Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one: And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. (Deut 6:4-5)
This is the basic statement of faith of all Jews, recited by the faithful at least three times a day. While most people concentrate on the statement of “one God,” it is also interesting to look just at the first word.
Before one can believe in the one God, it is important to hear about him. But hearing is more than just hearing. “Thus saith the Lord GOD; He that heareth, let him hear.” (Ezek 3:27) One kind of hearing is just receiving sound with the ear; the other involves receiving sound with the heart.
Rabbi Label Lam (Dvar Torah, V’aeschanan, 8/6/03) tells how he helps his children to get their arms around the word. He breaks down the three letters of the Hebrew word, sh’ma, that begins the passage. The word starts with “sh.” To hear we have to be quiet, to be open to receiving the word. The next part of the word is “mm,” or “hmm.” Rabbi Lam equates this with understanding. The final sound is “ah,” which he equates with acceptance, as in “ah! That’s right.” Thus, hearing involves readiness, processing, and acting.
While not disagreeing with the process presented by Rabbi Lam, I would like to look at hearing a little more basically. Again, it is based on the letters of the Hebrew word for “hear.”
We begin with the “sh” sound. This represents the entire process of taking in the information. As previously stated, one must be quiet in order to hear. If you are talking, or even thinking about what you are going to say, you are not listening. In order to hear God, one must be ready to listen to God. The problem with a lot of people is that they are so busy with thingswork, hobbies, distractionsthat they are not ready to hear that which is important. “The Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him.” (Hab 2:20) The process also involves taking in the information. One may be silent, contemplating his own navel, and hear nothing around him. We must not only be ready to hear, but actually do it.
Once the words are received, one must filter them. This is the “hmmm” process, called thinking. Some people let what they hear go in one ear and out the other. God’s word is too important for this to happen. On the other hand, God generally does not expect blind obedience, or mere going through the motions without an act of intellect. Samuel, Jeremiah, and Malachi chided Israel for performing acts of obedience without the heart. Even in the passage with which we started, God says we must love with the heart and the head. Abraham and Moses have been known to question God. So should we, sometimes.
The final sound of sh’ma is the “ah,” or the “aha!” This is the understanding. How often do people say that they have read the Bible many times, but only noticed something in it recently? They have heard and received the word. They have even thought about it. But only after some event in their life do they finally understand it. The Bible is full of such “aha!” passages. God saves the understanding of them for later in your life, or just after much careful study. “Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law.” (Ps 119:18)
Hearing is important; hearing God especially so. Whatever the process, God wants us to hear him. He wants more than just taking in his word. He wants us to work on it. That is part of the hearing, too.