January 19, 2019 ~ Shabbat BESHALAH. Maqam AJAM.

Shabbat Yitro - שבת יתרו


וישמע - The word "שמע" does not simply mean "hear," but can better be understood as "listen." Although the two words are closely related, "hear" implies a simple perception of sound, whereas "listen" implies taking these same sounds, internalizing them, and paying close attention to them. In Exodus 18, two people internalize what they hear. Jethro, in Exodus 18:1 (וישמע יתרו), does not only hear the news about the exodus from Egypt, but listens to its message. The divine intervention experienced is so great that Jethro feels the urgency to go to the desert to declare his allegiance to God. Later in the same chapter, Moses, in Exodus 18:24 (וישמע משה), receives criticism about governing the nation inefficiently (i.e. everyone standing in line from morning until night). Moses then listens to Jethro's advice by establishing the judicial system thereby improving the situation. From the above examples, we learn that the most important part of hearing is to listen. Beth Torah Bulletin, February 3, 2018.

Jethro's Epiphany

עתה ידעתי - When the news of the Exodus reached the foreign nations, they temporarily feared God (שמעו עמים ירגזון), but then did little to correct their ways. By contrast, to show their complete rejection of God, Amaleq becomes the first tribe to wage war on Israel. To juxtapose these reactions, we read about Jethro, an outsider who was so inspired by the miracles of God that it causes him to open his eyes and change his entire outlook on life. Jethro is so happy (ויחד יתרו) that he makes a special trip to the desert to greet Moses. He then declares "Now I know (עתה ידעתי) that God is greater than all other gods." This powerful statement, coming from a polytheist, is testimony to Jethro's newfound belief in God, and is most welcomed by the elders of Israel as they joined with him in a sacrificial meal. The importance of Jethro is not that he had a major realization, but that he had the courage to take action (Beth Torah, 2/18/17).