“And Yitro…heard all that G-d did to Moshe and to Israel, His people- that Hashem took Israel out of Egypt”- the opening passuk to this week’s parsha begins Yitro’s journey towards joining the Jewish people and becoming a member of the fledgling nation.
What was the impetus for Yitro’s journey? As the Torah tells us, the impetus was hearing about all the miracles and events that happened to Am Yisrael during Yetziat Mitzrayim and Kriat Yam Suf.
However, as we consider this, an important question arises. After all, Yitro was not the only person to hear about the many miracles that Hashem did for Am Yisrael. In Az Yashir, Moshe and Bnei Yisrael refer to the fact that all the nations heard about Kriat Yam Suf- “the nations heard- they tremble; terror gripped the inhabitants of Philistine.” Clearly, many people heard the same things that Yitro heard- so why was Yitro the only one who came to join Am Yisrael?
The answer to this question seems obvious, yet is also incredibly important and profound. There is a fundamental difference between hearing and listening. Although many people heard about the events of Yetziat Mitzrayim and Kriat Yam Suf, only Yitro truly listened to them. Only Yitro paid attention to the significance of these events, to the real meaning behind them and was willing to incorporate them into his life. Perhaps due to that courageous step, Yitro was given the honor of this week’s parsha being named after him.
Throughout our daily lives, many things happen to us and around us. We hear about them, perhaps think about them for a minute or two, and then move on with our daily lives. We rarely stop to deeply consider the meaning of these events, to truly listen to their significance and meaning- and lessons that we can learn from events happening to us and around us. This is particularly true in today’s world of advanced technology, where speed and swiftness are prime virtues- we simply don’t have time to stop and listen.
What we must realize is that listening in a real way is a skill that must be cultivated and developed. It requires a conscious decision on our part to slow down the pace of our lives, and to actively process and pay attention to all that is happening around us.
I believe it is therefore no coincidence that Parshat Yitro often falls out around the time of Tu B’shvat. While Tu B’shvat is often a forgotten day in the calendar, fundamentally Tu B’shvat is a day where we are encouraged to pay more attention to nature, to the wondrous and beautiful world around us. We are tasked with realizing that the physical world around us goes through a process each year- and that nature has much to tell us if we are only willing to listen. Rebbe Nachman of Breslov famously writes that “every blade of grass sings song to Hashem,” and that there is much for us to learn from the way that nature sings to G-d, free of any distractions or expectations of reward. (These words were later the basis for a famous and very popular song by Naomi Shemer called “Shirat Ha’asabim”, “The Song of the Grass”.) Tu B’shvat thus encourages us to take a moment and pay attention to all that the natural world has to tell us- and to internalize the many valuable lessons that it can teach us.
One of the most well-known parenting books is written by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish, and entitled “How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and Listen so Kids Will Talk”. The title of the book itself highlights two important values and skills that are crucial to parenting- we must know how to properly talk to our kids, and we also have to know how to listen to them. Very often, our focus is on the former- we feel that we have much to give to our kids to educate them and help them, and therefore we are eager to find ways to make sure that they will listen to what we have to say. However, the latter is just as important, or perhaps even more important. We must actively cultivate an ability to not simply hear what our kids say, but to truly listen to what they are telling us.
Life is busy, and we are balancing many things throughout our day. While we love our kids deeply and always want to help them and be there for them, we simply don’t always feel that we have enough time- and so we multi-task, listening to them with one ear while taking care of another chore at the same time. However, when we do this, we may hear our kids, but we aren’t listening to them. So much is said in a conversation through body language and expression- and if we don’t give our children the attention they so deserve and desperately need, we may miss out on what they are really trying to tell us.
We parents are their number one address for love and support, it is therefore crucial that we make the time to listen to our kids and pay attention to them deeply and genuinely. As the name of the book implies- if we want our kids to talk to us, to be open and to communicate with us, we must make to really listen in a way that makes them feel listened to and validated. And as we mentioned above, the capability to listen in a real way takes much work and effort- it must be cultivated and developed.
At the beginning of this week’s Parsha, Yitro didn’t just hear what happened to Am Yisrael- he listened as well, and it changed the course of his life. We, too, should make an exerted effort to slow our lives down and listen to what goes on around us- be it the song of nature, or the conversations with our children. In doing so, we will enrich our lives and those of our children as well.