This weekly column is in the form of an ongoing correspondence between two friends. David is twenty-something,single, and non-observant. Ari is thirty-something, married with kids, and a ba'al teshuvah (returnee to traditional Torah observance). The younger friend is at a time in his life when he is looking for "more" (i.e. seeking spiritual growth and personal development) and generally writes to his older friend in search of advice. The older friend tries to provide useful and solid advice by drawing on the Torah portion of that week.
Monday, August 17, 1998; 12:20 PM
I just got back from "Nowheresville, USA," and I've got to tell you that I'm glad you encouraged me to go. The wedding was awesome! First off, it was a religious wedding; apparently, the bride and groom are like you (you know, born secular but decided to become religious). They didn't go overboard, since the rest of the family is not observant. However, they did have kosher food and some separate dancing (which was a real treat!). I'll tell you something: I'd never been moved by a wedding before! This was such a spiritual experience. They had these information sheets explaining what was going on, the dancing was uplifting and energizing with lots of great music and craziness, and the food was like you'd expect at a Jewish wedding. The most inspiring part of the whole event was the rabbi's talk under the marriage canopy. His words were so moving, and the things he said really hit home. It's like he knew I was there. I almost felt like he was speaking directly to me. Do you think that's a little kooky?
Sincerely, Not the only one in the audience!
Wednesday, August 19, 1998; 8:02 PM
Very often, when attending a class, lecture, or seminar a speaker says something which causes those listening to magically connect with the message being delivered. In fact, the mark of a good speaker is the ability to create a bond with the audience. Anyone who is in the business of communicating ideas, whether they are a journalist, advertiser, or speaker (and that includes rabbi), knows that the first step in delivering a well-received message is to size up your audience. In other words: know who you're talking to. This, however, only explains 50 percent of the equation. In order for deep, meaningful, and personal communication to take place between speaker and listener, the listener must be in optimum form as well, as illustrated in this week's Torah portion.
Moses addresses the Jewish people as follows: "See, I present before you this day a blessing and a curse." The Ibn Ezra, a 12th century commentator famous for linguistic analysis, explains that the use of the word re'eh ("see" in the singular tense) refers to every individual. This can be contrasted with the word lifneychem ("you" in the plural tense). But for that small grammatical nuance, Rabbi Zelig Pliskin points out that someone listening to Moses that day might have concluded that Moses was speaking to the group at large and that whatever was being said was probably for someone else's benefit. For this reason, Moses chose to begin with a word in the singular tense - to indicate that what would follow should be listened to as if directed to everyone individually! Rabbi Pliskin uses this point to illustrate that if we are to grow from lectures and classes then we have to put ourselves in a frame of mind where we regard what the speaker is saying as words meant for us (as individuals). This is why, without a listener's involvement, many a speaker's message goes unheard.
With that in mind, I don't think it is so odd that you found the rabbi's message so personal, since he may very well have been speaking to you and you were definitely listening to him as though he was. What you likely experienced was the synergy that oftentimes takes place between a dynamic speaker and an active listener. So now that we've determined that there was a high degree of successful communication going on, you've piqued my curiosity. What did the rabbi say that you found so interesting?
Sincerely, Interested in hearing more
Lawrence Stroll, a former corporate attorney, writes from Atlanta.
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