Rebecca Masinter

Parshas Vayeishev - What Do You Hear?

At the end of Moshe Rabeinu’s life, he designated three arei miklat, cities of refuge, where a Jew who killed accidentally could flee for protection. The first one set aside by Moshe was in Reuvein’s portion of Israel. The Gemara in Makkos asks why Reuven merited to have his city of refuge mentioned first in the Torah, and the answer is that in Parshas Vayeishev Reuvein was the first to try and save Yosef. The Passuk (37:21) says: וַיִּשְׁמַ֣ע רְאוּבֵ֔ן וַיַּצִּלֵ֖הוּ מִיָּדָ֑ם Reuven heard, and he saved him from their hands. Reuven tried to rescue Yosef by suggesting that instead of killing him, the brothers should throw him in a pit. His intent was to return later once everyone had calmed down, and bring Yosef safely home to his father. The question one could ask is why did Reuven try to save Yosef? The brothers weren’t acting out of spite, they were halachically convinced that Yosef deserved the death sentence - what made Reuven see it differently than everyone else? The Medrash answers that when Yosef told his brothers his dreams he reported that he saw eleven stars bowing down to him. Nine of the brothers heard the dream and were angry, but Reuven heard it and was relieved. Why was Reuven relieved? In Parshas Vayishlach Reuven sinned against his father - he interfered in his father’s relationship with Bilha. Reuven’s deep fear was that he would be cast aside as one of the shevatim forever. That’s why, when he heard that Yosef had included him equivalent with the other brothers in his dream, he was filled with gratitude, and made efforts to rescue him, which caused him to merit the first ir miklat. Rav Avraham Pam points out a crucial insight here. Two people can hear the exact same words from the exact same person, and they will each hear something completely different. Nine brothers heard Yosef trying to rule over them and were infuriated, but one brother heard something different and felt relief and joy. The message for mothers is two-fold. Firstly, when we listen to others, and, specifically when we listen to our children, we want to train ourselves to listen to the good, the underlying message positively. When a child cries, “You never listen to me”, or “You never spend time with me”, we can choose to hear the accusation and get defensive, or we can choose to listen to the love and longing behind those words - a child saying, “I love you and need you and want to be close with you.” It’s our choice to choose what we hear. The second message to mothers is to be aware that our children are each hearing us differently and may need us to fine tune the way we speak to each of them. Some children are more sensitive than others, and they may interpret our frustration or tension as “Mommy’s angry at me”, whereas a different child hears us and thinks, “Mommy’s upset that we’re running late. She’ll be fine once we’re in the car.” Different people have very different filters, and it’s wise for us to tune into each of our children every now and then to check in with what they think they are hearing when we think we’re communicating. Both of these messages are invaluable in life and in parenting. Parshas Vayeshev is a reminder to us to focus on hearing the positive content in others’ speech, and being attuned to how our listeners may be interpreting us so we can help them hear us positively as well.