Everyone read about it in the news. Everyone spoke about it day and night. But only one person got up and did something. This week’s Torah portion begins with these words: “Yitro, Moshe’s father-in-law, the chieftain of Midian, heard all that G-d had done for Moshe and for Israel, His people.”
Yitro hears about the Exodus of the children of Israel from slavery to freedom and cannot remain as he was before, indifferent to the astonishing news. He is moved to action: “And Yitro, Moshe’s father-in-law, came.” He comes to join the nation of Israel.
In the Song of the Sea in parashat Beshalach, the Torah describes how the nations reacted with fear and trembling to news of the Exodus. Millions of people followed this drama. But did this stir them to change? No. Only Yitro heard – and changed.
Vast amounts of information compete for our attention. Every day we are subjected to a glut of news, but how many of us are moved by any of it to do something?
For example: In hearing about the recent earthquake in Turkey, did we consider that something similar could happen here? We could easily ignore what occurred and just continue as though nothing had happened. But we could also react by checking the stability of our buildings, praying for the recovery of the injured, and of course stopping for a moment to think about the fragility and the meaning of life.
The story of Yitro raises a most pertinent question: What do we do about what we hear?
The Gift Of Learning How To Wait
When I got up in the morning several days ago, I noticed a WhatsApp message that had been sent at 2:17 a.m. I quickly checked to see what it was all about. “Shalom Sivan, I need a video greeting for my youth movement contingent. Is there any chance you can do this?”
First of all, I was relieved that this was not an emergency matter. But then at 6:55 I received an additional message from the same source: “???” Not one question mark, but three.
I have not come here to complain about the “state of our youth” since we are really all like this. I hear numerous stories of this kind regarding people of all ages and professions. We are living in an era where everything is constantly accessible, from information to human beings. So, if it’s possible to order a couch or a food item at three o’clock in the morning, there is no reason not to call anyone we choose at such an hour. If I want something, I deserve it here and now.
This is a destructive mindset and affects every area of life, from studying and the learning process to human relationships. And it is impossible to sustain this way of thinking since not everything we want is instantly available. This may have become our greatest challenge: to develop a capacity for patience and the ability to wait, to understand that what happens gradually imparts meaning, to learn to run marathons, not only sprints.
Tu Bishvat was this past week. It is a gift that teaches us how to wait. It is a day that we do not celebrate a tree’s fruit that eventually forms or the adornment of its flowers, but the rising of the tree’s sap that signals the beginning of a slow process that eventually leads to our harvest of a sweet crop. “Because a human being is a tree of the field.” Tu Bishvat is a wonderful opportunity to internalize nature’s message of slow but certain growth as we contemplate what happens in the trees around us.
Translation by Yehoshua Siskin.