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April 9, 2014

Jonathan Tobin: Why Did Kerry Lie About Israeli Blame?

Samuel G. Freedman: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Jessica Ivins: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Kim Giles: Asking for help is not weakness

Kathy Kristof and Barbara Hoch Marcus: 7 Great Growth Israeli Stocks

Matthew Mientka: How Beans, Peas, And Chickpeas Cleanse Bad Cholesterol and Lowers Risk of Heart Disease

Sabrina Bachai: 5 At-Home Treatments For Headaches

The Kosher Gourmet by Daniel Neman Have yourself a matzo ball: The secrets bubby never told you and recipes she could have never imagined

April 8, 2014

Lori Nawyn: At Your Wit's End and Back: Finding Peace

Susan B. Garland and Rachel L. Sheedy: Strategies Married Couples Can Use to Boost Benefits

David Muhlbaum: Smart Tax Deductions Non-Itemizers Can Claim

Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.E : Before You Lose Your Mental Edge

Dana Dovey: Coffee Drinkers Rejoice! Your Cup Of Joe Can Prevent Death From Liver Disease

Chris Weller: Electric 'Thinking Cap' Puts Your Brain Power Into High Gear

The Kosher Gourmet by Marlene Parrish A gift of hazelnuts keeps giving --- for a variety of nutty recipes: Entree, side, soup, dessert

April 4, 2014

Rabbi David Gutterman: The Word for Nothing Means Everything

Charles Krauthammer: Kerry's folly, Chapter 3

Amy Peterson: A life of love: How to build lasting relationships with your children

John Ericson: Older Women: Save Your Heart, Prevent Stroke Don't Drink Diet

John Ericson: Why 50 million Americans will still have spring allergies after taking meds

Cameron Huddleston: Best and Worst Buys of April 2014

Stacy Rapacon: Great Mutual Funds for Young Investors

Sarah Boesveld: Teacher keeps promise to mail thousands of former students letters written by their past selves

The Kosher Gourmet by Sharon Thompson Anyone can make a salad, you say. But can they make a great salad? (SECRETS, TESTED TECHNIQUES + 4 RECIPES, INCLUDING DRESSINGS)

April 2, 2014

Paul Greenberg: Death and joy in the spring

Dan Barry: Should South Carolina Jews be forced to maintain this chimney built by Germans serving the Nazis?

Mayra Bitsko: Save me! An alien took over my child's personality

Frank Clayton: Get happy: 20 scientifically proven happiness activities

Susan Scutti: It's Genetic! Obesity and the 'Carb Breakdown' Gene

Lecia Bushak: Why Hand Sanitizer May Actually Harm Your Health

Stacy Rapacon: Great Funds You Can Own for $500 or Less

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Ways to Save on Home Decor

The Kosher Gourmet by Steve Petusevsky Exploring ingredients as edible-stuffed containers (TWO RECIPES + TIPS & TECHINQUES)

Jewish World Review

Missing the Message

By Chief Rabbi Dr. Warren Goldstein





The Divine is speaking to you. Now. You need not be Moses to listen. But there could be a good reason why you won't

JewishWorldReview.com | The names of each week's Torah reading, always derived from a significant word in its first sentence, are full of lessons. The portions are read aloud in the synagogue and are divided according to ancient Jewish tradition. Every reading is purposely divided in order that the cycle be completed in one year, beginning and ending on the holiday of Simchas Torah.

This week's portion is called Yisro, Jethro. The reading begins "And Jethro heard." What exactly report did Moses' father-in-law hear, asks the foremost commentator, Rashi. He heard, according to the sage, everything that G-d had done for Moses and the Jewish people --- including the Ten Plagues and the splitting of the sea. Those happenings were the catalyst for Jethro, the former Cananite shepherd and priest of Midian, to reorder his life and join Jewry.

Chronicled in the reading are the most important events of Jewish history, the moment that defined Jewry as a people, the experience that gave us our mission statement and what we are meant to achieve in this life: G-d's revelation and the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. It would only make sense, then, that the reading's name would reflect those highlights. Yet. surprisingly, that isn't the case.

The reading is called, simply, "Jethro". It's as if all of the above is but an afterthought.

The reading opens with Jethro arriving to visit his son-in-law, Moses. As he arrives, Jethro starts criticizing the judicial process Moses put in place. Chapter 18 of the Book of Exodus is all about the interaction between Moses and his father-in-law. Chapter 19 then describes the events leading up to the giving of the Torah. Chapter 20 is the Ten Commandments. Why is the Torah structured in such a way that the weekly reading begins with the story of Jethro, almost by way of introduction to the giving of the Torah, and then by doing so it actually gave the weekly portion its name? Surely a more significant name for this reading could have been chosen.

SAME MESSAGE, DIFFERENT RESPONSES
There is a very profound message in the way that the reading is structured and this relates to the very first word of the portion which is "Vayishma" --- that Jethro heard.

If you pay close attention to the Scripture, you will notice something unusual about the musical notes of the cantillation, which is guided by our oral tradition. The accenting for "and he heard", places emphasis on the word Vayishma,. It is a bit unusual that word -- or, as rendered into English, that phrase -- should be emphasized. The simple fact that Jethro heard does not seem as significant as what he heard and what actions, according to tradition, led him to convert. Why is there such emphasis specifically on this word, Vayishma?

The answer is that this is to teach us about the art -- yes, art -- of listening.

G-d has given us the Torah but if we are not listening to its message, we may miss it.

There are people who miss it. Indeed, at the end of last week's reading we are informed of a whole nation that missed it : Amalek, the archenemy of the Jewish people. They, too, heard about the Ten Plagues and the splitting of the sea. Their response? To wage war against the Jewish people.

Jethro became aware of the same miracles and Vayishma --- he listened to G-d's message resulting in his changed way of life.


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According to the Midrash, Jethro had tried every form of idolatrous worship that existed at that time. He was a searcher who had studied every religion, and was constantly searching till he came to the conclusion that Judaism was the path of Truth.

G-d sends us messages all the time. We can have two responses to exactly the same set of facts. To be like Jethro or Amalek. Both became aware of the same events yet their responses differed radically.

Interestingly, the average human brain weighs about 1.5 kilograms, has about 160 billion cells and about 100 billion neurons connecting the cells. The complexities of the brain are inconceivable. One can look at the brain and see the incredible complexities and the miracles of the Divine and respond like Jethro, who saw His hand very clearly. Or one can respond in the spirit of Amalek, that this has nothing to do with G-d. Some people will be inspired with belief in the Almighty; others will claim that somehow billions of cells and neurons working together can be created through random evolution.

LISTENING IS A PREREQUISITE TO RECEIVING THE TORAH
The messages are out there, but we have to respond to them. Perhaps this is why the reading is called Jethro, after the one who was searching for Truth and listened to it when he finally found it. In order to receive the Torah we have to throw ourselves into it. We have to listen for the Truth, be receptive to it and be able to change who we are based on the messages that G-d is sending us.

The art of listening is about shifting our positions and seeing the world from a completely different perspective. Jethro exemplified this ability. The starting point to receiving G-d's Torah is to be a good listener. In fact, often when the Talmud wants to bring a proof of something in the discussion concerning a particular law, it says Ta shma, "come and listen." The most famous verse in the entire Torah is Shema Yisrael "Listen, Israel."

OPEN-MINDEDNESS AND HUMILITY
Listening is indeed a necessary life skill. It means being ready to change direction in life and being open to new things. Let me give you an example from our reading: Jethro arrives and one of the first things he does is criticize Moses, saying that he cannot judge the people singlehandedly. The people are standing around waiting all day for Moses because there is too much work for him. Jethro tells him he needs to set up a system to devolve the powers so that judging the people will be more manageable and the people will be better looked after.



Put yourself in Moses' shoes: Here he is at eighty years of age; he has led the Jewish people through the Ten Plagues and the splitting of the sea; he has stared down Pharaoh, one of the great tyrants and mighty superpower of that time; he has been leading the people through the great miracle of the manna falling from Heaven and he is about to lead the people to Mount Sinai to receive the Torah. He has achieved so much and then someone comes and criticizes him. How would you react?

When someone criticizes us, the natural human reaction is to defend ourselves. We think, well, what right have they to say that? But Moses didn't do that. As we know from later on in The reading of Beha'aloscha, Moses is described as anav mikol adam, "the most humble of all men."

Moses heard his father-in-law's criticism, and he honestly and humbly acknowledged that Jethro had made a good point. Moses referred the matter to the Divine, Who instructed Moses to accept Jethro's advice and set up a whole judicial system with a hierarchy of judges so that the people could have better access to justice.

What is interesting is that the verse again says Vayishma --- "and Moses listened." It's the same word as by Jethro,

Moses was prepared to listen and go in a different direction and that required tremendous humility. This episode is recorded just before we receive the Torah to teach us that in order to receive the Torah we have to be humble and ready to listen. We have to be ready to hear that somebody else may have a better idea, to see things from His perspective.

Sometimes we look at life in a certain way and we have a different opinion. In the Torah, however, the Divine speaks to us and guides us in a different direction. It requires humility to really listen. This is a growth process, and why incorporating Torah ideals through its study is such an important mitzvah: We are constantly being called upon to shift the way we look at the world. But we can only do so if we are ready to listen with humility.

Being a good listener is the key to learning Torah and receiving G-d's wisdom for life. Maimonides writes in chapter 4 of his Laws of Repentance that one of the greatest obstacles to repentance is the inability to hear constructive criticism. When someone who loves and cares about us tells us where we have gone wrong, we must be receptive to it because that is the basis of all personal growth. Sometimes we get stuck in our ways, we don't listen; there is a stubborn arrogance and inflexibility which prevents us from being ready to change. But the essence of Torah learning is to be able to listen and to change as a result. This is why the Talmud says Ta shma, "come and listen." When we are ready to listen, with humility, we are ready to learn.

And so we see that the name Jethro is a very appropriate name for the portion where we read about G-d's revelation and His giving of the Torah.

G-d has given us the Torah but we actually have to receive it. We can only receive it and listen to His words of wisdom and guidance if we are prepared to listen to all of those messages with an open mind and a humble spirit. Jethro is a shining example of this, as is Moses, the most humble of all men, who was ready to listen and to change even at the age of 80, despite everything he had achieved.

Most people by that stage of their lives have all their opinions set. Yet Moses was prepared to listen with humility and openness. These two people serve as role models for us on the art of listening and being open to change.


Previously:


Prayer: Nagging the All Knowing to man's will?
Rosh HaShana: The Birth of Freedom
When economics becomes a disastrous utopian delusion
The Holistic Healer --- and doctors
In the army now . . . and always
Living with ideals --- in reality
Expansion Of Spirit
Laughter And Destiny
Truth Stands the Test of Time


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The author is the Chief Rabbi of South Africa and the author of "Defending the Human Spirit: Jewish Law's Vision for a Moral Society," which explores the Torah's legal system compared to Western law. In using real court cases he demonstrate the similarities and differences between Judaism's view of defending the vulnerable and Western legal practice.






© 2013, Rabbi Dr. Warren Goldstein

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