הַסְכֵּ֤ת ׀ וּשְׁמַע֙ יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל הַיּ֤וֹם
Hasket u’Shema Yisrael Hayom
“Pay attention and listen Israel today”
The month of Av, and particularly the first nine days leading up to the commemoration of the destruction of the holy Temples in Jerusalem, is a time for deep listening. The verse above is the one assigned to this month by the mystical tradition that associates each month with a different sense or body part. This practice of deep, attentive listening offers us a way in to grieve the destruction of the Temple and the current destruction and suffering we experience in our world today.
The service in the Temple symbolized the ability for humanity to experience the Divine Presence in a felt way that made clear the deep connection of all things, providing the ground for relationships and systems of justice. After the destruction, the rabbis teach that the Divine Presence/Shechina went into exile and justice could no longer be heard (See Lekutei Moharan 1:78). Speaking, listening and hearing are a key part of the process of repair that will bring the Divine Presence back from exile and restore universal justice.
A failure to hear is also a component of Sinat Chinam/Baseless Hatred, the main reason given by the rabbis of the Talmud for the destruction of the Temple in 70 C.E. Sinat Chinam is generally understood to mean a deep hatred that transcends any rationale. I want to paraphrase a teaching I heard recently from Rabbi Shais Rishon about what Sinat Chinam might really mean and how deep listening can play a role in the Tikkun. Rabbi Rishon, also known as MaNishtana, looks to the story of Yaakov, Leah and Rachel for a clue as to what hatred may mean here. In Genesis 29:31, “God saw that Leah was hated [by Yaakov]…” Rabbi David Kimchi (d. 1235, France) writes that Yaakov didn’t really hate Leah. Rather, he loved Leah, but he loved Rachel more. In comparison it was if Leah were hated. Hatred here means being loved less equally than others. Rabbi Rishon adapts this teaching for our present context of racial hatred. He explains that most people who are concerned about racism only express their concern when the most extreme forms of hatred are expressed – lynchings, church shootings, and vigilante murders of black people. However, there is another form of hatred, a contemporary Sinat Chinam, that is much more pervasive. This is the systemic racism that negatively impacts every aspect of black and brown people’s lives every day in the United States. This is not an active hatred on the part of most people, rather, it is an absence of concern and love. People who are not targeted by a particular oppression – be it white people and racism, able-bodied people and disability oppression, men and sexism – are able to ignore the impact of systemic mistreatment of others when they don’t actively love and pay attention. Of course, living and benefiting from a system that mistreats people, hurts everyone. But for those who seemingly benefit from the system this hurt is harder to perceive. Systemic, or institutional oppression, is so dangerous because it only takes passive consent to continue once it is set in place. In the meantime black, brown, disabled, female (and more) humans are denied adequate health care, incarcerated at high rates, and paid unfair wages while the humanity of all who participate in such a system is diminished.
The Tikkun is deep, attentive listening that comes from love. People in non-target groups, whatever the particular oppression, need to open our hearts and love enough to actually pay attention to the voices of people suffering from mistreatment who have been speaking up and making noise for a long time. We need to listen so that we can empathize and really feel and grieve the impact of this mistreatment. People in non-target groups also need enough active self-love to hear how they themselves have also been diminished by being passive participants in these systems.
When enough people are listening with love at this level, we will make a Tikkun on the baseless hatred that led to the destruction of the Temple, the loss of the palpable Divine Presence in our midst and the conditions for injustice. We will create communities that are big enough to hold all of us in our diversity and achieve the time predicted by the prophet Zecharia:
"The fasts of the fourth, fifth, seventh and tenth months will become joyful and glad occasions and happy festivals for Yehudah. Therefore love truth and peace." – Zecharia 8:19