וישמע יתרו, “And Yitro heard" (18:1).
The Midrash teaches us that as Bnai Yisrael crossed the Red Sea, not only did the Red Sea split, but all waters around the world split. We also learn that the sounds generated during the giving of the Torah at Har Sinai were so awesome that they were not only heard but were also seen throughout the world. The nations asked their prophet Bilam to explain these frightening phenomena. He told them that Bnai Yisrael were receiving Hashem’s Torah. Every person around the world knew what was transpiring, yet how many converted to Judaism? One. וישמע יתרו, “And Yitro heard.” How could this be? Everyone knew! No one was skeptical!
Many years ago, I was soldier in the Israeli mechanized infantry. We often had reservists, usually medics, join our unit for a few weeks at a time. One such reservist told me the following story:
Around 1969, during the War of Attrition, he was serving in an artillery unit close to the Suez Canal. One night the unit received orders to shell Egyptian targets on the other side of the canal. They carried out their orders. Soon afterwards, intelligence informed them that all targets were hit, and their unit was off alert for the remainder of the night. Seizing this opportunity, our hero grabbed his sleeping bag and ran to sleep in a nearby abandoned chicken coop. He told me how he was filthy, exhausted, and quite fed up with the primitive living conditions. He had only a few days of reserve duty left, and all he wanted to do now was to be left alone and sleep uninterrupted.
He woke up the next morning to a lunar landscape. There were giant craters everywhere. Vehicles were destroyed. Artillery pieces were strewn about on their sides. His base was in shambles. As he emerged from the chicken coop, his friends ran over to him hugging and kissing him. “We thought you died,” they told him. (Soon after he went to sleep, the Egyptians shelled the Israelis. It was a murderous barrage that lasted for some time.) “How could you have slept through that?!” his friends asked him.
Learn from this that if a person does not want to hear something, no matter how important, obvious, or loud it is, he will not hear it.
It is quite possible to sleep through life. How many of us hear but do not listen? How many of us listen but fail to act? As a result, how many of us stand for nothing and fall for everything? וישמע יתרו, Yitro heard, Yitro listened, and Yitro acted. Yitro finally stood for something after falling for every form of idol worship. Students’ years in high school are among the most formative. Their Rabbeim teach them how to evaluate the world and integrate appropriate parts into their lives. You too can learn to listen so that when the time comes, you too will be properly prepared to stand and act.