Thursday, June 6, 2013

Do What I Mean - Pitfalls of Trying to Help

"Do what I mean, not what I say." One of my teachers was found of saying this when he knew that he had given confusing instructions or otherwise not quite gotten out in words the thoughts in his head. It was a funny little way to point out these common mishaps in communication that can sometimes, if not often, be the source of conflict in our relationships with others. Shabbat this week is also the minor holiday of Rosh Chodesh, the beginning of the month of Sivan. As such, we read a special haftarah for this occasion in place of the usual one related to the Torah portion. In the haftarah, taken from the book of Isaiah - we find an enlightening scene that points out to us just how necessary careful communication really is. Just having good intentions is often not enough if we aren't able to truly reach the other people with whom we interact. And not getting that communication right - if it is because of laziness or carelessness is a true disservice to those with whom we interact and a lessening of ourselves as well. In the haftarah, the story picks up with the Jews complaining (big news there). They seem to be upset because the news of their coming salvation from Babylonian exile has been delivered to them not with fiery trumpets and angels, but in the decree of Cyrus the Great. He allowed those people exiled from their homelands by the Babylonians to return to their homes as an act of clemency and celebration upon having conquered the Babylonians. As God speaks to Isaiah in the haftarah, it seems the Jews were unhappy, doubtful, unconvinced by this method of communication from God. God says about the Jews, "I called to them but they didn't answer, I spoke to them but they didn't hear." They just didn't get it that God sometimes (often, even) acts through the hands of human agents, and that it is up to us to perceive the divine even in such circumstances. But the big message, or at the least the one I want to focus on is not that. I want to point out that look how careful we have to be if even God can have trouble getting others to understand Him. He was acting in the Jews best interests, bringing to them salvation, and they couldn't get it. Now to my thinking, in the haftarah, the fault has to be with the Jews not hearing as opposed to with God not communicating well. But that does not get us off the hook. People are all too ready to overlook and miss that which is offered to them or said to them or done for their benefit if it is does not arrive in the way they expected. Rather than blame the person, we need to recognize our role in delivering that which we have to offer in a way that actually gets to the person. It should be part of our duty to act in a godly way. It should be part of our duty in taking others and their needs seriously. It should be part of our duty in taking what we have to offer others seriously as well. Shabbat Shalom, Rabbi Aaron Benson

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