A Life Changing Event

Three years ago today  I was on my way from Fort Lauderdale to speak at Kabbalat Shabbat services at Temple Judea in Coral Gables, Florida, I suddenly realized that I was hearing nothing in my right ear. I thought it would pass. It did not, and it has not since.

The ear specialist had no explanation. He believes it is inner ear nerve damage and that it is permanent. An MRI showed a virus, but still there was no explanation. “Sudden complete hearing loss in one ear is unusual, ” the doctor explained, “but it is not unheard of.”

Life has been different ever since. Crowd noises are deafening. Large gatherings of people are no fun, and most of the time if I want to hear what someone says to me, I must look straight at their lips.

As I continue to adjust to the reality of having only one hearing ear, I am so very aware that so many people deal with much greater physical challenges.

It is my nature to look at things that happen to me in life with the same question I ask when I study a biblical story or narrative: What can I learn from this that can make me a better person? What can I take away from this unfortunate incident that can help me to better fulfill my Covenantal obligation to the Almighty to use whatever abilities I have to make the world a better place?

There is an old saying that has taken on new meaning for me since my hearing loss: “God gave us only one mouth but two ears, so that we would listen twice as much as we speak.”

Now I have only one ear that hears and that one–without my hearing aid–at considerably less than 100%. Listening is much harder now. As a result I choose to spend more time than before alone, reading, thinking and writing. When I am with people it is a much greater struggle than previously to absorb all that they are saying. I must concentrate on every word.

As I do, my silent prayer is: “Help me, O’ G-d, to really understand the word שמע, “Listen!” Help me to really LISTEN to thoughts, nuances and feelings better than I ever did before, even when I had two ears that heard.

15 thoughts on “A Life Changing Event

  1. Thank you for being open and sharing what must have been a very scary time in your life. I find that people see Rabbis as different than other people- that we have protectia. We do not. We get the same illnesses, we have colleagues who have died early and colleagues who have lost children. We do not have extra protection but by telling our stories and how we have worked to overcome them, helps everyone. Thank you Rabbi


  2. Same happened to my Wife. Also A Virus, Along With Severe Vertigo. She Was In The Hospital For 4 Days.

    I, Too, Have Learned From The ExperIence. To Appreciate What We Have While We Stil Have It, And To Be More Sensitive To Those Who Have HandicapS.


  3. Gloria, that sensitivity is so important! We think you have it, but when something like this happens, we somehow gain an extra measure. Thank you for such a thoughtful response!


  4. Oh , how we take for granted those God given blessings!!
    Hang in there, Rabbi… THANK YOU for All your posts …. and for Listening to me so many years ago.


  5. Thank you so much, Betsy. But you know, all along I thought it was you who were so caringly listening to me! I hope you will enjoy the book when it comes out!


  6. As we age, we are given new opportunities for being of service to our Higher Power. I wanted to share another story: My wife and I have been in the ‘retirement’ conversation. As part of the conversation, we met with a funeral home to do some advanced planning (this is recommended and we have no kids, no kaddish-einer). In the filling out of the forms, there were the questions: religion, denomination, congregation, and rabbi. all those questions were easy except for, “who is my rabbi?” I realize that I don’t have one, a rabbi who would speak on my behalf when I die. Who really knows me? I officiate at funerals and I guess that my congregation wants me because I do good eulogies. I have my wife and nephews and nieces I am a member of rabbinic and cantorial organizations but know one really knows me, and to tell the truth, I really don’t know my fellow rabbi and cantor, peripherally at best.


  7. Alan, I really appreciate your thoughtful reflection! My first reaction is my hope that you will not have need of these services for a very long time! Next, I would say, just as you are planning for other eventualities, perhaps now is the time to cultivate a relationship with a rabbi whom you can trust so that — may it not be until you reach 120 — a rabbi will know you well enough to give a personal and heartfelt eulogy, just like you do for your congregants.


  8. Iris Berman-Smith graciously gave me her permission to post this touching response to my essay. Thank you so much, Iris!

    Rabbi, your words hit home! I too have lost the hearing in one ear literally overnight with no answers as to why. I have had a year of learning how to live with it. I constantly tell myself it is not life threatening. While that helps, it doesn’t make it easier. I work as an Exec Asst and Adm of the Cemetery at TBE in San Antonio and have daily contact with congregants that are ill and/or dying. Knowing that my work is important to them has kept me going. I love your silent prayer and will now make it my own. Shalom, Iris


  9. Amen, Steve. I never knew the story concerning your loss of hearing in that one ear. What a frightening experience. However, your reference to God saying that we have one mouth but two ears…was moving and gave me pause.
    I have learned to be a better listener and more open to alternative ideas.
    Thanks for sharing.


  10. Rabbi, I lost my hearing ten years ago and wore hearing aids for nearly five years. When we moved to Scotland I lost the very expensive hearing aids. Surprisingly, my hearing returned! May it happen to you!


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