Today's Life Yomi is dedicated by Stephen Kushner in memory of his brother, Sam Kushner, Shalom ben Eliezer z"l.
Like many teachers, after Rabbi Michael Skobac of Jews for Judaism finishes a lecture, he takes questions. But his response is unique. He listens to the question and then pauses to ponder before answering. It doesn’t matter how complex or simple the question is, Rabbi Skobac stops to think before responding.
Sitting in the audience, it can sometimes get a little frustrating.
‘What a basic question!’ you think to yourself, ‘Why is he thinking so hard before answering?’
When Rabbi Aba was en route from Babylonia to Israel, he prayed: “May it be G-d’s will that I offer a teaching that will be accepted [by the rabbis of the Holy Land].” Rashi explains that he was praying that he would not become embarrassed in their wise company.
When he arrived, he found Rabbi Yochanan, Rabbi Chanina bar Papi and Rabbi Zaira. (Some suggest that it was actually Rabbi Abahu, Rabbi Shimon ben Pazi and Rabbi Shimon Nafcha.) They were sitting and discussing yesterday’s question concerning the woman who borrowed salt and water from her friend for her dough. “Why should it be considered substantial? It should be nullified in the mixture of dough!”
Rabbi Aba said to them, “If one person’s measure of wheat was mixed up in his friend’s ten measures, can the friend eat and be merry?” What he meant was that if the first fellow owns part of the mixture, you can’t simply ignore his ownership and say it’s nullified. The rule of bittul (negation) only works to nullify prohibited substances, such as when a drop of milk falls into a pot of meat. We can’t apply the same rules to personal ownership, since the owner of the “nullified” ingredient won’t accept his loss.
They laughed at him.
Rabbi Abahu said to them, “Have I have taken off your clothes that you are poking fun at me?”
Again, they laughed at him.
Imagine how dejected poor Rabbi Aba must have felt. The Gemara details for us the special prayer he recited before joining the conversation. Unfortunately, it was to no avail. The Israeli rabbis thought Rabbi Aba’s suggestion was stupid and they mocked him. You think he ever wanted to speak up again in their company?
Rabbi Skobac’s response to every individual is incredibly righteous. No matter how basic the question, he makes the inquirer feel that he has made an important contribution to the discussion. Even if his initial thought is, ‘This question is ridiculous,’ no doubt Rabbi Skobac is reflecting, ‘How can I rephrase the question to make this person feel good about themselves and what they have to offer?’
And sure enough, when he responds, Rabbi Skobac has brilliantly spun the question to make the individual look thoughtful and intelligent. Not only does he avoid embarrassing the person for their silly question, but they are encouraged to ask questions in the future. How does he do it? By treating every question with the same respect and dignity, no matter how great or small the question truly is.
How do you treat people who offer their opinions and ideas to you? Do you show your contempt and dismiss their silly thoughts, making them think twice before speaking up in the future? Or do you treat every comment with care and respect?
You have no idea how much effort has gone into mustering up the courage to even offer their thoughts. Think of Rabbi Aba who would pray that he wouldn’t say anything unacceptable! Often people are so scared to open up their mouths only to be treated with disdain, the poor souls.
You’ve got to be so sensitive to any comment a person makes or question they ask. Don’t assume that they are neglecting to think before speaking. Build them up – commend them for their interesting thought and they will be encouraged to put in even greater thought and consideration in future conversations! Whether it's a friend, a colleague, a spouse or your child - give them your all!
You can be an intelligence creator! You can inspire wisdom! Who knows? You might even inspire someone to become the next Einstein or Maimonides once they feel comfortable seeking answers to their queries! But above all, in every conversation, first and foremost, your job is to make people feel validated and good about themselves.
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