Written by: Tim Wood

The Hebrew word to hear is shema. It’s one of the most important words in Judaism. According to Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, “God is not someone we see but someone we hear.” How true. Rabbi Sacks further describes Moses’ supreme revelation at Mt. Sinai. “Then the LORD spoke to you out of the fire. You heard (shema) the sound of words but saw no form; there was only a voice” (Deuteronomy 4:12).  Shema appears in Deuteronomy 92 times, compared to 6 times in Leviticus.  Rabbi Sacks says, “We have a lot to hear from God.” I would agree.

He makes the point that hearing God is centered around five primary senses:

1) Focused attention – “Be silent, O Israel, and listen” (Deuteronomy 27:9).

2) To hear – “I heard your voice in the garden and I was afraid” (Genesis 3:10).

3) To understand, as in “Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other” (Genesis 11:7).

4) To internalize, take to heart “And as for Ishmael I have heard you” (Genesis 17:20) meaning, “I have considered what you have said; I will bear it in mind.”
5) To respond in action, as in “Abraham did (vashema) what Sarah said” (Genesis 16:2).

In Deuteronomy 6:4, the Bible says, “Hear, O Israel…” (Shema Yisrael) it means listen, concentrate, stop what you’re doing and give God complete focus. Engage all your faculties, intellectual and emotional. Make God’s word and will; your word and will.

Rabbi Sacks sums up shema this way, “In Judaism faith is a form of listening: to the song creation sings to its Creator, and to the message history delivers to those who strive to understand it. That is what Moses says, time and again in Deuteronomy. Stop looking: listen. Stop speaking: listen. Create a silence in the soul. Still the clamor of instinct, desire, fear, anger. Strive to listen to the still, small voice beneath the noise. Then you will know that the universe is the work of the One beyond the furthest star yet closer to you than you are to yourself – and then you will love the Lord your G-d with all your heart, all your soul and all your might. In G-d’s unity you will find unity – within yourself and between yourself and the world – and you will no longer fear the unknown.”

Blessed the man, blessed the woman, who listens to me, awake and ready for me each morning,
alert and responsive as I start my day’s work. When you find me, you find life, real life, to say nothing of God’s good pleasure (Proverbs 8:34-35 The Message).