In the last few hundred years, the growth of the publishing industry has mushroomed, and there is an overabundance of books written about nearly every conceivable topic. It seems that the topic of mingling, chatting and schmoozing is no exception to this state of affairs and one may come across many how-to titles in the self-help genre that can teach someone these social skills. The Torah, in its description of Moshe’s meeting with his Father-in-law Yitro, offers its own unique input about the topic of making conversation.
“Moses went out to meet his father-in-law…each inquired about the other’s well-being; then they came to the tent. Moshe told his father-in-law everything that God had done to Pharaoh and Egypt for Israel’s sake…and that God had rescued them.” (Exodus 18) Essentially, the Torah narrative of the reunion seems to indicate that after they exchanged pleasantries, they spoke about God and His role in the Exodus in detail. Ordinarily, when family members or close friends see each other for the first time in a while, they devote the time to catching up with each other about how they’ve been, what they’ve been doing, or how their trip was. The conversation between the two outstanding family members recorded in the Torah paints a different picture. Although the Torah does mention their exchange of greetings, it emphasizes the rest of their conversation – which is not about mundane matters – much more. Even though they hadn’t seen each other in a long time and must have had a strong urge to discuss their personal matters, evidently their urge to discuss spiritual matters was stronger. Rabbi Yeruchom Levovitz (ca. 1873-1936), long-time Mashgiach of the Mir Yeshiva in Pre-World War II Poland, points out that with this description, the Torah is making its contribution to the topic of “how to schmooze.” If we realized the great value of spiritual ideas and wisdom, these topics would occupy our conversations much more.
Aside from the particular lesson about elevating our conversations, there is a general lesson here as well. Rabbi Chaim Shmuelevitz (1902–1979), the outstanding faculty member of the Mir Yeshiva in Jerusalem from the 50’s through the 70’s and a student and confidant of the Rabbi Levovitz mentioned above, often remarked that he had learned a lot from his great teacher’s lectures and classes as a young man. The most important lessons that he gleaned from him, however, were from huddling around the Shabbat table together with Rabbi Levovitz or from the times they went swimming with him in the Miranka river. It’s too easy to forget that spirituality is not just for when we are in shul or at a religious event or ceremony, but that it’s for the entirety of our lives, whatever we may be doing or wherever we are.