We Need to Listen More — Quick Comment Parashat Mattot (Numbers 30:2-32:42)

The Greek philosopher Epictetus (55 CE -135) taught: “We have two ears and one mouth so that we will listen twice as much as we speak.”

Moses might have heeded this advice.

When the tribes of Reuben and Gad asked to settle on the east side of the Jordan to avail themselves of the fertile grazing land for their cattle, Moses flew into a rage and interrupted them saying, “How can you let your kinsmen go to war while you remain safe outside of the fray?

Only after a long angry rant did he hear them say:

“We will go as shock troops at the head of he invasion. Only when the land is settled and at peace will we return to our holdings on this side of the Jordan.” With the misunderstanding cleared up Moses and God consented to the tribes’ request. (Numbers 32:2-20)

Our Sages taught that the exile from Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple (70 CE) came about not because of Roman might but because of “baseless hatred” among Jews.

More listening and less talking might have saved Judaean society in Roman times. More listening might save Israeli society today where the question burns? Who is a Jew?

Ultra-Orthodox authorities frequently declare that non-Orthodox Jews are not really Jews. Yet non-Orthodox Jews are the vast majority of the North American Jewish world. Without non-Orthodox Jewish support Israel could not survive.

Orthodox and non-Orthodox Jews have much to gain from constructive conversation and much to lose by avoiding it.

Hopefully we will learn to listen to one another, learn from one another, accept our differences as Jews, and put them aside when it comes time to work for a better world for all of God’s children.


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