For the record, I have yet to enjoy any prune Hamantaschen… Apricot and cherry, yes. Prune… not yet. Just needed to put that out there.
The first prayer before reading the Megillah says that Hashem “commanded us concerning the reading of the Megillah.”
The note/rule/law says: “Everyone is obligated to read, or hear the reading of, the Megillah at night and again the next day.”
While I followed along in the Chumash, spun my gragger with great enthusiasm in order to keep up with the kids, and listened to try to match each English word to the Hebrew I was hearing, I was acutely aware that I was fulfilling a Mitzvah… a commandment.
The next day many thoughts began to mull in my ever-searching brain. And it is fascinating how things and lessons always seem to come together at the right time.
We can all “read” the Megillah of Esther, though not all from the amazing scrolls… and no, not all of us in Hebrew… I’m working on it!!! But the notion of being commanded to HEAR IT really stood out to me this time, and things started to click.
To hear something is the first part of communication. We hear our thoughts… We hear another… and then we start to speak, to communicate, to act.
The Shema begins with “Hear, O Israel…” and there is much discussed and mentioned about this, of course. But that is a whole post unto itself.
When one discusses and studies The Torah it is and must be BOTH the Written Law and The Oral Law. They are, in fact, inseparable, which I have only recently learned in my latest Chabad class. Yes, I am a novice… A middle-aged novice!!! (Thank you Rabbi Avi Rabin for another great 6-week program!)
One of the many reasons is the power of SEEING AND HEARING THINGS YOURSELF… When we do there is much more of a connection… much more of a weight and power to it. Seeing is often believing… and hearing is, too.
Then we share the information that we received from our parents and their parents, with our kids. It keeps an unbroken path and circle alive, and has for thousands and thousands of years.
Quite often people will tell you they learn in one of two ways… Either visually or aurally… which makes the Torah even more brilliant as it covers both these ways of learning!
Our next big holiday is Pesach. We speak and tell and HEAR the story of Passover, which has also been handed down from generation to generation for thousands of years. And, as my friend Shlomo Seidenfeld says, the most important part of Pesach is the TRANSMISSION, the telling and sharing of the story. Again… speaking and listening… telling and hearing.
Sadly, some of the criticism I have heard (no pun intended) of Judaism is that it is nothing more than a religion of rules and laws. Clearly this is an ignorant notion brought forth by people who have no real understanding of the beauty and majesty… the warmth and love of Judaism. Now, that does not mean there are not rules and laws… Of course there are… There are many… 613 Mitzvot to be exact.
But these rules are designed for us to have a better and more fulfilled life. We have guides… we have a framework and a blueprint that is the Torah. And within that framework is our freedom.
One of the best lessons I learned about this comes from a theatre professor at Northwestern, who said that you are not truly free until you know what your boundaries and limitations are. (Thanks, Frank Galati!)
Without them, fear and uncertainty would keep us constantly questioning and doubting. We would hesitate, be afraid, not push the boundaries. With the knowledge of those boundaries, we can push every limit, stretch every rope and corner and move freely through the ring of life.
The commandments and laws give meaning to life… They give purpose to living. And some of them are not easy… many of us cannot (or choose not to) accomplish the majority of the commandments… but knowing what they are, what they say and mean, and continually striving to learn more about them and understand them more deeply… and to always do our best with them is really important.
To hear, to learn, to understand… all essential first steps. What you do with that knowledge is up to you. Free Will… Free Choice…
So many of my Rabbi teachers and mentors all say that we need to take it one mitzvah at a time. Don’t get overwhelmed… Don’t bite off more than you can chew… Just keep learning and studying… always do your best… always do the right thing… and try to regularly accomplish one mitzvah at a time.
So we are commanded to listen and hear. Such a brilliant idea…. such a great and powerful place to start. The act of hearing will keep us actively connected. Anyone who has ever been in counseling or therapy has probably done the “active listening” exercise. It works, and yes sometimes we must force ourselves to listen… to really hear… to connect in a deeper way to the loved one who sits across from us, who exists in the same space that we do.
I have spoken many times of Rabbi Noah Weinberg’s brilliant take on the Pirkei Avos (The 48 Ways) and how we must LISTEN WITH OUR EARS… NOT WITH OUR POSITION.
So Hear, O Israel… HEAR the Megillah Of Esther… HEAR Hashem… HEAR our loved ones… HEAR all that is around us… and let us open our ears and open our hearts.