This is a Shabbat of music and poetry, Shabbat Shira! – Sing along, whilst listening to the harmonies and the words. I continue to think about how central the act of listening is to the narratives that describe our journey from slavery to freedom. We have referenced some and this week I am drawn to an additional example. Following the dramatic crossing of the Red Sea and the songs of freedom lead by Moses and Miriam, there is a striking verse following the crying out of the Israelites for water. The water is provided by Moses and so is this remarkable teaching, 15:26;
וַיֹּ֩אמֶר֩ אִם־שָׁמ֨וֹעַ תִּשְׁמַ֜ע לְק֣וֹל ׀ יְהֹוָ֣ה אֱלֹהֶ֗יךָ וְהַיָּשָׁ֤ר בְּעֵינָיו֙ תַּעֲשֶׂ֔ה וְהַֽאֲזַנְתָּ֙ לְמִצותָ֔יו וְשָׁמַרְתָּ֖ כּל־חֻקָּ֑יו כּל־הַמַּחֲלָ֞ה אֲשֶׁר־שַׂ֤מְתִּי בְמִצְרַ֙יִם֙ לֹא־אָשִׂ֣ים עָלֶ֔יךָ כִּ֛י אֲנִ֥י יְהֹוָ֖ה רֹפְאֶֽך
He said, “If you will heed the LORD your God diligently, doing what is upright in His sight, giving ear to His commandments and keeping all His laws, then I will not bring upon you any of the diseases that I brought upon the Egyptians, for I the LORD am your healer.”
We are being asked to listen diligently and then “leha’azin” to ‘give ear’ to His commandments. That phrase is unique and the word leha’azin is also rarely used. Of greater importance is that we are generally asked to keep, lishmor, or la’asot to carry out the commandments, what does it mean to hear them? Also what kind of reward and motivation is being given? In this context surely it would have been more appropriate to cite food and water, as does the more familiar V’haya im shemoa of the shema! Why evoke the horrors meted out to the Egyptians, surely the purpose of the Exodus is to leave that mindset and those traumatic experiences.
The slave mentality is a state of constant doing, there is too much noise and unbearable pressure to be able to listen. We have felt that pain in previous weeks where we read of the inability of the Israelites to hear, 6:9
וְלֹ֤א שָֽׁמְעוּ֙ אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֔ה מִקֹּ֣צֶר ר֔וּחַ וּמֵעֲבֹדָ֖ה קָשָֽׁה׃ …
…they could not listen to Moses, for their spirits were crushed by cruel bondage.
The competency to listen had to be learned and mastered. In this mindset, through deterrent as opposed to reward.
B’shalach is the preamble to Yitro read next week. In it is found the overture for the receiving of the Torah.- Listen Carefully! Whereas next week we celebrate the moment of Na’aseh v’nishma -we will faithfully do and listen, this week perhaps the emphasis is Nishma v’naaseh we will listen and faithfully do. As a free people we will be predestined to listen, to interpret, to imagine and show compassion through truly hearing the other. How apt that the first word of the portion that shepherds us to Sinai to receive the oral, not written law, is Vayishma… Yitro, and Yitro, who was on the verge of joining the Jewish people, – heard.