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Lessons I Learned by Listening

In the past 48 hours, I’ve attended several services in synagogue and one by the banks of the Seekonk River (for Tashlich). I’ve spent time sitting and standing and sitting and standing and sitting and standing in synagogue. I’ve prayed with kavanah. I have listened to three sermons, delivered by Rabbi Flam and Rabbi Franklin, with the mindset of a teacher. Therefore, I’d like to share some of the lessons I learned while listening to the Rabbis’ Rosh Hashanah Sermons this week. I’m sharing what I learned in this forum because the things I took away from their sermons can be applied regardless of your religion (i.e., you don’t have to be Jewish to glean something from this post).

Lesson #1: For teachers of writing

What I learned from Rabbi Flam’s Rosh Hashanah (Day #1) Sermon:

Rabbi Flam spoke about the spiritual narrative we all live each and every day. All I could think of as I listened to him was that I wish I had a pen and pencil (totally against halacha) to write down what he was saying since my memory isn’t that good when I don’t have the ability to take notes or record my reactions. The essence was this:

  • Pay attention to the details of your life. Therefore, we must savor and treasure even the most mundane aspects of our lives.
  • Honor the fact that there is no one else whose life is like ours. We must treasure what we have for it is ours and ours-alone.

Lesson #2: For teachers

What I learned from Rabbi Franklin’s Rosh Hashanah (Day #2) Sermon:

Rabbi Franklin spoke about the prayer that one is commanded to say when they come across a person who is different (i.e., who physically looks different). He stressed that we need to be inclusive of all people since everyone is created in G-d’s Image. As a public school teacher, I certainly cannot instruct my students about this prayer since that completely violates the separation of church and state, which I deem as being exceedingly important. However, as a teacher, I can model the way that we should treat people with differences or challenges just by the language I use. For instance, instead of saying, “Joey is Autistic,” I can say, “Joey has Autism.” If we are careful not to label children by their differences, then perhaps our students will refrain from labeling others as different too.

Lesson #3: For anyone living in America

What I learned from Rabbi Franklin’s Erev Rosh Hashanah Sermon:

Rabbi Franklin quoted Rabbi Harold Kushner who wrote the following in When All You’ve Ever Wanted Isn’t Enough:

I was sitting on the beach one summer day, watching two children, a boy and a girl, playing in the sand. They were hard at work building an elaborate sandcastle by the water’s edge, with gates and towers and moats and internal passages. Just when they had nearly finished their project, a big wave came along and knocked it down, reducing it to a heap of wet sand. I expected the children to burst into tears, devastated by what had happened to all their hard work. But they surprised me. Instead, they ran up the shore away from the water, laughing and holding hands, and sat down to build another castle. I realized they had taught me an important lesson.

The lesson Rabbi Franklin chose to highlight was that you have to build relationships with people. Structures (e.g., possessions) we take years to build or acquire can disappear in seconds. [We see that, at present, with the way our nation’s economy is. Solid companies are disintegrating, people are losing their homes, those with steady jobs are being laid-off…] Therefore, it’s the relationships we have with other people that need to take precedence right now. We need to look at the people whom we care about the most, be it a spouse, parents, children, siblings, or friends, and work on those relationships. For when that proverbial wave comes, we all want to have someone’s hand to hold, don’t we? Therefore, taking time to nourish our relationships is one of the most important things we can do right now.

Note: I included several hyperlinks to sites that explain some of the aspects of this post that non-Jewish readers might want to clarify.

Stacey Shubitz View All

I am a literacy consultant who focuses on writing workshop. I've been working with K-6 teachers and students since 2009. Prior to that, I was a fourth and fifth-grade teacher in New York City and Rhode Island.

I'm the author of Craft Moves (Stenhouse Publishers, 2016) and the co-author of Jump Into Writing (Zaner-Bloser, 2021), Welcome to Writing Workshop (Stenhouse Publishers, 2019), and Day By Day (Stenhouse, 2010).

I live in Central Pennsylvania with my husband and children. In my free time, I enjoy swimming, doing Pilates, cooking, baking, making ice cream, and reading novels.

3 thoughts on “Lessons I Learned by Listening Leave a comment

  1. I am at at the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, Tennessee. Your post and this festival both remind that listening is a sacred act. Listening to stories from other cultures (which I’ve done a lot of this weekend) is like praying when we observe difference. It is human nature to listen for commonality. When we listen for it or look for it, we find out again: we are one people. Like you, I teach in a public school and am deeply respectful of the separation of church and state. For a public school teacher, faith is not to be talked about– it is to inform our action. It gives a deeper shade of meaning to what we do.


  2. We had two sermons, both were on forgiveness.

    The first was that we are sometimes too quick to forgive, and two quick to ask for forgiveness, often gratuitously. When someone says that they are sorry, full forgiveness should sometimes be withheld unless they are going to modify their behavior.

    The second is that G-d did not make a perfect world. That’s why he also created compassion. None of us is perfect, so we should have compassion/forgiveness for ourselves and also for others.


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