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Mindfully Listening and Parshat Matot: What Do Vows Have To Do With It

Updated: Jul 13, 2023

Mindfully Listening: Mindfulness and Parshat Matot

The beginning of the weekly Torah portion, Matot, opens with Moses’ instructions to the tribes about vows and oaths– how they should be honored and what are the rules if they need to be annulled. “When a man makes a vow or takes an oath to obligate himself by a pledge, he must not break his word and must do everything he said.”

What does this have to do with the preparation of entering the Land of Israel after a 40 year sojourn in the wilderness?

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks explains that as the Children of Israel are getting ready to enter the Promised Land, they are preparing to build a society– a just and orderly society with Torah laws as the basis.

Besides law and order, for a society to function people need to trust each other, as well as the leaders and those who enforce the laws. We need to trust the leaders and the enforcers of the laws.

One cardinal way to foster trust is by keeping your word, keeping your promises.

Words are important.

Rabbi Sacks notes that the world was created with words– “And G-d said, let there be…. and there was.”

G-d can do that. G-d, through words, can create entire worlds.

For people to create reality with words, someone has to hear those words. If I want to delegate a task at work or home, someone needs to hear what I’m saying to make it happen. For people, words are impactful when someone hears them- when there is a listener. Listening is key in human relations.

Through mindfulness practice, we can work on skills such as listening, hearing, accepting, and paying attention to the conditions that have been established at this very moment.

Mindfulness practice allows us to first and foremost listen to ourselves—and not just our ideas, but also our feelings, our impulses, and our bodies. When we can listen to ourselves, we can then better listen to others: If people feel heard, then they are more likely to trust. Mindful listening is a way of listening without judgment, criticism, or interruption while being aware of internal thoughts and reactions that may get in the way of people communicating with you effectively.

If your mind and attention are not engaged, you may miss everything the speaker said. This is the difference between hearing what is said versus listening to what is said. Hearing is the physical ability to hear sound, but listening is actively processing what you’re receiving and responding appropriately.

Tips for Mindful Listening

  • Eliminate distractions during the conversation, such as cell phones, noises, and anything else that will hinder your ability to focus on the person and make them feel valued. (important)

  • Focus on what is true for the speaker at the moment

  • Suspend judgment and listen openly

  • Listen to the words & the underlying perceptions, beliefs and assumptions

  • Attentive body language through soft eye contact, leaning forward slightly, open body stance

  • Non-verbal encouragers such as head nods, concerned / responsive facial expressions

  • Express empathy when appropriate

  • Paraphrase what the speaker has said when they are done

  • Focus our attention on the speaker’s experiences or ideas, noticing yourself referencing your own experiences that might arise and letting that go

  • Notice how you’re listening to someone, and whether you’re already formulating your response while the other person is speaking, rather than processing what is being said. A successful outcome can depend on a couple of things: how you are and what you say. How you are, meaning supportive, curious, or problem-solving– will greatly influence what you say. Don’t assume others can see things from your point of view. Ask yourself if you have personal trigger points with the person you’re listening to such as an earlier argument or sensitivity in your relationship.

Any of these factors could impact how you listen, and will require an extra layer of reflectivity to keep the space open for good listening.

Practice being aware of your body language while you’re in a conversation. While listening, do you nod a lot? Do you allow your gaze to wander, or stare at the speaker too much? Becoming aware of what your body language communicates to others helps you become not only a more effective communicator but also a more effective listener. By helping the speaker feel that you’re truly listening and engaged, you facilitate trust and better communication. Listening is not passive.

Try this mindful listening exercise with another person:

-Set a timer for 3 minutes:

-Person one speaks for 3 mins while person two listens

You can share something on your mind or something that happened to you recently.

You don’t have to fill the entire 3 minutes. If you run out of things to say, just stop speaking and sit in silence until you feel like talking again. Your turn is over when 3 minutes are up

-Person one starts with ” I want to share with you ……….”

This can be anything, positive, negative or neutral.

-Person two practices mindful listening, which means listening, without responding,

and noticing when thoughts or a response comes up in the mind.

-When number one finishes, number two says “Thank you for sharing”. Nothing more.

-Switch roles, with person two now as the mindful speaker and one as a mindful listener.

-Reset the timer for 3 minutes.

When you listen mindfully, you are fully present in the moment, which means you can absorb the speaker's whole message, and he can feel heard and respected. By being present, cultivating empathy, and listening to your own cues, you can learn to let go of reactions and other distractions that block your understanding, so that you can be open to the ideas of others. Just as taking and fulfilling vows in the parsha was a way of building up trust needed for a healthy society, so too can mindful listening help build stronger and healthier relationships, and that could have a ripple effect with far-reaching societal impact.

*Listen on Insight Timer:

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