Yitro and Listening
More and more, my study of, and insights from, Torah and Nonviolent Communication dance together.
Last week I reflected on Yitro (father in Law of Moses) and Pharaoh in relation to listening.
In the story of the Exodus from Egypt, Pharaoh, Yitro and the Hebrew people can be seen as models of very different ways of listening.
Yitro models the listening that allows us to be touched and changed by experience- by another person’s experience and by our own experience. There is an exquisite and perhaps scary vulnerability to opening oneself so wide that you will be touched and changed by what you hear. This itself is an act of leaving our personal Egypt, our personal mitzrayim, the narrow confines of limited beliefs and limited concepts of who you are and who the other person is.
Yitro and Abraham exemplify the transformative power and majesty of deep open listening in the Torah.
Yitro is the high priest of the Midianites, a free people, a people that have been neither slaves nor slave masters. Yitro is the freest of the free. Yitro, like Abraham, sits down in the open spaces of life, of his life, and of his people’s lives. They allow themselves to be touched and changed by encounters and revelations.
Yitro hears- from where we don’t know- of the great act of liberation of the Hebrew God. He hears how this God led an enslaved people into freedom, and, from his place of highest honor, Yitro rejoices in the revelation, and he is so affected and changed by what he hears, that he leaves his known, honored place in Midian and goes into the Wilderness.
Yitro’ s passageways- his eyes, ears, heart, are open ,his orifices are open , he is on the road of fully actualizing the human potential, which leads to an openness to God, to others, to being affected by God and others and by his experiences.
Living from this place of openness, allowing yourself to be touched and changed by experience- your own and others- is not easy. I am thinking of the words of a friend of mine, a Jewish Israeli man who retired as a colonel in the Israeli army after decades of service, and, soon after his retirement, perhaps now from the place of sitting and reflecting, that place where Abraham and Yitro knew to go, my friend realized that he had never had a conversation with a Palestinian. And so he went to a dialogue group. And on his way to the dialogue group, he realized that he was scared, scared to death. And he wondered, why am I so scared? And he realized that he was scared because if he really allowed himself to be touched by this encounter, it could shake his very identified self to the core- he could come out of it thinking he should move back to Rumania, the place from where his parents fled the holocaust. Or he could hear something that generates hatred and racism in him, and then he would become the hate filled person he abhors. He was touching this risk of being touched by the encounter, and he knew that being touched meant risking the entire Self that represents who he lives as.
Yitro knows the risk of being touched by what he hears. And he rejoices at the opportunity to grow into a universal human being.
Pharaoh represents a mode of existence that exalts closing. He resists and resists any opening, and ultimately his inner closing is mirrored by the waters that close in around him and destroy him.
Yitro is reborn from opening.
Perhaps they are one.
Perhaps Yitro is the aspect of pharaoh that survived and went into the midbar ( wilderness) to reflect and integrate and transform.
I like this way of looking at this story because I want deep in my heart to believe that everyone can transform, that even the most hardened and closed can transform.
I too want to live at that intersection between myself and the world, where my openings are stretched as wide as my capacity allows. I want to be affected by what I hear and see, I want to stretch and go beyond limiting belief about myself and others.
What is the process of transformation? How do we get from attachment to staying closed to rejoicing at openness?
How do we feel safe without borders?
This is the struggle and development of the Hebrew people, as they leave and return , open and close over and over.
An essential part of the path is to slow down and allow yourself to process your experience without the limiting beliefs and lenses of identities such as slaves, slave owners, Egyptian, Midianites, Jew. Thus in the path of the Jewish people out of Egypt we go forward and back, retracing our steps, and then being instructed to continually relive what already happened.
What is the purpose of this reliving? Is it to get stuck in a new slavery to the past, or is it to process the lessons and insights, to have the opportunity to integrate what already happened so we can build on it and move forward? Is it to fossilize limiting beliefs, or integrate the truth of our experience so we can go to the next level? What would Yitro say?