Social custom is to ask people "How are you?" The correct answer is "great". Or, if one is religious, to completely avoid the question and bless Hashem. "BARUCH HASHEM".
I have a "secret" - not everyone is doing all that "great" and while Hashem is surely blessed, many people are going through rough, stressful and taxing [especially in April] times. The problem is that very few people care. People are wrapped up in their own lives and can't or don't know how to make space in their hearts for the other. How many people do you know who you can really open up to and they will be at once truly empathetic and if it is within their power, practically helpful as well?? If you start counting your fingers and get from your pinkie to your thumb then you are extremely fortunate.... and rare.
So I have a GREAT Avodah for Elul. LISTEN to people. Try to really care. Be that person people can open up to and feel safe. And if you can help in any practical concrete way - PLEASE do so. If you are that type of person then you are my Rebba and I will consider sending you kvitlach [with names of people to daven for] and pidyonos [i.e. $$$] as is the custom with great tzadikim. [I can't promise big checks as these are extremely lean times but when things get "fatter" so will the checks!!]
The only people who consistently listen also take 250 plus dollars for an hour of their time and then say "Our time is up. [This part is not verbalized]: You have paid me to listen for an hour but not more. I have more people to listen to other than you. I have a mortgage and tuition payments. See ya next week:-)."
I know one therapist who when asked how he listens to people's problems all day, he replies "Who's listening?!".
I think there is more than a grain of truth to his witticism.....
As we read last week - Hashem gives us the bracha. What is the bracha - אשר תשמעו. To listen IS the bracha.
גם בעל חי שומע, אבל אינו מקשיב. רק האדם הוא המקשיב כי רק הנשמה היא המקשיבה ולא הגוף - וההבדל בין אדם לאדם תלוי במדת הקשבתם. ואם אנו רוצים להבחין במדת קרבת ענין אל הלב, נוכל להבחין זאת מאופן הקשבתו של מי שהענין נוגע לו
Even animals HEAR but they don't LISTEN. Only a person listens because only a soul listens and not a body - The difference between people depends on the amount of listening they do. If we want to discern how close a matter is to one's heart we can do so by seeing how much a person listens to a matter that pertains to him.
Rav Yaakov Moshe Charlap אורי וישע