Listening Carefully by Rabbi Yosef Grossman


            This week's Parsha begins with the Pasuk of "וישמע יתרו כהן מדין חתן משה את כל אשר עשה אלקים למשה ולישראל עמו כי הוציא ה' את ישראל ממצרים," "and Yitro the priest of Midyan the father-in-law of Moshe heard about all that G-d had done for Moshe and his nation the Jewish people, that He took them out of Egypt."  Rashi quotes the Gemara in Masechet Zevachim (דף קטז.) which asks, "Exactly what did Yitro hear in order to make him change?"  The Gemara answers that he heard about the war with עמלק, the giving of the Torah and the splitting of the sea.

            Rav Moshe Feinstein in his Derash Moshe asks why hearing of those events affected Yitro differently than it did everyone else?  As we read last week by the שירה, many nations heard about these events; why was it only Yitro who decided to join the Jewish people?  Rav Moshe answers beautifully that there is a difference between seeing and hearing.  Although one may believe a report he hears, just hearing it does not make as great an impression as seeing it with one's own eyes.  We see this from the fact that Moshe did not smash the לוחות until he actually saw the people worshipping the עגל הזהב, even though he had already heard of the actions of the Jewish people from God Himself and certainly had no doubt that they had taken place.

            Among other people, though, there exists a balance between seeing and hearing.  When our Pasuk says, "and Yitro heard," it teaches us that for Yitro simply hearing of the miracles of God was enough to inspire him to convert.  The difference between hearing and seeing was not very great for Yitro, while to the rest of the nations there was a big difference between them.  Even though they had heard the same things as Yitro, they perceived them as distant events which did not stir them to join the Jewish nation.  To them there was a difference between hearing and seeing things with their own eyes.

            We must emulate this characteristic of Yitro to elevate our Emunah and Bitachon in Hashem to the level where hearing about events, even though we may not have actually seen and experienced them, will lead us to greater belief in Hashem and strengthen our davening and awareness of Hashem, so that we can transmit our beliefs to our children and students.

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