Reb Simcha Bunem of Pshischah once entered into the study of his rebbe, Reb Yaakov Yitzchak, the Yid HaKodesh of Pshischah. Before he could say a word Reb Yaakov Yitzchak said to him, “Cite some verse of Torah, and I will reveal its meaning to you.”
Without a moment’s hesitation, Simcha Bunem said: “And Moshe spoke in the ears of all the people of Israel the words of this poem, until their completion (ad tumam).” (Deuteronomy 31:30)
Instantly the rebbe shouted, “Ad tumam, until their completion!”
Reb Simcha Bunem was overjoyed with this interpretation of his rebbe and shared it with a friend, Reb Chanoch Henich of Alexander.
“But all the rebbe did was repeat the final two words of the text,” Reb Chanoch complained. “This is nothing. What did you hear in this that brings you such joy?”
Simcha Bunem chided his friend, saying, “You are no ignoramus! Figure it out!”
“All right,” Reb Chanoch frowned. “Let’s see. ‘And Moshe spoke in the ears of all the people of Israel the words of this poem, until their completion.’ The key is in the grammar. If Moshe had been referring to the completion of the poem, he would have said, ‘until its completion.’ Because he spoke in the plural, he wasn’t referring to the poem at all but to the people themselves. Hmmm. Ah! Until their completion! Until our completion! Until our perfection! The words of the poem remind us that our covenant with God will be repeated and repeated in each of our ears until it transforms each of our hearts. We are never abandoned; God never despairs of us and will teach us continually until we perfectly live the godliness we are called to embody!”
“That’s it!” cried Simcha Bunem, and the two men danced in joy.
What is the essential spiritual practice? Listening. God is forever whispering truth into your ears, and all you have to do is listen. It sounds so very easy, and it is; but its very simplicity is what keeps it hidden from us. Listening requires no mastery of postures or doctrine. It doesn’t require us to affiliate with any group. It can be done alone and in community. It needs no special instruction or master instructor. One just listens.
What listening does require, however, is silence. You cannot hear another if you are constantly chattering yourself. You cannot hear God if you are forever distracted by the talk of self.
We avoid silence, though. It is too uncomfortable. Why? Because we suspect that what we hear will not be to the ego’s liking. And it won’t. So the ego erects complex structures of words to blot out God’s teaching. Religion is often just such a structure. Using sacred words, chants, teachings, and the like, religion mesmerizes us with God-talk when it should be inviting us into God-listening.
If you want to hear God, listen.