The Parsha this week speaks of 2 distinct topics. First, we learn how Yisro, Moshe’s father-in-law, told Moshe how he should change the judicial system. Second, the Torah describes the momentous revelation of G-d to the Jewish people at Mount Sinai. We can understand the importance of describing revelation after the miraculous Exodus- it’s the next step in our relationship being built with Hashem. But why is Yisro’s advice to Moshe squeezed in beforehand? It seems to have no logical transition.
Rav Tzadok of Lublin explains that the importance of the Yisro story was to prepare the Jewish people for what they were about to do: Listen. Listening is not easy. It may seem easy when someone you respect is speaking, but what about someone who knows less than you? Or someone you think knows less than you? Do we still listen? Moshe, the indisputable leader of the Jewish people, did not ignore his non-Jewish, secular father-in-law. He listened, he understood, and even incorporated his plan.
To truly understand something, we must be willing to actively listen. This doesn’t mean to have patience while someone else speaks. It means investing effort in understanding another and considering what they’re saying. This can be easy when it’s a member of our own ideological, political, or socioeconomic clan, but what about those who we have already predetermined as our foe, our rival, our inferior? To accept and learn from the Torah and its teachers, it requires a willingness to listen and incorporate. If one only listens to the ideas he or she wants to hear, then they’re only truly listening to themselves, not the Torah. As the Mishna tells us: “Who is Wise? He who listens to every person” (Avos 4:1).