Rebbe Avraham Yehoshua Heschel of Apt…the great grandfather of Abraham Joshua Heschel…[said] “Each man” “must view himself as still standing at Sinai, ready to receive the Torah. Why? Because for G-d there is no past, present, or future. He is still giving the Torah. So it is up to man, each man, to receive it.” The Apter Rebbe saw himself standing there at Sinai every day of his life. He also saw himself in the Temple in Jerusalem… [1]

The Rabbis of the past were great story tellers weaving stories with layer upon layer of meaning. Their stories were succinct and meant to teach. Yeshua himself wove stories of rhetorical power. His parables were pedagogical creations inviting the listener to not only actively listen but actively connect. His stories forced the listener to both seek and draw out their own solutions. But knowing his Father should we expect anything less?

Like Father - like Son.

In the month of Av we look at the greatest storyteller of all time – Avinu , the one who invites us to enter into His Words. To think, dream, and breathe them – to make them our life. Unlike the father in Inkheart [2] who had the amazing gift to bring characters out of their books, our Father has the astonishing gift to bring us into the timelessness of His story – past, present, and future.

All you who are thirsty, come to the water! You without money, come, buy, and eat! Yes, come! Buy wine and milk without money – it’s free! Why spend money for what isn’t food, your wages for what doesn’t satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and you will eat well, you will enjoy the fat of the land. Open your ears, and come to me; listen well, and you will live… Isaiah 55:1-3a

HaShem, the greatest storyteller of all time. He created the entire universe by the power of His words. The stories He tells and the words He authors are chayah devarim – Living Words. And these Living Words – G-d doesn’t just author them, He enters into the words Himself. G-d physically steps into His story – teaching, engaging, celebrating, supporting, struggling, loving, grieving, connecting. He stands in the fire, enters the water, hungers, weeps, waits, laughs, dances, sings, is exiled… but paramount – He invites. G-d invites each of us to enter His story, to walk in the Garden, climb the mountain with Abraham, eat the pascal lamb, to stand at the foot of Mount Sinai, to sojourn in the desert, to sacrifice at the altar, rejoice at the Temple, to drink the new wine, to have compassion on the widow, to feel the mighty wind and the shaking of the earth, to see the fire and to hear the still whisper – that still whisper you only can hear if you are listening. We are invited to enter into His story – all the past, present, and future promises!

And G-d goes a step further. He not only enters His own story and invites us in – He invites us to partnership – to partner in the work of creation (Genesis R. 11:6). To partner with him in tikkun olam – healing of the world. The sacred art of story listening is just one way we can partner with G-d in bringing healing to this world.


They have ears, but they do not hear, Nor is there any breath (ruach) at all in their mouths. Psalm 135:17

From the very outset we pay scant attention to what they say to us, because we are so impressed with the importance of what we have to communicate to them, that we are just waiting for an opportunity to break in and take up the role of speaker again, hoping, of course, that they will prove good listeners.” [3]

The noise and confusion of our world can be overwhelming and many of us have learned to tune things out. Without a doubt, a certain amount of tuning out is wise; however, making it a habit can impoverish our ability to listen. At times this penurious ability to listen can create an ever-widening hole in our lives – and bankrupt our relationships. Other times we become part of the clamor, reacting, rather than listening, and instead of an ever-widening hole we build an ever growing wall.

Needed more today than ever is the sacred art of story listening. The ability to step out of our preoccupation with self and focus on others. Listening – compassionate listening, not to add your response but to pour out your love with a hearing heart. The ear of our heart open, the spirit of G-d breathed out in your being fully present and available.

“Here I am – this is me in my nakedness, with my wounds, my secret grief, my despair, my betrayal, my pain, which I can’t express, my terror, my abandonment. Oh, listen to me for a day, an hour, a moment, lest I expire in my terrible wilderness, my lonely silence. Oh, G-d, is there no one to listen.” ~ Seneca, Kosovo Survivor

“The need to tell our story to ‘the rest’, to make ‘the rest’ participate in it, had taken on for us, before our liberation and after, the character of an immediate and violent impulse, to the point of competing with our other elementary needs. This is first and foremost an interior liberation.” ~ Primo Levi, author of ‘Survival in Auschwitz

All of us, of every age, need to have our story heard by someone who is truly willing to listen. And really listening, being fully present, it is one of the kindest gifts we can give another. Your quiet, focused listening is a gift of affirmation that speaks to another and says, “You matter.” It not only nourishes another’s soul, it can be the catalyst for healing.

A good listener is a witness, not a judge.

Elie Wiesel said, “When you listen to a witness, you become a witness.” We can see a glimpse of this understanding from the Shema:


Notice in this first line of the Shema the oversized ayin (ע) and dalet (ד). Together they spell the Hebrew word eid (עד), witness. Sacred listening is to record, to be a witness. It means helping another to step out of the solitude of their own heart and to bring their hurt into the light. The sacred art of story listening doesn’t mean giving answers or explanations. It means being willing to be a companion on another’s journey, even when that journey means to wait with another in their silence while they find their words.

And sometimes, sacred listening is simply giving another the space to work things out, a safe space to be honest. But this art of story listening isn’t easy.

A Cuban proverb reads, “Listening looks easy, but it’s not simple. Every head is a world.” Rabbi Dov Ber Sheuri, the second Rebbe of Chabad expresses so colorfully the challenges of the art of story listening:

[When] asked why chatting with Hassidim exhausted him. He explained that when a hassid speaks to him, he must shed his own garments and don the hassid’s garments so as to listen well. When he considers the problem, he must shed the hassid’s garments and don his own so that he understands well. When he shares his advice, he must once again shed his own garments and don the hassid’s garments so that he communicates well. It is no wonder that he is exhausted after changing garments three times in a single audience. [4]

To perfect this art takes intention and commitment. It requires self-control and focus. It absolutely takes humility as listening requires making space for someone other than yourself.

But this art has immeasurable potential.

This sacred art of story listening is a creative force. It can truly be the difference between life and death.

Anna Redsand shares a story of Victor Frankl: [5]

One morning at three o’clock, the phone jangles Viktor Frankl awake. The woman on the line had called because she had decided to kill herself, but before she did, she wanted to hear what Dr. Frankl might have to say about it. He talked with her for half an hour about her choice…at last she agreed to come and see him…When she reached Dr. Frankl’s office, she told him it wasn’t the arguments that had helped her. She had come because, even when he’d been awakened in the middle of the night, Frankl had listened.


Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know. Genesis 28:16

In one of the barracks several hundred Jews gathered to celebrate Simchat Torah. In the shadow of shadows? Yes – even there. On the threshold of the death chambers? Yes – even there. But since there was no Sefer Torah, how could they organize the traditional procession with the sacred scrolls? As they were trying to solve the problem, an old man – was he really old? the word had no meaning there – noticed a young boy – who was so old, so old – standing there looking on and dreaming. “Do you remember what you learn in heder?” asked the man. “Yes, I do,” replied the boy. “Really?” said the man, “you really remember Sh’ma Yisrael?” “I remember much more,” said the boy. “Sh’ma Yisrael is enough,” said the man. And he lifted the boy, clasped him in his arms and began dancing with him – as though he were the Torah. And all joined in. They all sang and danced and cried. They wept, but they sang with fervor – never before had Jews celebrated Simchat Torah with such fervor. [6]

As children of G-d we have a collective story, but, we have individual stories too and there is something to be learned from every person. Without both the telling and listening to those our Abba brings across our path, we may never know all the fullness of understanding HaShem desires for us. Rabbi Kushner shares: [7]

Each person has a Torah, unique to that person, his or her innermost teaching.  Some seem to know their Torahs very early in life and speak and sing them in a myriad of ways. Others spend their whole lives stammering, shaping, and rehearsing them.  Some are long, some short.  Some are intricate and poetic, others are only a few words, and still others can only be spoken through gesture and example.  But every soul has a Torah.  To hear another say Torah is a precious gift. For each soul, by the time of his or her final hour, the Torah is complete, the teaching done.

What a beautiful picture of our Father’s ahavat olam - eternal love for us!

Your story is unique. Your thoughts, your dreams, your desires. The things you have learned and endured. Your times of wrestling and times of joy. It has eternal worth and is a precious gift to be shared. And just as precious is the story of another.

Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk when asked how he became a Hasid said he become one by sitting at the feet of an old man in town who told him stories, “He told what he knew, and I heard what I needed to hear.”

Abba, Father, may our mouths and our ears be sanctified and used to Your praise and for Your glory!


May we hear the call for help of the lonely soul;

And the sound of the breaking heart. . . .

May we hear You, O G-d…

Amen! [8]


* Anagram Bookstore – Words Make Worlds
** Yaniv Ben-Arie, flicker

1. Peninnah Schram, Jewish Stories One Generation Tells Another, from forward.
2. Cornelia Funke, Inkheart
3. Watchman Nee, The Normal Christian Worker.
4. Rabbi Lazer Gurkow, The Art Of Active Listening
5. Anna Redsand, Viktor Frankl A Life Worth Living, 113-114
6. Elie Wiesel, A Jew Today
7. Rabbi Kushner, G-d Was In This Place and I, I Did Not Know, 179-180
8. Jack Reimer, Likrat Shabbat Prayerbook, 74-75

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