GOOD MORNING! Jews have a reputation for answering a question with a question. Have you ever wondered why? Rather than answering with a question, I'll tell you the answer -- If you answer a question the way it is posed, it means that you accept the premises upon which it is based. What if someone asks you, "Did you stop beating your spouse?" Are you supposed to answer "yes" or "no"? Better would be to answer with a question, "Where did you get that silly idea?"
Questions clarify. A good question can be half the answer. If a person asks a question, there's a good chance that he will listen to the answer. If he doesn't ask a question, you can lecture until you are blue in the face and never get your point across.
We want to communicate with our kids, our spouse, our friends. And we would like to be able to communicate our feelings, our thoughts, our values. It can be hard. Thus, enters the scene "Shmooze -- A Guide to Thought-Provoking Discussions on Essential Jewish Issues" compiled by my colleague, Rabbi Nechemia Coopersmith, the director of aish.com. (It is available from your local Jewish book store or by calling toll-free 877-758-3242. I think it's a perfect Hanukah gift.)
Topics include: Love, The Value of Life, Friends, Marriage, Free Will, Happiness, Self-Respect, Intermarriage, Intolerance, Faith and Knowledge, Gossip, Goodness. Each topic starts with two or three questions to begin a conversation. Then there is a short piece with Torah sources to understand the Jewish perspective. It can be a big help to raise the level of dinner conversation or enhance your Shabbat meal with your family.
Some questions in the book: Can you love obnoxious people? If there were a pill that would put you in a constant state of happiness, would you take it? Is an 18 year old German in 1942 morally responsible for joining the Hitler Youth? Do animals have free will? What qualities are absolutely indispensable for a good marriage?
Want to try on a sample? At your next lunch meeting or at dinner tonight ask, "Is it intolerant to think that your opinion is the truth and everyone else's opinion is wrong?" Get their opinions and then ask them to define intolerance. All intellectual conversations must start with defining terms!
Here are insights from the book.
"You're wrong! I don't have to explain why. You just are. And you're an idiot for thinking this way!" Intolerance is disparaging the person who holds a belief you disagree with. Intolerance is controlling, not understanding. It means being unwilling to reconsider ideas and being closed to hearing other points of view. It is thinking someone is wrong for no good reason at all.
To define tolerance as "the acceptance of all ideas regardless of their merit" would spell the end of critical thinking. It would mean we no longer discriminate about the ideas we accept. Just because someone said it doesn't mean we have to respect it. If everyone is right, then no one is right, and what's the point of thinking? It doesn't matter what I think or why I think it if I give all ideas the same measure of respect.
Searching for truth necessarily involves rejecting falsehood. At some point, one must draw conclusions. Is this intolerant? Is it intolerant to reject the notion that the earth is flat, even though there are people today who subscribe to such a belief? What about Holocaust deniers? Must we respect their views?
Being sure of our position doesn't give us license to ram it down anyone's throat. We must respect others, even if we don't respect their ideas. The search for truth demands openness and genuine tolerance without compromising intellectual honesty. It is important to demonstrate why you think someone is wrong with composure and care and listen to his view with an open mind, willing to be proven wrong. You're seeking understanding and truth, not the final word in an argument.
Portion of the Week
This week we have the trials and tribulations of Jacob living with and working for his father-in-law, Laban. Jacob agreed to work as a shepherd 7 years for Rachel only to have Laban switch daughters on him at the marriage ceremony. (This is why we have the bedekin, the lifting of the veil, at traditional weddings -- to ensure one is marrying the right bride.)
As Jacob tries to build his equity, Laban changes their agreement time after time. After 20 years, the Almighty tells Jacob the time has come to return to the land of Canaan. Jacob and his household secretly leave only to be pursued by Laban who has claims to put forth. The story ends with peace and blessings between Jacob and Laban.
based on Growth Through Torah by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
The Torah states:
And it was when Laban heard about the coming of Jacob, the son of his sister, and he ran to greet him, and he hugged him and he kissed him, and he brought him to his house. And (Jacob) told Laban all that had happened. (Genesis 29:13)
How would you describe Laban's behavior towards Jacob after reading this verse?
It would appear to be an extremely warm and loving greeting by an uncle who was sincerely happy to see his nephew. Let us take a look at Rashi and see how the Sages in the Midrash viewed Laban's greeting:
"And he ran to greet him" -- Laban assumed that Jacob would be loaded with gifts since when Eliezer, their family's servant, came he brought along ten loaded camels. "And he hugged him" -- When Laban didn't see anything, he said to himself that perhaps Jacob had concealed gold under his garments and therefore he hugged him. "And he kissed him" -- Laban said that perhaps Jacob had diamonds hidden in his mouth and that is why he kissed him. Therefore, Jacob had to explain that he was fleeing for his life and was penniless.
We know how important it is to judge people favorably. However, if someone is an evil person we are obligated to judge him unfavorably. Some people might find this rather harsh, but that is the reality: with evil people, assume the worst. (Rabbi Yeruchem Levovitz; Daas Torah: Beraishis, p. 192)
The way of the Torah is to use wisdom to know when to assume negative motivations and when to judge people favorably. Unfortunately, too many people fail to judge others favorably when they really should. On the other hand, to assume everyone is always righteous is the attribute of a fool, not a righteous person.
CANDLE LIGHTING - November 23:
(or go to http://aish.com/candlelighting)
Guatemala 5:12 Hong Kong 5:20 Honolulu 5:30
J'Burg 6:22 London 3:44 Los Angeles 4:28
Melbourne 8:00 Miami 5:12 Moscow 3:53
New York 4:15 Singapore 6:33
QUOTE OF THE WEEK:
High level conversation is about ideas,
average level is about things,
inferior level of conversation is about people.
In honor of