||POSITIVE STRUCTURING OF
- July '02/Tammuz-Av 5762
You can say things in ways that are constructive, neutral
or destructive. The Torah is always concerned with expressing itself with the utmost
possible brevity. When a wording is longer than need be, there is always an extra lesson
there. When the Torah refers to unkosher animals, it says "lo tahor (not
kosher)." Why does the Torah not say "tamay" (the one-word Torah-term for
"unkosher")? When Rambam wants to say a behavior or lifestyle is evil, he says
"lo tov (not good)." Why does the sage not write "ra (evil)?" Why do
Chazal refer to a blind person as "abundant with light?" Why does halacha
require us to call an ugly bride "beautiful and charming?" The Torah wants
speech to only be in the nicest, cleanest and most tactful possible way; even if it means
being less precise, efficient or concise. "Each person should always get along
sweetly with all other people (Kesuvos 17a)." The Torah (Genesis 37:24) says that the
brothers threw Yosef into a pit that "was empty with no water in it." The Talmud
(Shabos 22a) asks why the Torah states the seeming redundancy of 1. empty 2. with no water
in it. The Talmud says that the pit was empty OF WATER only, but the pit contained snakes
and scorpions. Rabbi Zalman Sorotskin, late head of the Vaad HaYeshivos in Israel,
explains that snakes and scorpions are a distasteful thing, so the Torah words itself in a
nice way: "there was no water in the pit." This teaches us that when we speak
about people, we should only speak about what is good about them, and never speak about
what is bad about people. How beautifully it would affect marriages if partners only saw
the good in each other and only spoke well of - and to - each other!
When King Avimelech took Sara from Avraham (thinking she was his sister), G-d
threatened to kill him if he would not return Sara untouched immediately. Avimelech
defended himself saying, "I did this with innocent heart and with clean hands."
G-d replied, "I know you did this with innocent heart (Genesis 20:5-6)."
Although Avimelech was innocent at heart, in that he did not know Sara was married, he did
act with lascivious intentions - with "filthy hands." Hashem merely omitted
reference to Avimelech's "alleged clean hands." This was enough to make the
negative point, while only using words that are positive.
What is truth?...what G-D WANTS! Generally, G-d wants peace, unity, love, respect,
pleasantness. The Torah (Genesis 18:10-13) reports that Heaven sent three angels to visit
Avraham when he was 99 years old to tell him that he was going to have a son in one year.
Sara, 89, was right behind and heard. She laughed within herself and said that HER HUSBAND
was too old. G-d came to Avraham and said that Sara said that SHE was too old to have a
child. If G-d was interested in defining truth in marriage as "accurate
reporting," He would have quoted to Avraham what Sara TRULY said: HER HUSBAND is too
old to have a child. Marital peace is so important that G-d Himself changed Sara's words
so as to not in any way diminish peace between Avraham and Sara (Yevamos 65b).
Consider how important marital peace is. We have a couple who were 99 and 89 years old.
They'd been married for decades. On top of that, they were uncle and niece - family even
before marriage. Didn't they know each other and have a secure relationship already? Even
so, G-d Himself, with their established and deep relationship, manipulated the report so
as to accord with ULTIMATE TRUTH, G-D'S TRUTH: PEACE COMES BEFORE ACCURACY - IN DEFINING
OR SPEAKING TRUTH.
How we speak impacts how we are understood. In 1930, Poland's Minister of Education
declared that any religious ordination would require a college degree. For yeshivas,
forced secular education would be a catastrophe. The Torah community asked the elderly
Chafetz Chayim to appeal to the minister. When the sage finished speaking (in Yiddish),
the minister told the translator that he needn't bother explaining. Because the Chafetz
Chayim SPOKE WITH SO MUCH HEART AND SINCERITY, the minister understood - and canceled the
The order in which you present elements can impact communication. After Avraham's
binding of Yitzchok, Avraham sent a messenger to Sara to explain why they left suddenly
for several days. The messenger said, "G-d told Avraham to sacrifice Yitzchok, it
turned out to be only a test of Avraham's loyalty, so Yitzchok is fine." However,
when Sara heard that G-d told Avraham to kill Yitzchok, she went into immediate, total
shock. She never heard that her son was fine. This is how Sara died and why the story (in
the Torah) of Sara's death follows right after the story of the binding of Yitzchok. We
learn from this - in the communication domain - to FIRST say that a thing worked out just
fine; when an element of a statement is frightening, negative or disastrous.
Consider timing, atmosphere, location, voice volume, word choices, the other's
filters/biases and cultural background, blockages, perceptions and the medium (e.g. phone
loses the characteristics of eye contact and physiological motion, writing loses vocal
tonality). Think things through, to deliver your communications in the most constructive
and effective manner, combining all elements so that expression of your message and the
receiver's understanding optimally match. Factor in objective communication truths as well
as the subjective elements in the party/ies to whom your communication is delivered.