of the action and pointed out that if Elisha had told him to do something difficult, would he not have done it.  That is when Na’aman listened and believed what might be possible. Then, he went and immersed in the Jordan River seven times and emerged pure with skin like “a little boy’s”.

The story presents Na’aman as big but not humble enough to listen until someone lesser than he raises him up. The story presents Elisha as a man of God, humble in his ability but great in his strength of character.

We hear so much but do we actually listen? The difference is our willingness to absorb what is said and allow it to enter our heart and mind. Listening prods us to pay attention and discover the humanity of others even as we find it in ourselves. Listening makes us humble. And perhaps, most importantly, perhaps the ability to listen can heal us all.

Shabbat Shalom!

I continue to value the many comments you exchange with me through these Shabbat Awakenings. Share with me what you think here. Your email goes directly to me!

Rabbi Elaine Zecher

This Shabbat at Temple Israel:

  • We come together as a community to celebrate Shabbat at 6:00 p.m., onsite or online. Register to join on Zoom, or log on via Facebook Live, or our website.
  • Riverway gathers at 6:45 p.m. for dinner followed by an 8:00 p.m. service and post-service schmooze.
  • Torah Study gathers onsite or Register to join on Zoom at 9:00 a.m. beginning with a short Shabbat service and Torah reading followed by an engaging study and conversation. All levels and abilities are welcomed!
  • Gather online to say goodbye to Shabbat with a lay-led Havdalah on Zoom at 8:00 p.m.