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B'resheet/Genesis 37:27 And his brothers listened.
This briefest account of the reception accorded Judah's words to his brothers, as he suggests selling Yosef to the Ishmaelites, is followed by a one verse narrative of the deed: they - and it is not exactly clear whether 'they' is the brothers or the Midianites - pull Yosef out of the pit into which they had thrown him and he is sold for twenty pieces of silver. The verb is a simple Qal prefix 3mp form of the root , to hear or listen, with a vav-conversive construction to render as past narrative tense. The verb has a subject - , his brothers - but no object, so the intransitive 'listen' is more appropriate: and his brothers listened.Targum Onkelos translates this with three words: , and his brothers accepted [this] from him. The verb , used here in its Pi'el voice, means to receive or accept, and Onkelos uses it widely to translate this meaning of the Hebrew . For example, when Avraham opens negotiations to purchase the burial plot for Sarah, the Hebrew text has the sons of Heth tell him, , "hear us", while Onkelos has , "accept from us".
Onkelos is touching on the subtle difference between hearing and listening. We hear many things, but we don't necessarily listen; that is, we don't pay attention to and engage with everything that we hear. Much of what happens around us is simply noise; either deliberately, because we don't want to listen to it, or because of distractions, habit or pre-occupation, we filter it out as background noise. People can talk to us, even call us by name, sometimes in mid-conversation and we won't or don't hear because our attention has gone elsewhere and we have just switched out of what came before. As he is commissioned at the end of his seminal vision ofHaShem, the prophet Isaiah is told, "Go, and say to this people: 'Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.' Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed" (Isaiah 6:9-10, ESV). Isaiah's words, as he speaks on behalf of HaShem, may be physically heard but will not be received or accepted. On the contrary, the hearers will filter them out in the same way that the sound of a door-bell or the buzzing of a chain saw can become part of the unheard background when someone is concentrating on another activity such as reading, painting or cooking.
Rashi points out that Onkelos is nevertheless selective about when he uses 'accept'. Where means hearing the words and agreeing with them or obeying them, for example, "Ya'akov had obeyed () his father and mother and gone to Paddan-aram" (B'resheet 28:7) and "All that the L-RD has spoken we will do, and we will obey ()" (Shemot 24:7), then Onkelos switches his verb to reflect that. Where means simply hearing without any agreement or obedient action, for example, "Rivkah was listening () when Yitz'chak spoke to his son 'Esav" (B'resheet 27:5, CJB) or "I have heard () the grumblings of the people of Isra'el" (Shemot 16:12, CJB), Onkelos retains the same verb. From this position, Rashi concludes that the brothers did not merely hear the suggestion that Judah made, to sell Yosef, but that they accepted it and agreed with it, thus all becoming liable for the crime of selling their brother. Perhaps this is why, twenty two years later, Judah confesses to Yosef, "What shall we say to my lord? What shall we speak? Or how can we clear ourselves? G-d has found out the guilt of your servants; behold, we are my lord's servants, both we and he also in whose hand the cup has been found" (B'resheet 44:16, ESV), using the plural 'we' rather than 'I'. By this measure, then, the brothers were not just following orders, they became full and willing partners in the offence, accepting joint liability.
The Psalmist too comments about body parts that do not function: "They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see. They have ears, but do not hear; noses, but do not smell. They have hands, but do not feel; feet, but do not walk; and they do not make a sound in their throat" (Psalm 115:5-7, ESV). Here, 'they' are idols, make from silver and gold; they have the external appearance of ears but are incapable of hearing since they are not alive. Conversely, the people of Jeremiah's time had working ears but chose not to take any notice of what G-d said to them. Jeremiah asks G-d, "To whom shall I speak and give warning, that they may hear? Behold, their ears are uncircumcised, they cannot listen; behold, the word of the L-RD is to them an object of scorn; they take no pleasure in it" (Jeremiah 6:10, ESV); their eyes are deliberately blocked and filtered lest they should hear the truth. G-d explains to Ezekiel that he dwells "in the midst of a rebellious house, who have eyes to see, but see not, who have ears to hear, but hear not, for they are a rebellious house" (Ezekiel 12:2, bible(ESV)). The people rebel against G-d by refusing to hear His word.
The Shoot who comes from the stump of Jesse also has perfectly functional ears, but will choose not to pay attention to what He sees and hears: "He shall not judge by what His eyes see, or decide disputes by what His ears hear, but with righteousness He shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth" (Isaiah 11:3-4, ESV). The One who is cast from the same mold from which David arose - the man after G-d's heart - will instead judge with righteousness and equity because human senses may be deceived by camouflage, clever words or presentations.
The gospels repeat a phrase of Yeshua's: "He who has ears to hear, let him hear" (Matthew 11:15). This occurs explicitly three times in Matthew and twice each in Mark and Luke; there are also a number of allusions or part-citations; it must be important for Yeshua to say it so often. It usually follows something controversial: explaining about John the Baptist in the role of Elijah, the parable of the sower, teaching about those who will inherit the kingdom, the cost of discipleship. Yeshua's words are plain enough and their meaning is easily grasped by those who want to hear and understand; those who complain that they cannot understand are those who are choosing not to hear.
A very similar phrase occurs at the end of each of the letters written to the seven churches in the book of Revelation. After specific comments about their condition and His instructions for them, Yeshua says to each church, "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches" (Revelation 2:7,11,17,29,3:6,13,22). There is a clear issue of responsibility and obedience here; Yeshua isn't telling people just to hear the words, He is looking for acceptance and agreement, for obedience and implementation. John's writings were to be sent to each of the churches that they might take action in order to correct their behaviour and conduct, and to be encouraged in their walk before the L-rd. In each place, there would be people who would both hear and take that action; there would also be those who would hear and dismiss the L-rd's message with a variety of excuses: not us, off-target, too critical, judgmental, un-loving, out of character, etc. Nevertheless, they would have heard the words and their failure to put them into practice renders them liable for judgement. Our position is no different today - the L-rd is still speaking to His church and urging us to submit to His agenda and follow His teaching and example. This isn't about the gifts of the Spirit, which some accept and others reject as "not for today". Whether charismatic or not, we all have the written words of the Bible and the Ruach to explain and apply it to our lives, our ministries and our churches. As Yeshua told the disciples, "If anyone hears My words and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. The one who rejects Me and does not receive My words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day" (John 12:47-48, ESV).
Further Study: Isaiah 30:20-21; John 3:35-36
Have you heard the words of G-d in your life and put them into practice, or
are you like the man who built his house on the sand? Make no mistake, the
rains are coming and everyone's work will be tested. Are you ready, standing
on the rock, or will you be swept away in the flood?
© Jonathan Allen, 2012
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© Jonathan Allen, 2012
Your turn - what do you think of the ideas in this drash ?Like most print and online magazines, we reserve the right to edit or publish only those comments we feel are edifying in tone and content.