Rabbis Without Borders
Rabbis Without Borders is a dynamic forum for exploring contemporary issues in the Jewish world and beyond. Written by rabbis of different denominations, viewpoints, and parts of the country, Rabbis Without Borders is a project of Clal – The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership.
“OMG, I can absolutely relate!” I heard myself saying. A friend was telling me about troubles she was having with her daughter and I responded by sharing my own challenges as the mother of teenage boys. Then, I caught myself. This isn’t about me. My friend was venting, and maybe seeking some guidance, but what she didn’t need at that moment was for me to make the conversation about myself and my problems.
“It’s not about you.” This has become my mantra. When I’m listening to a friend or am having a conversation with someone, I’m constantly reminding myself, “This isn’t about you. It’s about them.” I don’t want to project how I might feel in the same situation onto the other person. How can I be a good friend, a good rabbi, a good parent or leader, or even a source of emotional support to someone unless I put that person first?
I’ve learned to check myself and refrain from responding or thinking about how I might respond so that I can truly be in the moment. When I do this, it allows for a deeper listening and keeps me open to the needs of the individual soul before me. I’m not saying this is always easy, but over time I’ve found it’s become second nature. Judaism provides tools that help us do this.
Shmiat HaOzen, attentive listening, is one of the Jewish virtues. Shmiat HaOzen requires you to block out distractions and focus on the other person. It encourages us to listen to more than the words that are being said and recognize the cues the other person may be giving us with their body language or tone. Shmiat HaOzen teaches us to listen to the unspoken words. What is the person’s motive, hope, or fear behind what they are saying? Is there more to the situation than what this person is expressing? By practicing shmiat haozen, we strengthen our relationships by showing others how much we value them.
Good relationships take work and I value the relationships with family, friends, and those I have made through my work as a rabbi. Every one of them deserves my full attention. And, when they need me, I will be here with a listening ear.