Wednesday, January 17, 2024

Parshas Bo 5784




Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Bo

9 Shevat 5784/ January 19, 2024


It’s been said that the only one who hears both sides of an argument is the next door neighbor.

When I was a social work student at Fordham University, I mostly kept my opinions to myself. More than one professor wrote on one of my papers that they wanted to hear my voice.

Part of the reason they were curious to hear my take was that I was the only Orthodox Jew in many of my classes. I didn’t feel I had much to gain by arguing with the extreme liberal views of my professors and colleagues. But I also noticed that the quieter I was the more people around me wanted to hear what I had to say. I’ve often thought that if I had spoken up and debated with them, within a short amount of time, they wouldn’t want to hear my opinion anymore. As President Lincoln quipped, “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt”.

One of the most important components of maintaining good relationships is the ability to listen well. For most of us that is particularly challenging. Even when we remain quiet while listening to someone else, we are often mentally formulating a response. The result is that we aren’t truly present and tuned in to what the other person is saying.

Our son Dovid shared the following beautiful thought at our Shabbos table this week:

At the beginning of parshas Va’era when Hashem informed Moshe of the imminent redemption from Egypt, He stated, “And I have also heard the cries of the B’nei Yisroel” (Shemos 3:9). Why does Hashem say that He also heard the cries of B’nei Yisroel? Who else besides Hashem had heard their cries?

The Chasam Sofer explains that Hashem was saying that He had seen how the tortured Jewish slaves heard and cared for each other’s pain. Therefore, because they empathized and cared for each other, He would do the same.

At the beginning of parshas Yisro, when the Torah relates about Yisro’s journey to join Klal Yisroel, it begins, “And Yisro heard.” The commentators note that Yisro didn’t hear anything different than everyone else. But Yisro heard and hearkened to the message, while everyone else heard and then went on with their daily routine.

Whenever the Gemara wants to prove a point, it introduces it by saying, “ta shema – come and listen.” There is great wisdom in that terminology. So often when we argue with someone, we are so entrenched in our opinion that we don’t really hear what he is saying. The first step is to enter the other person’s thought process and actively listen to understand what he is saying.

One of the things that frustrates me to no end is when I am saying a story or joke, and someone calls out the punch line. For some reason, when we know something we are being told, we feel the need to stop the person so we don’t have to hear it again. 

The Orchos Tzaddikim (Sha’ar Hashesikah) writes: “If someone tells you something that you already know, be quiet until he finishes, for he may tell you something that you have never heard before. He also derives enjoyment from telling you something, and even if you know he will not tell you anything new, be quiet until he finishes.”

I often tell my students that if they want to work on their middos, when someone begins telling them a d’var Torah, story, joke, or piece of news that they already know, they should pretend like they never heard it before. They should listen attentively and smile, nod or laugh afterwards as if they just heard something fascinating for the first time. It may sound like a simple thing to do. But the reality is that most people – including this author – have a very hard time doing it. People enjoy sharing novel ideas with others. Why can’t we give them satisfaction even if we already know it?

Rabbi Daniel Kalish is the beloved menahel of the Waterbury Mesivta. He relates that in his early years as an educator whenever a student who was down or upset approached him, he felt it was his duty to cheer the student up. He would tell the student a joke, story or something light to distract him from his grief. With time, however, he realized that doing so denied his student what he truly wanted and needed in the moment. His job as a rebbe was to enter his student’s world to understand and subsequently empathize with his student. That is far more time-consuming and challenging and requires greater emotional investment. 

Most people are too busy to listen, and even if they do listen, they don’t really hear. Being able to listen and hear requires understanding, caring and patience. Greater even than the song of silence, is listening and hearing someone else’s song.


Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

        R’ Dani and Chani Staum