This week’s Torah reading begins by telling us that Jethro, Moses’s father-in-law, heard about the great experiences the Jews had experienced since they left Egypt and was inspired to join the Chosen People.

The Medrash (ShmosRabboh, 27:9) expounds on the value of good “hearing” and says: “Listen to the word of God, as it says (Isiah, 55:3), ‘Listen, and your souls shall be imbued with
life.’ How cherished are the Jews whom God provokes [with His words]. He says
to them, ‘If a person falls from a rooftop, his whole body is in shambles. The
doctor needs to put one bandage on his head, bandages on his arms, his legs
and all his other limbs. I am not so… A person’s entire body can be soiled with
sin, and while [only] the ear hears, the entire body is infused with life. Listen,
and your souls will be imbued with life.’ Therefore God says, ‘Listen to the word
of God, the house of Jacob.’ And so you find with Jethro, that through listening,
he merited [eternal] life, because he heard and he converted to Judaism, as it
says, ‘And Jethro heard all that God had done for Moses and the Jews.'”

The question begs to be asked, what defines good listening? Seemingly,
it’s not merely the physical aspect of “hearing” which determines the outcome.
For many others heard, along with Jethro, about the miracles which God
performed for the Jews, but their lives didn’t change. What is it about Jethro’s
hearing” that the Medrash attributes such power to?
Rabbi Leib Chasman elucidates this point with a parable: There was once
a peasant from a rural town. He grew up in a primitive environment, and he
never heard of a locomotive. He once wandered off, far from his hometown, and
chanced upon some train tracks. The tracks attracted his attention, and he sat
on them, examining them with curiosity. As he sat there, a train started heading
down the tracks, blowing its horn with full blast to warn the person to leave the
tracks. When the peasant heard the blasts of the horn, it reminded him of the
blasts of trumpets at wedding celebrations. Instead of getting off the tracks, he
got excited that an exciting parade was heading his way. The more the train
conductor blew his horn, the more excited he got. He heard the horn loud and
clear, but he didn’t hear what the conductor was really telling him. Instead of
hearing a stern warning that his life is in danger and he better get off the tracks right away before it’s too late, he heard an exciting procession on its way to
sweep him up in a thrilling party.

Often, we may hear inspiring lectures or read thought-provoking material,
and before long we completely forget the content we enjoyed. Why is it so? One
might say that bad memory is to blame. But there is more to it. It’s not just a
matter of failing to apply the lessons to real life. The reason is that we never
really heard the true message in the first place. Instead of hearing serious
pointers which can truly elevate our lives, we heard entertainment! Inspiration
feels good. It’s emotionally satisfying. But that wasn’t the message directed at
us. The message was about a topic which has potential to have serious
ramifications to our lives.

Intellectual stimulation can be appreciated as well. But
we fail to hear the real message; the call to take real action and adjust our way
of life to be one of greater quality. If only we would adjust our “hearing,” and
instead of just saying, “Wow! That’s so nice and inspiring!” we actually listen to
seriousness of the matters; if we listen with the understanding of the true value
that the message holds for our lives; if we listen with the intent of actually
applying the information to our lives and we really take the lessons to heart, that
is when we will begin to really “hear.” That is when there is hope for the true
message to seep in. Only such an act of “really hearing” has the potential to
influence us to improve. Only with “good hearing” is there hope of seeing
results. When we exercise “real hearing,” the words are not forgotten easily.
As the Medrash told us, and as we see from Jethro, good listening is
extremely powerful. Quality “hearing” can change lives.

Nevertheless, this
insight, like all others, is no exception. One can read these words as any another
interesting thought, feel enlightened and forget the whole idea soon after. It’s
up to every person to sharpen his “hearing skills” if he wishes for words of Torah
have an impact on himself. The question remains, “Do you hear me?”

Rabbi Yitzchok Aryeh Strimber (

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