“…אֵ֣לֶּה הַדְּבָרִ֗ים אֲשֶׁ֨ר דִּבֶּ֤ר מֹשֶׁה֙ אֶל־כָּל־יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל”
“These are the words which Moses spoke to all Israel…
“These are the opening words of this week’s Torah portion, Devrarim. The “words,” of course, refer to the entire Book of Deuteronomy, and Moses is offering them to all the Israelites after their forty years in the wilderness. After a life journey of 120 years, Moses no longer expresses the hesitation he did at the burning bush when he refers to himself as לֹא֩ אִ֨ישׁ דְּבָרִ֜ים “not being a man of words” (Ex.4:10) Moses knows that the Israelites will be entering the Promised Land without him, so he reviews the events and lessons of their time together in preparation for both their entry into Canaan and in anticipation of his own death.
According to the Chasidic master Simchah Bunem, while Moses spoke to all with the same words, the words were heard differently by each “according to his or her character and age, his or her understanding and level of perception, each one according to his or her measure.” This teaching makes us aware that when we speak, our intent and meaning may not be understood as we originally intended. What is said, is not always what is heard. It is easy to understand how assumptions that complicate relationships often result when we trust second and third hand accounts. When we don’t take time to discuss our reactions to complex issues and our responses to what we believe may have taken place, misunderstandings often result. This happens because what is actually said is not what is ultimately heard.
There is a difference between speaking and hearing, because we always understand what is said through the bias of personal experience and ability. When we offer our own words or when we listen to others speak, may we always be conscious of how “these words” are being heard.