Listening, or Really Hearing

It can often be difficult to truly hear what others are saying to us.

Commentary on Parashat Yitro, Exodus 18:1 - 20:23

Picture the following exchange: Sarah shares a story that is important to her with her friend Adam. He seems distracted and she pauses to check if he is paying attention. He quickly assures her that he is indeed listening. But Sarah retorts, “Ok, you are listening but did you hear me?” Everyone can imagine a conversation like this. The distinction between being listened to and being heard is crucial to the way Sarah feels in this situation.  She doesn’t just want someone to listen to her words, she wants to be “heard” or understood. And being able to hear someone is not always an easy task.

In this week’s Torah portion, Yitro, Moses’s father-in-law, observes Moses at work and offers him what we might call a little “constructive criticism.” Moses, like all of us, is human, and there are a number of ways that he might receive this feedback. However, instead of getting defensive or passing it off as irrelevant, Moses takes an opportunity to truly hear the words being offered to him, and he ultimately changes his course of action based on his new understanding of the situation.

It can often be difficult to truly hear what others are saying to us, especially when we are presented with new ideas or criticism. Being able to go beyond listening takes not only an open ear, but an open mind and an open heart as well. When we push ourselves to go one level deeper, to hear instead of just listen, we both engage the speaker in a more meaningful way, and we allow ourselves to be affected by their words. But this needs to be an intentional shift in the way we approach the conversation. It is easy to simply “listen” to someone. But we stand to benefit much more deeply if we open ourselves up to truly hear them.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about the difference between listening and hearing


· When was a time you think you were not truly heard? How did that make you feel?

· When was a time when you only listened to someone and did not make him or her feel heard?  What could you have changed about that interaction?

· What are some things you can do to move beyond the listening stage?

· How can you work to keep an open mind when you are hearing new or difficult things?

From “Values and Ethics: Torah Topics for Today,” available from Behrman House Publishers.


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