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Parshas Shmini - Repeat that Please!                  28 Nissan 5778

04/13/18 10:44:52

Apr13

In every area of life there is more, less, and the average. Whether it is a person’s temperament, character traits, weight, height, looks, intelligence, finances, religiosity, etc. - the list goes on - there are always the extremes that make up the mean average of life. Some people do things quickly while others do them slowly. Several years ago I wrote about the law which clearly states that it is not only forbidden to drive above the speed limit; it is also forbidden to drive too slowly. There is one additional area I would like to critique concerning those who find themselves doing the wrong way, despite being asked not to do so.

There are some individuals who speak very quickly, so quickly that the listener cannot understand what the person is saying. There are differing opinions as to why some people speak quickly, including their ability to visualize the words in their minds - a condition known as ‘cluttering’. Two examples come to mind: one in a religious context, the other regarding our every day lives. On days when the Torah is read (particularly on Mondays and Thursdays) there is a custom to make a ‘Mi Shebeirach,’ a prayer for the sick. After a list of names is mentioned, some attendees will mention a name that is not on the list. They orally say the name to the gabbai. Typically, the person rattles off the name of the ill person, and his/her mother’s name along with it, at lightning speed. I remind you that the gabbai may never have heard this name before and is unable to catch the name not once or twice but sometimes even three times to fully grasp the name being called out. If the person would only say the name slowly the very first time, (which is what happens anyway by the third or fourth repetition) it would save people time, effort, and sometimes embarrassment. The person must realize the gabbai never heard this name and must repeat it verbatim so just slow down when giving over a name. The second scenario is leaving a phone number on a voice mail or answering machine. I can not tell you how many times I need to rewind the message over again to catch a phone number that someone left for me to call them back. It some cases it can take me nine times, repeatedly listening to the message because it was given so quickly that I can only catch and record one digit at a time. There is even a rare time that I just give up because it is impossible to decipher what the number is. Some recorded messages give specific instructions to avoid this issue by stating, “Please speak slowly and repeat the number.” Occasionally this may actually work – but unfortunately, not too often.

One should think about these and other situations when you are asking the other person to do something for you. Simply say it slowly. You are either asking them to return the call or mention a name for a speedy recovery and you are making it so much more difficult for them to do what is asked by speaking too quickly for the listener to understand your request. When someone speaks quickly, and the listener it is unable to accurately hear what you’re saying, the listener it placed in the awkward position of asking the speaker to repeat themselves or to say, “What?” sometimes over and over again. The onus should be on the speaker not the listener to convey a message or a thought properly.

We might all agree that the responsibility of clarity is on the speaker, but it doesn’t always happen. We don’t and can’t control the way a person speaks, and therefore we need to prepare for the inevitable. We need to take measures to listen more carefully and figure out ways to understand the speaker despite their babble. If the speaker is not going to change the way he/she speaks, then we need to change the way we listen. We find a great lesson in listening from Moshe Rabbeinu. There is a great irony in the person who had some type of speech impediment who consistently recognizes the need to be patient when it comes to listening to what others are saying.

In this week’s parsha Shmini the Torah states in Vayikra 10:20 “Vayishma Moshe, VaYitav B’Einav”. “When Moshe heard this, he approved”. Rashi, on this verse, quotes the Midrash Toras Kohanim that says: Moshe admitted and was not embarrassed and did not use the excuse “I didn’t hear”. The Gemara in Zevachim 101b adds to the language of Rashi that not only did he not say “I didn’t hear that,” but to the contrary said, “I heard it and I forgot it,” which is a greater disgrace than just saying I didn’t hear. The Gemara Chagiga 1:8 in Yerushalmi writes: “I sent you a great person, and what is his greatness? That he was never embarrassed to say I didn’t hear. This means that saying I didn’t hear something is a greater disgrace, therefore, by definition, there is greatness to the person.

The commentary Tzion V’Yerushalayim goes on to elaborate this point. It is one thing to understand that the Rabbis and scholars during the times of the Talmud, who have the written and oral laws before them might be more humiliated to admit, ‘I did not hear that.’ But consider Moshe Rabbeinu, the prize student of the Almighty Himself, who learned one-on-one with Hashem and was the first ever to learn Torah and the first teacher of Torah, who would feel the greatest mortification by admitting, “I heard but I forgot.” It takes a great man to stand up and state the truth despite discomfiture to protect his pride.

The Netzi”v Rav Naphtali Tzvi Yehuda Berlin Z”L brings down a midrash that Moshe made a public announcement stating, “I, Moshe, made a mistake, and Aharon, my brother, came and taught it to me.” Why did Moshe do that? Moshe wanted to teach klal Yisrael this Midda, character trait of admitting a mistake. He taught the people that there is nothing wrong with admitting a mistake, and even he, Moshe Rabbeinu, was capable of making a mistake. By admitting a mistake, we come to correct the falsehood and bring truth to the surface. In addition, by admitting a mistake, we admit that we, too, are human and are able to learn and grow from our errors.

Therefore, we see the importance of listening with care so as to hear things properly. The utmost honor is given to someone who can recognize and admit his mistake and not hide behind some other excuse. Listen, pay close attention to the few short words Moshe said so openly and clearly. Ultimately, this admission will be viewed with goodness in Hashem’s eyes as well.

Wed, October 23 2019 24 Tishrei 5780