What happens when you hear something that truly inspires you? What do you “take home” afterwards?
I once heard that there are three possible reactions people might have. Some will simply shrug it off, thinking, “it really wasn’t important to me, and won’t affect me tomorrow.” Another group will share it with others — they’ll “like” it on Facebook, perhaps even create a meme to share it with their contacts. Then there’s the last and smallest group: those who, upon hearing something that strikes them, will ponder the importance of what they’ve heard, and take action steps to internalize and live by the lessons they just learned.
Sharing is admirable, but we cannot imagine that we have “fulfilled our responsibility” by disseminating newfound wisdom to the rest of the world. Our first and foremost obligation is to change ourselves.
This week’s Torah portion begins with Yisro (Jethro), the father-in-law of Moshe (Moses), hearing about the Jews’ Exodus from Egypt. The Talmud says that he was particularly moved by the splitting of the sea and the Jewish victory over Amalek. The news of these events inspired him to leave his home in Midian, and join Moshe and the Jewish people in the desert.
Now in reality, news of the Jewish Exodus and the miraculous events that followed had spread throughout the world. But the Torah says “And Yisro heard,” implying that others didn’t hear. What was different about Yisro?
Yisro had a sincere desire for the truth. The Midrash describes how Yisro explored all the faiths in the world, hoping to be convinced of the truest and purest form of spiritual service, and was left unsatisfied. So when he heard what G-d did for the Jewish people in Egypt and the subsequent miracles, he was impressed. Even more, he made a change.
Every day we are inundated with news and information from around the world. Now, more than ever, it is unreal how much we can read and study. So it is naïve to imagine that we can capitalize on every thought, take inspiration from each and every story, and change ourselves.
Perhaps, though, we can find one thing we hear in the average week which strikes a chord. Yisro teaches us to ponder that thought, not to ignore it, or even share it, but to ask ourselves, “So what am I going to do about it?” When we learn from events and make changes, that is when we have truly “heard.”