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by Lawrence Stroll    
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer    

This column tracks the e-mail 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.

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BETWEEN FRIENDS By Lawrence Stroll Dear Ari, Thanks for your advice last week. I wholeheartedly agree that exercising discretion in our speech is an important skill. I appreciate your sentiments, as they happen to be ones that I share myself. Unfortunately, the issue with my shooting off my mouth was not so much that I don’t think those things are important, as it was of not being able to control myself in the heat of the moment. Although the facts may be different, I am confident that you’ve been in a similar situation. What suggestions, if any, do you have to preempt such outbreaks?

Sincerely, Trying to Watch What I Say

 

Dear David, I apologize if I seemed patronizing by my previous e-mail. I did not mean to insult your intelligence. Consider yourself one of the few (and obviously proud) individuals who values the sanctity and importance of what comes out of his mouth. I have noticed that not everyone agrees with us—especially if the "mild" vulgarities and off-color innuendos found on the radio, TV, and explicit-lyric-labeled CD’s are any sentiment of the population. But, I digress.

As for your assumption, you are quite correct. I too am a victim of sometimes saying things that I later regret. Fortunately for me, my Father taught me how to control this. And, fortunately for you, we have the same Father. He is actually our Father in Heaven, and the advice comes from none other than this week’s Torah portion.

To bring you up to speed, Moses has unsuccessfully made a plea to Pharaoh for the release of the Jewish people. Pharaoh does not respond favorably and Hashem directs Moses to deliver the message directly to the Jewish people. The message is one of reassurance, whereby Hashem says that He personally will take the Jewish people out of bondage and deliver them to the land promised to their forefathers. We are told that they would not listen to Moses because of kotzer ruach—literally "shortness of breath"—and hard labor. Rabbi Aaron Tendler questions how the Jewish people could have possibly ignored such an optimistic message from the Almighty in light of their far less than palatable situation.

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch suggests an explanation for this seemingly foolish and blatantly defiant behavior. By understanding kotzer ruach, perhaps figuratively, as meaning "impatience" he recognizes that the Jewish people were not prevented from hearing the message delivered to them because they were physically short of breath, as would be the condition of one having just run a marathon. Rather they did not, as Rabbi Tendler puts it, have the emotional ability to understand their situation within the broader context. As such, they could not appreciate that they had any hope of deliverance from their sad situation.

Impatience, as we see and most of us know, stifles one’s ability to gain perspective and to see down the road. When we desire a particular outcome, we are so driven by that outcome that we are not willing to hear anything that may be contrary to that outcome.

Have you ever been a kid? (Don’t bother answering—it’s a rhetorical question.) I’m sure you’ve had the displeasure of being on the receiving end of the following expression: "Think before you speak." Try to recall a time when that advice has been offered to you. It was probably when you spoke without thinking first. And the reason you weren’t thinking was because you were so eager to speak. (How kid-like.) Not surprisingly, of all those things that we ever needed to know in life and that we learned in kindergarten, patience is clearly one of them. Perhaps now would be a good time to relearn it again for the first time. I assure you that if you practice patience, you will become a master of verbal self-control.

Sincerely, Practicing Patience (with myself as the patient)

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Lawrence Stroll is a financial planner and Family Wealth Counselor with Geller Financial Advisors in Atlanta.

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