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THE TEN COMMANDMENTS - THE ART OF LISTENING
In this week’s portion, the Ten Commandments are proclaimed. If we know how to probe and study them, we will discover that they encompass the entire Torah.
Every word, every aspect of the Ten Commandments is laden with profound meaning -- even the structure speaks. For example, the first commandment, "I am the L-rd thy G-d" is parallel to the sixth - "Thou shalt not kill", teaching us that when you kill someone, you don’t only kill that person, but you also kill a spark of G-d, for every man was created in His image.
In this same way, there is a direct correlation between the placement of all the commandments on the Tablets. The Ten Commandments are the bedrock of our faith, and therefore, when they are read in the synagogue, it is a tradition for the entire congregation to rise during their recitation.
Interestingly enough, the parsha in which this sacred gift is bestowed upon our people is called Yithro in honor of the father-in-law of Moses, who was a convert to Judaism. One would have imagined that it would have been more appropriate to dedicate the parsha in Moses’ name or in honor of the Ten Commandments, but obviously there was something special about Yithro that merited this incredible privilege.
The parsha begins by saying, "Vayishma Yithro" -- "And Yithro heard", (Exodus 18:1). Our sages ask, "Was it only Yithro who heard? Didn’t the entire world hear of the ten plagues, the exodus, the splitting of the Red Sea, the battle of Amalek, the great miracles that G-d wrought for His people?"
Yes, the entire world did hear, but only Yithro listened. Many hear, but only a few take the message to heart. Everything depends upon our ability to absorb the information that comes our way. Our successes, our failures in life are contingent upon it. Yithro listened and found the courage to abandon his prestigious position in his homeland and join the Jewish people in a desert where, to all intents and purposes, there was no shelter, water, or food. It was his ability to listen that enabled him to sacrifice and undergo a life-transforming experience.
It was Yithro’s ability to listen that prompted him to join the Jewish people and come to Sinai. As a result, he merited having the parsha named after him.
Every day, G-d sends us messages. We need only attune our ears and open our hearts to receive them. In every generation, those who rose to greatness followed the example of Yithro and listened.
The Talmud relates that Rabbi Akiva had his awakening when he saw a stone eroded by a waterfall. To be sure, many witnessed this same phenomenon, but only Akiva heeded its message. "If water can erode stones, then surely, Torah can alter a heart," he reasoned, and so he embarked upon a life of Torah and mitzvot.
The challenge of Yithro speaks to us anew today. We have to learn to listen with an open mind. Unfortunately, most people hear only what they want to hear, so although G-d speaks and sends miracles to awaken us, we remain indifferent.
The ancient world was rocked by the miracle of the exodus and the splitting of the Red Sea, but only Yithro wanted to hear the truth and therefore, he merited coming to Sinai, joining the Jewish people and having descendants who became leaders of Israel.
The lesson of the parsha -- Test your hearing. How well are you listening?