This week, our Middat Hashavua is connected to the holiday of Sukkot, the holiday which began earlier in the week and which continues until next Tuesday. Our Middat Hashavua is: Listen for God’s voice in natural surroundings. This is an appropriate Middah for Sukkot, which is associated with nature and the final harvest of the season.
As I reflected on this Middah, I began to think about what it means to listen. To really listen. Whether it is listening to our teachers, our students, our parents, our children, or to HaShem’s still small voice, do we really know what it really means to listen?
In the field of communication, there is a discipline called “active listening.” There are many steps to more effective active listening and I would like to share with you four of them that I hope you will find helpful. These can be beneficial at home, at school, and at the workplace, as well as in synagogue, the Sukkah, or listening for God’s voice in natural surroundings.
- Pay attention.
The first step of active listening and being an effective listener is to allow the other person to think and speak. Pay attention by allowing “wait time” before responding. Don’t cut people off, finish their sentences, or start formulating your answer before they’ve finished. Always pay attention to your surroundings. To pay attention means that you have to be in the right frame of mind when engaging in active listening. To be an active listener, be focused on the moment, make eye contact, and operate from a place of respect as the listener. When listening for God’s voice, pay attention. You may be surprised where you will find it!
- Withhold judgment.
Active listening requires an open mind. As a listener and a leader, be open to new ideas, new perspectives, and new possibilities when practicing active listening. Even when good listeners have strong views, they suspend judgment, hold any criticisms, and avoid interruptions like arguing or selling their point right away. When listening for God’s voice, it is important to withhold judgment and to always have an open mind.
When you are the listener, don’t assume that you understand the other person correctly — or that they know you have heard them. Mirror the person’s information and emotions by periodically paraphrasing key points. Reflecting is an active listening technique that indicates that you and your counterpart are on the same page. The Jewish tradition requires us to reflect all the time (Shabbat, Tefillah, the month of Elul, Aseret Yemei Teshuvah, etc.). These moments in time are built into the calendar and our daily lives to help us reflect and listen for God’s voice.
Don’t be shy to ask questions about any issue that’s ambiguous or unclear when engaging in active listening. As the listener, if you have doubt or confusion about what the person has said, ask an open-ended, clarifying, or probing question. These types of questions are important active listening tools that encourage the person to self-reflect and problem solve, rather than justifying or defending a position, or trying to guess the “right answer.” When engaging in active listening, the emphasis is on asking, rather than telling. It invites a thoughtful response and maintains a spirit of collaboration. When listening for God’s voice, we are encouraged to clarify and ask questions. Clarifying and asking questions has always been part of the Jewish tradition. That is how we learn and get closer to God. And when we can’t find the answer, we don’t give up: we dig deeper, we study texts, and we continue to clarify and ask questions! THAT is the Jewish way!
May this holiday of Sukkot be a joyous one for you and your family! Enjoy the beautiful outdoor fall weather, the gorgeous fall foliage, and time with family and friends in the Sukkah. And remember to be an active listener, whether it is at home, at school, at the workplace, or whether you are in the synagogue or Sukkah. Listen actively by paying attention, withholding judgment, reflecting, and asking clarifying questions. When doing so, not only will you strengthen your relationships with your friends and loved ones, but you may also find that you are strengthening your own personal relationship with God.
Shabbat Shalom VeChag Sameach!