Friday, November 7, 2008

Parshas Lech Lecha - Our Avos Teach Us Proper Communication


Part one

By Rabbi Chaim Morgenstern

The narrative stories about our forefathers are replete with lessons in derech eretz – proper conduct with others. Perhaps one reason why the Torah devoted the entire Chumash Bereishis to these events prior to the giving of the mitzvos is to teach us the important lesson “Derech eretz kadma laTorah” – receiving and studying the Torah must and be prefaced by (acting with) derech eretz (cf Midrash Rabba Vayikra 9:3, Torah Shelaima ,Bereishis,3:24 #242)

This week’s parsha begins with Hashem telling Avraham Avinu to leave his homeland and go to Eretz Cana'an where he would be blessed and become a great nation. However, when he settled there, he finds himself being forced to go to Egypt because of a famine. Upon approaching Egypt, he realizes that if the corrupt Egyptians would discover that Sarah is his wife, he will be murdered. He therefore had to make it quite clear to her that she mustn't slip when being asked her identity.

How would we instruct our wives under such conditions? Imagine someone trying to smuggle merchandise out of a country. As he approaches the border he would probably order his family members, "In case you are asked any questions by customs make sure you say that you have nothing to declare, for if not, who knows what they will do to us?" Similarly we would expect Avraham to command Sarah “In case the Egyptians ask us any questions, make sure you tell them that you’re my sister or else they’ll kill me!” Nevertheless Avraham did not forget about derech eretz when making his request. He said, "Imri na…" – "Please say…"

An important lesson learned from this is to say please when requesting, in other words, don’t be bossy, even when making a simple request to your spouse, child or colleague. For example, use phrases like, “Can you please pass the salt?”, or “Can you please bring in the mail?” Rav Avraham Pam once remarked that courtship should not end with marriage. Couples should continue to speak politely to each other just like when they were dating, by saying “please” and “thank you,” and by being appreciative. He further added that if couples would only keep ten percent of this politeness, it would make a world of difference to their shalom bayis. Rav Aharon Feldman further explains this concept in his book The River, the Kettle and the Bird (p.37), by saying “please” and “thank you” you express respect and concern towards your spouse’s feelings by not taking them for granted.

The Netziv (Ha’emek Davar, Breishis 12:13,) points out another important lesson in communication from Avraham Avinu. In the above scenario, we would expect him to tell Sara, “Please tell them that I'm your brother, or else they will kill me!” in order to save his own life. But instead, Avraham said, “Imri na achosi at… va'avuraich,” – please say that you are my sister… for your benefit, “Ve’choisa nafshee bi’glalaich” – and that I may live for you, meaning, if they kill me who would care for you? There is no doubt in our minds that Sarah would have kept their marriage a secret in order to save her husband’s life. Nevertheless, not only did Avraham request this of Sarah, but he also felt it important to explain the benefits to her so that psychologically she would feel even better about doing it.

We learn another important lesson from this. When requesting that another person do something for you, whenever possible, try to explain why it is also beneficial for him.

Some examples:

• When asking one’s spouse for some household help, try to explain how beneficial the help would be for the family. For instance, “Your assistance is greatly needed by the family because I simply do not have the energy to do it,” or “I am overwhelmed with work now, perhaps you do a chesed and can give me a hand,” or “I think that you can do a better job on this than I can.”

• When asking a child to purchase something in the grocery store, or to tidy up his room. The mitzva of kibud av va’eim – honoring and obeying one’s parents – certainly is reason enough for the child to listen. However, in light of Avraham’s example, the parent should add something that will make the child feel good about doing the chore, such as for “Buying food for the family is a tremendous chesed which the whole family appreciates” or “ When you tidy up your room, besides the chesed you’re doing for the family in keeping a neat home, you’re also training yourself in the mida of neatness & being orderly” (nekiyus and seder, both mentioned in Rav Yisroel Salanter’s list of 13 prime midos).

Avraham Avinu’s lesson is just one of the many examples of the numerous Middos that can be learned from the stories of our Avos.

(More examples will be given in Parshas Vayaitzai.)

-Dixie Yid

(Picture courtesy of nys school for the blind)

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1 comment:

Shorty said...

Communication between husband and wife is so important - not only the subject (like talking about our feelings), but the words we use...

Saying thank you, for simple things and be specific - thank you for doing the dishes, thank you for cooking this beautiful meal...

When asking for help, I have read that using words like "would" or "will" is better than can or could.

I'm not sure i agree with your last suggestion, about teaching the child the lesson when they clean their room. Its kind of guilting them, and i think it would back fire a bit.

Shabbat Shalom!