listening to self

This week and next, 40 high school students from Israel and the Palestinian territories are gathering in Chicago for serious dialogue. I will be addressing the group this Friday evening. Here is the gist of my remarks. 

As you gather here this evening, your homeland is engulfed in war. Your families live in fear. A rocket or bomb could fall at any time.

Yet here you are—talking with one another, building a community of true diversity. You are addressing, unpacking and learning about the differences that really matter.

You are having the kind of dialogue Martin Buber envisioned when he wrote his classic book I and Thou: conversation driven by a willingness to be changed, to shift points of views, to open up to the truths of another.

Does It Matter? 

Can it work? Can we listen to each other? Does what we are doing here matter to what is happening over there? Absolutely. 

We see how in this week’s Bible reading. It describes an extraordinary dialogue that changed history. The subject matter? The division of land.

A man named Zelophehad, the Bible tells us, had five daughters. When he died, his land fell in an uncertain legal status. In biblical Judaism land only passed to sons. With no male heir the land would likely be given to a Levite or another family.

Zelophehad’s daughters, however, did not intend to stay quiet. They felt cut out. Were they not part of the family? Did they not have any claim? So they spoke with Moses. They did not complain. They did not threaten to sue. They simply began a conversation.

How History Changes

The Bible does not record the details of their conversation. But we can imagine they had a very meaningful dialogue. The Jewish commentaries suggest the daughters were wise, faithful, patient and responsible.

Moses probably resisted initially. The law is clear. Only males inherit property. And Moses is responsible for executing the law. Yet, ultimately,  Moses alters the law. He rules that Zelophehad’s daughters can inherit the land.

Moses changes his mind. He shifts his point of view. He experienced the power of dialogue, of meaningful conversation. He also experienced the power of hearing multiple voices. This openness reflects his love of his people and his ability lead. As Paul Tillich once put it, “The first duty of love is to listen.”

The daughters of Zelophachad took a bold step and made their case. History changed because Moses listened to their voices.

Can we do the same? Can we truly love…and listen?  Judging by what you are doing, we can. And we must. Our future depends on it.


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Rabbi Evan

I show the way Jewish wisdom make our lives richer and happier. In particular, I help Jews appreciate their heritage and Christians uncover the Jewish roots of their faith. Get my FREE Jewish holidays cheat sheet by clicking here.

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