Finding The Right Words


rabbi-pinchos-lipschutz-By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

As we study Parshas Bo, we note that the pesukim and narratives of this parsha comprise many of the words and stories intrinsic to our emunah, which combine to mold the drama and excitement of the Seder night.

On that night, every father is charged with imparting not only the stories, but also the eternal messages and lessons that emanate from our experiences in Golus Mitzrayim, and our deliverance from them, which formed us into the am hanivchor.

The Ramban famously teaches that Parshas Bo is the guidebook of emunas Yisroel, which is the foundation of ourbelief throughout the ages. Interestingly, besides for Yetzias Mitzrayim being the bedrock of our faith, within the account of Yetzias Mitzrayim we find important chinuch lessons and timeless truths about how to maximize the potential of every Jewish child.

It is in regard to the mitzvah of sippur Yetzias Mitzrayim that the Torah charges each father to be a mechaneich, invested with a sacred task of inspiring his children. The Rambam (Hilchos Chometz Umatzoh 7:2) writes that it is incumbent to teach children about Yetzias Mitzrayim, and a father should teach his children according to each child’s level.

Several pesukim in the parsha discuss how to teach our children about the importance of Yetzias Mitzrayim and its connection to the mitzvos we observe on Pesach.

Vehoyo ki yomru aleichem beneichem moh ha’avodah hazos lochem. Va’amartem…” (Shemos 12:26-27).

Vehigadeta levincha bayom hahu leimor baavur zeh asah Hashem li betzeisi miMitzrayim” (ibid. 13:8)

Vehoyo ki yisholcha vincho mochor leimor mah zos, ve’omarta eilov bechozek yod hotzionu Hashem miMitzrayim mibais avodim (ibid. 13:14).

The Torah discusses diverse questions that various types of children may pose. A different response is suggested for each type of child. Rashi (ibid.) quotes the Mechilta and the Yerushalmi Pesachim which state, “Dibrah Torah keneged arbaah bonim.” The Baal Haggadah says, “Keneged arbaah bonim dibrah Torah,” the Torah speaks about four different types of sons who question our Pascal observances. There is the wise, the wicked, the ignorant and the one who is so simple that he cannot even express his questions.

It is interesting to note that the Haggadah introduces this concept by stating, “Boruch haMakom boruch hu, boruch shenosan Torah le’amo Yisroel.” Hashem is to be praised for giving us the Torah – “keneged arbaah bonim dibrah Torah.” We praise Hashem for giving us the Torah, which speaks – and is relevant – to different types of children and people.

The Torah provides an answer for each type of child. While every father wants to be blessed with brilliant, all-knowing, well-behaved children, when his offspring don’t necessarily turn out that way, the Torah provides the language necessary to reach even the wicked son. As frustrated as he must be, a father of such a child doesn’t have the option of ignoring or speaking roughly to him.

Every person is born with the potential for greatness. Should he unfortunately be detoured from his mission, we never abandon him. The Torah requires us to reach out to him and to respond to his queries in a language that he can understand.

Every talmid has the potential to become a gadol b’Yisroel if properly nurtured and allowed to develop. There are many stories of boys who were considered average in their youth, only to develop into famed gedolim. Sometimes it was a rebbi who took an interest in them and reached deep into their untapped greatness. Other times, a student’s stubborn dedication to learning allowed the intelligence to develop. In other cases, it was caused by Hashem responding to the tefillos of a budding talmid chochom desperately pleading, “Choneinu mei’itcha deah binah vehaskeil.” Sometimes one’s gadlus is launched in response to maternal tears and Tehillim.

Rav Shlomo Freifeld zt”l hung a picture of a key in his dining room. He explained that he wanted to remind himself that “the key to my car won’t start yours, but that doesn’t mean that there is no key that can start your car. There is a key to every person’s soul. They may be different, but there is a key to each.”

A boy from a foreign country went to learn at Yeshivas Rabbeinu Chaim Berlin and had trouble adapting to the new language and country. Consequently, his learning and friendships were suffering. The rosh yeshiva, Rav Yitzchok Hutner zt”l, inquired about him and learned that the new bochur was musically gifted. He told the boy that he had heard of his musical talents and wanted him to play for him every day. Every time he played for the rosh yeshiva, his spirit was restored, as the music touched his soul and restored his faith in himself and his abilities. Rav Hutner thus established a relationship with the young man. After he was made to feel like a valued, productive talmid, he was able to become one.

This is the depth of the posuk in Mishlei which states, “Chanoch lanaar al pi darko…” The premise of that advice is that every child has a derech. There is a distinct path to the heart of every child. There is no person who cannot be reached when the language and approach meant for them are utilized.

My friend Shea Schorr sent me a clip that demonstrates this point rather poignantly. The short video depicts a school that teaches running, climbing, flying and swimming to various animals, each with its unique nature and inborn traits.

Unfortunately, those charged with teaching the creatures didn’t focus on the bear’s strength, but rather its laziness, as it sleeps all winter. They didn’t focus on the kangaroo’s speed and energy, but on its obvious “deficiency.” After all, it runs on only two legs, not four. The bee flew well, but its wings were too small and in the wrong place. The duck swam well, but it was forced to give up swimming to concentrate on developing climbing skills.

By forcing each creature to conform to the same paradigm, they were turned into failures, stripped of their G-d-given strengths and left with no abilities at all with which to survive in the world.

In this week’s parsha, we are reminded that the Torah speaks to every person. We have to heed that message and seek to speak to every Jew in a way that he can understand and accept.

Communication seems to be a lost art, but if we want people to appreciate our way of life, if we want to have a better chance of our children following in our ways, and if we want to have a positive impact on those around us and on the world in general, we have to improve our communication skills. We have to learn how to think clearly and articulate our thoughts cogently, verbally and in writing.

If we want to influence the debate, we have to understand the questions that are being posed and respond to them in a way that the questioner can understand. Too often, we are in an echo chamber, repeatedly mouthing the same platitudes and wondering why our points are not getting across. If we aren’t getting through, we scream louder. Often, this transpires because we aren’t taking the time and expending the effort to understand the mentality of the people we are seeking to influence. Thus, our arguments fail, either because we are not properly addressing their concerns or because our logic is communicated in a language and with methods that our antagonists do not understand.

Effective communication doesn’t necessarily mean speaking with upper-class diction or using impressive verbiage. It means not only understanding the topic, but also the thought process and the value system of the people we are addressing.

Moshe Rabbeinu was not a gifted orator; in fact, he was quite the opposite. That was by design. His koach was b’peh, but not because he wowed people with his oratory. He convinced his audience with the content of his words, not by the way he expressed them. He influenced people with the strength of his arguments.

The Drashos Haran says that the Ribbono Shel Olam caused Moshe Rabbeinu to stutter so that it would be evident that his successful transmission of the Torah to Klal Yisroel was due to the effectiveness and potency of his message and not his speaking style.

The Chazon Ish described the true lamdan as “someone who spends three hours preparing to deliver a five-minute shiur, and when he is done, the people who attended say, ‘What’s the big deal? What he said is so simple.'”

This is a true talmid chochom. He thoroughly thinks through every facet of the subject matter and presents it in a fashion that is so clear that the students to whom a new understanding has been revealed don’t even realize the depth of what they have been taught and the amount of effort exerted to explain it in a way that they can comprehend.

The Chofetz Chaim taught his generation and those that follow through speaking and writing in simple, plain language. Anyone who heard Rav Elozor Menachem Man Shach’s urgent flow of words, and his passion and intensity compensating for a lack of elocution, saw that his effectiveness had less to do with the medium than the message. He cared, so his words were accepted in the spirit in which they were said. Rav Gamliel Rabinowitz inspires people in Yerushalayim and around the world with simple messages. Few of those who listen to his weekly chizuk and read the sheets of his Torah distributed in shuls around the world are aware that this same person has authored seforim on the deepest kabalistic concepts.

There is no match for genuine concern. A good educator succeeds when he views each student with an appreciation that there is a language and path that can reach his soul and tailors the message accordingly.

Just as there are arbaah bonim, four sons, there are also four expressions, arba leshonos, of geulah. Perhaps this is a hint that in order to bring about the ultimate geulah, we have to use the proper language for every type of child. If we only speak in one lashon, we will not succeed in reaching everyone and we will not succeed in bringing about the geulah. The geulah is dependent on everyone’s devotion to the mitzvos of the Torah.

Decades ago, after arriving home in Rishon Letzion for the Pesach bein hazemanim, a talmid of Yeshivas Hanegev in Netivot was called to the lone telephone in his neighborhood. His rosh yeshiva, Rav Yissochor Meir zt”l, was looking for him. Rav Yissochor told the boy that something had come up and asked him to come back to Netivot.

A few hours later, the rosh yeshiva welcomed the talmid into his home and explained that he learned about a large group of Russian olim who arrived in Israel that week and were being housed at an absorption center in Rishon Letzion. Rav Yissochor wanted the talmid to host a Pesach Seder for them. He handed his student matzoh, wine and a stack of Haggados with Russian translation.

Then he told his talmid, “Along with the matzos and the wine, there is the message of the Seder that you have to impart. Let me explain to you the nefesh of Russian immigrants, their value systems and their philosophy, so that you will know what to say at the Seder and how to speak to them in a way that will reach them.”

The talmid left armed with supplies for the Seder and with an enduring lesson about chinuch. Just as a locked computer cannot be accessed without the proper password, each soul has a code that opens it. Someone who fails to reach a soul and says that it is because there is something wrong with the person is akin to one who concludes that a computer is broken when he types in the wrong password.

Golus Mitzrayim was preordained to last 400 years. When that time period concluded, the geulah arrived, despite the state of the Jewish people at that time. The golus in which we now find ourselves, Golus Edom, has no set expiration date.

The redemption depends upon us, our dedication to Torah, our emunah and bitachon, and, mostly, our teshuvah. It is only when Klal Yisroel does teshuvah that Hashem will bring us Moshiach and the geulah.

With the right words, we can change the world; providing strength, humility, wisdom, joy, resilience, pride and, ultimately, the redemption.

We have to learn the correct words, the proper language, and the various leshonos with which to reach different people. Fathers will then reach their sons – veheishiv lev avos al bonim velev bonim al avosam. Together – parents and children, teachers and students – we will greet Moshiach, bemeheiroh beyomeinu.

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  1. i must be modeh, that although I regularly disagree and find this authors columns to be offensive at times. This time, he has penned an absolute masterpiece.

    Yasher koach!

  2. This was a truly beautiful article.

    I hope, that as one of the chief pontificators and spokesmen and apologists for the Chareidi world, you will keep a copy of your article near you as you write.

    Perhaps it will remind you to be more tolerant of different people with different hashkafos than your own, and be willing to accept that they may have some of the truth as well.

    Perhaps it will help you influence the Chareidi world to allow more flexibility and variety in their yeshivos and mosdos chinuch, and not try to force all talmidim into the same mold, same curriculum, same dress, and same outlook.

    Perhaps it will help you value that many women have ways in which they must be spoken to and have their minds engaged, that might be different from what is taught in typical Bais Yaakovs.

    Just perhaps.

    Thank you once again