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Hearing the Word of Love


Torah Portion: Parashat Yitro ("Jethro")

Shabbat: Feb. 11, 2023 / Shevat 20, 5783

Torah: Exod. 18:1-20:23

Prophets: Isa. 6:1-7:6; Isa. 9:5-6

New Covenant: Matt. 8:5-20


Priestly Blessing

“The Lord bless you and keep you; The Lord make His face shine upon you, and be gracious to you; The Lord lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace.” Numbers 6:24-26


We sometimes "hear" others without really listening to them, usually because our attention is consumed with our own thoughts and feelings, or we tend to filter out what we don't want to hear. The spiritual life, however, is decidedly one of attentive listening. "Shema Yisrael" is a summons of the heart to turn away from the profane to heed the sacred call of God. The invitation of the Shema is to passionately love God with all our heart, soul, and strength, and to heed the truth of love in all your ways (Deut. 6:4-5). A verse from our Torah portion this week (i.e., Yitro) relates God's appeal to Israel to become a people who listen with their heart: "Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession" (Exod. 19:5). The Hebrew grammar here is intense. The phrase often translated as "if you will indeed obey" uses an emphatic construction, "if hearing you will hear" (אִם־שָׁמוֹעַ תִּשְׁמְעוּ), which suggests a sincere willingness to listen for the voice of the LORD. That is why the LORD speaks kol demamah dakkah (בְּקוֹל דְּמָמָה דַקָּה), that is, in a quiet whisper, because a quiet and listening heart is required to hear what the Spirit is saying. Actively listening to the whisper of God enables you to walk as his beloved child, segulah (סְגֻלָּה), a treasured person.

The great commandment of Torah (i.e., divine wisdom) is always shema, "listen," because sincere listening requires that we surrender our self-centered perspective and immerse ourselves within the meaning and needs of another. Listening opens us to God's heart in all things, and therefore is essential for the "conversation" between our soul and the LORD. The act of listening is a sign of love, and that's why we feel so lonely when we have no one willing to hear our words. Many people are quick to speak but precious few sacrifice themselves through selfless listening. The spiritual life, however, ultimately is shared life: We can do together what we cannot do individually. Yeshua prayed that we would know how much we need one another (John 17:21-23). The first step is to listen to God.

Genuine listening creates a sense of trust and connection between people. When real listening is going on, there is no need to "talk over" the other person, because the listener "speaks" through his or her respectful silence...Spiritual listening is "set apart," holy, and hears the words spoken from the heart in a place of refuge.

God never asks of us what He does not do... If He urges us to listen to Him, to heed the voice of His love, then we can trust that He likewise listens to us and will answer the call of our hearts for Him. Regarding the Shema, "holy listening" involves more than just hearing with the physical ear, of course, but hearing with heart: "You shall love... you shall talk of God's love at all times, in all places, and know Him in all you do (Deut. 6:5-9).

We are able to listen to God by the agency of God's Spirit. God's words are breathed out and made alive to us in a mysterious way (John 3:8; 6:33). And just as God breathed into us the "breath of life" to become a living soul, so Yeshua breathes into us the Holy Spirit to quicken eternal life within us (John 20:22). Communing with God and others means breathing out the words of life that were first breathed into us.

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