eyes that see and ears that hear.

The Key To Divine Triumph

By Rabbi Yoseph Kahanov, Jax, Florida

At a metro station in Washington DC sat a man one cold January morning playing the violin. Thousands of people passed through the station during the time he played six Bach pieces, most of them on their way to work.

Only six onlookers paused throughout the 45 minute performance. Most attention was paid by a three year old boy, whose eyes were transfixed on the violinist even as his mother tugged him along.

A total of $32 was collected from 20 people who did not care enough to stop and admire the presentation. The artist received no recognition. No one noticed when he finished playing. No one applauded.

Neither did anyone take note of the fact that the instrumentalist played one of the most intricate pieces of music ever written, on a violin worth 3.5 million dollars. Nor did they have a clue that it was Joshua Bell, one of the finest musicians in the world, who only two days before played before a packed theater in Boston at an average of $100 per seat.

Joshua Bell’s incognito performance was arranged by the Washington Post as part of a social experiment on perception, taste and priorities of people.


It is said in the name of Rabbi Shalom Dov Ber of Lubavitch that there are three progressive levels in the way something can be heard: To hear with one's ears – listen. To hear with the mind – comprehend. To hear with all 248 limbs of the body – to sense the subject matter throughout one's entire being.


We all encounter moments of inspiration that can lift us above the everyday mundane routine; moments of mystical expression that contain the potential to change our entire perspective. But instead of stopping to observe, we just keep moving, oblivious to the presence of heavenly splendor and grace.

Even when our attention is captivated, we tend to move on before we have a chance to sufficiently absorb and internalize the meaning of it all. We may stare a miracle in the face and see nothing but coincidence and the freak of nature. We are so absorbed in our daily grind that we see not and hear not the inherent call of the Divine.

The story of Yisro, as related in this week’s Parsha, is about the need to surmount this prevailing syndrome.

Of all the Biblical heroes, few have been awarded the privilege of having their name affixed to a Torah portion. Not even Avraham or Moshe have been awarded this honor. This of course makes Yisro all the more unique.

Not only is there a Parsha bearing Yisro’s name, it is actually one of the most distinguished Torah portions of all. The section containing the miraculous revelation at Sinai, the most auspicious event in the annals of human history, is called "Yisro." What merited Yisro this great honor? What lesson is the Torah conveying by linking him with this celebrated episode?

Our Parsha relates that upon hearing what the Almighty had done for Israel, Yisro was so affected that he actually left Midian and joined the fledgling nation of Israel in the desert. "Yisro, the minister of Midian, the father-in-law of Moshe, heard everything that G‑d did to Moshe and to Israel His people, that G‑d had taken Israel out of Egypt. . . And Yisro came to Moshe with his sons and wife, to the wilderness where he was encamped by the mountain of G‑d." (Exodus 18:1-5)

While ancient Midian was not a world power on par with Egypt, it was indeed a distinguished metropolis and Yisro was its revered leader. Still, when Yisro hears what the Lord had done for Moshe and his people, he leaves his royal comforts and joins the Israelites in the arid wilderness.

Yisro was not the only one to hear about what the Almighty had done to Egypt. The entire world knew that G‑d had destroyed Egypt and redeemed His people. "Nations heard and trembled with fear," states the verse (Exodus15:14). Yet for them it was business as usual. None considered making a meaningful change in their lives. Yisro was different, he was moved to action.

What did Yisro “Hear” that so captivated and transformed him? What prompted him to give up his royal honors and luxurious lifestyle and join a slave people in a barren wasteland?

Rashi, quoting the Talmud (Zevachim 116b), asserts that Yisro was inspired by the miracles of the Splitting of the Sea and the War with Amalek. While both these events were common knowledge to the rest of the world community, Yisro reacted to these miracles with an epiphany-type realization. Hence, he abandoned his noble position to stand alongside the Jewish nation. While nobody else cared enough to bat an eye, Yisro would never be the same person again – he heard and came.

Upon reflection, one could imagine that the splitting of the sea was a phenomenal miracle – the kind that might evoke a need for action and change. But what was so inspiring about the battle with Amalek? Was this victory more miraculous than the Ten Plagues and the obliteration of Egypt?

The commentaries note that the Ten Plagues and the miraculous demise of the Egyptian army had actually evoked within Yisro a profound sense of awareness and faith in the G‑d of Israel. These spectacular wonders had indeed led him to acknowledge G‑d's mastery over the world. But they did not motivate him to action.

As far as Yisro was concerned, the world had once and for all been rid of its evil and impure element, as a result of Egypt’s defeat. He assumed the world to be liberated and transformed much as he himself had metamorphosed by those astonishing events. Therefore he saw no need to take any form of action. Hence, despite his theological awakening, Yisro remained content to stay where he was, albeit a transformed believer in the monotheistic G‑d of Israel.”

However, theChutzpahof Amalek, his unprovoked attack on Israel – coming as it did immediately after the splitting of the sea – shattered that paradigm and shook him to his core.

How could this be? In light of the extraordinary wonders which the Almighty performed on behalf of the Israelites, how could anyone remain defiant? Surely Amalek did not miss this momentous event. Yet, out of sheer malice, he chose to attack the Jewish people. He was ready to sacrifice everything just so that the Divine glory does not sustain its enormous triumph.

To Yisro this was astounding. The notion that there could remain defiance in face of the manifest Divine miracles – the incontrovertible Divine supremacy and preeminence – was inconceivable. The fact that the overwhelming evidence of G‑d's complete sovereignty did not succeed in neutralizing the opposition was utterly disconcerting. It was proof of a stubborn and nefarious force, the likes of which he could not imagine, one that cares not in the least about logic or truth.

The latter led Yisro to the realization that the war against G‑d and Divine reality is obdurately irrational and perpetual. In light of his epiphany, Yisro saw the need to change his paradigm. It was now clear that in this cosmic struggle there can be no neutrality. One is either part of the solution or part of the problem. Only by joining the ranks of the embattled holiness was it possible to stem this brazen force of falsehood and impurity. Neither empathy, nor passive righteousness, is useful in the struggle against mindless Divine rebellion and sacrilege.

By naming our Parsha after Yisro the Torah validates his contention. It asserts that when we merit Divine awareness and inspiration we must react. Our reaction must, in fact, include more than passive recognition and admiration. Pro-activity is the key to receiving the Torah and Divine revelation, the means by which spirituality and holiness is able to triumph of over impurity and darkness.

As underscored in the following anecdote, only when our Divine consciousness and inspiration moves us to proactively pursue His will and instruction is it of any use or value, otherwise it is to miss the entire point.

In the 1960's Rabbi JJ Hecht appeared as a guest on the Barry Farber talk show. The topic of discussion was the prevailing hippie movement and their quest for spirituality and meaning.

“With all these young people in search of truth, one would imagine that there would be a run on the houses of faith and worship, yet that does not seem to be the case. Why,” wondered Mr. Farber, “Have these youngsters, in their pursuit of truth, not turned to theology and religion?”

The Rabbi offered a brilliant rejoin: “The reason why the hippies do not turn towards religion for answers is because the search for truth requires truth. ‘Though they are looking “For” truth, they are not looking “With” truth.’ While we all talk about the search for truth, we often lack the commitment and dedication to make changes based on our findings.”

The underlying lesson of Yisro's story is that to make a difference in the spiritual equation, requires a receptive ear and responsive heart to Divine manifestation and instruction. We must be willing to take the necessary steps and make the necessary changes, as stated in the verse: “A heart to know, eyes to see and ears to hear.” (Devarim, 29:3)

“Every sort of Torah Knowledge and comprehension,” says the Lubavitcher Rebbe, “even the most profound, must be expressed in Avoda (Service of G‑d). I.e. the intellectual attainment must bring about an actual refinement and improvement of character traits. It must be translated into a deep-rooted inward attachment to G‑d - all of which is what the Chassidic lexicon calls “Avoda.” (Hayom Yom).

May our sensitivity and awareness of the Divine call and ensuing actions hasten the era of redemption and reward, with the coming of the righteous Moshiach BBA.