The Power of Listening

After a historic journey from Egypt, the royal procession escorting the levayah of Yaakov Avinu arrived in what would later be known as Eretz Yisrael. The kings of the region had come to wage war with the mourners, but when they saw the crown of Yosef Hatzaddik on the aron, they dramatically reversed their stance and took off their own crowns, and eventually a total of sixty-three royal crowns were on the aron.

Yet when the levayah finally arrived in Me’aras Hamachpelah, Eisav was unimpressed and sought to prevent the kevurah, arguing that the eighth and remaining plot belonged to him. He acknowledged that he sold the right of the firstborn to Yaakov, but argued that only included the “extra” portion of the bechorah, and that he was still entitled to the regular share as a son of Yitzchak Avinu.

In reality, Yaakov had purchased the right of burial in Me’aras Hamachpelah and Eisav had even signed a contract to that effect. Somehow, this crucial piece of paper had stayed behind in Egypt.

The Shevatim decided to send Naftali — the swiftest of the brothers — back to Egypt to get it.

Present also was Chushim, the only son of Dan. Hard of hearing, he inquired as to the cause of the delay. When he learned that the burial was being held until Naftali would make the trip to and from Egypt, Chushim was horrified at what he perceived to be a desecration of his grandfather’s honor.

He stepped forward and fatally struck Eisav on the head, clearing the way for the kevurah.

Why it was Chushim, a grandson, who acted? Where were the sons of Yaakov? Didn’t they sense the fact that their father’s honor was being defiled? They were certainly capable of what Chushim proceeded to do. Shimon and Levi had in their youth eradicated an entire town. As Yehudah had implied to Yosef, they were fully prepared to topple Pharoh’s monarchy in order to rescue Binyamin; why didn’t they seek to remove Eisav from this scene?

In his sefer Sichas Mussar, Hagaon Harav Chaim Shmulevitz, zt”l, says that the Shevatim at first attempted to argue with Eisav. As the claims and counterclaims were exchanged, their initial feelings of dismay began to wear off and they started to accept the fact that there would be a delay in the kevurah. Only Chushim — who was hard of hearing and hadn’t followed the conversation — still remained with the first reaction, and therefore was motivated to act.

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We often assume that only when the words themselves that we hear are inappropriate can it possibly be detrimental for us to listen to them.

In reality however, even if the language and the topic is not contradictory to our values, if the speaker is person of low morals or unsuitable hashkafos, we can be — albeit subtly — adversely influenced by listening.

What we often fail to realize is that the connection between a speaker and his or her listeners is a spiritual one, a connection of souls. Therefore it is imperative that we carefully choose whom we want to listen to.

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Fortunately, this concept is equally true when the influence is a positive one.

The Navi Yechezkel (Perek 33:7-8) speaks of the obligation to reprimand the wicked: [When] “you did not speak to warn the wicked man from his way, he is wicked and for his iniquity he will die, but his blood I shall require of your hand.”

The Navi then states, “if you warned a wicked man from his way, to repent thereof, and he did not repent of his way, he will die for his iniquity, and you have saved your soul…”

In the first passuk, which refers to those sinners who were never warned, it says “he is wicked and for his iniquity he will die.” In the second, when the sinner was warned but wantonly chose to ignore the warning, it merely states “he will die for his iniquity,” the words is wicked” are not repeated.

At first, this seems perplexing. If a sinner was warned and nonetheless persisted in his wrongdoing, shouldn’t that make him an even greater sinner?

The Rebbe, Harav Tzadok of Lublin, zy”a, explains that when a man hears words of mussar, even when it appears from his actions that they had absolutely no effect, in reality the words did make a difference, and he is not the same sinner that he was before. Even if he continues on the wrong path, before he leaves this world he will have had thoughts of teshuvah.