Shabbat-Table Talks: Vayera

 

To read last year's Table Talk on Vayera click here.

 

By: Rabbi Ralph Tawil <tawil@bezeqint.net>

 

Value: Honesty in Relationships. Relationships are built by communication. The nature of the communication determines the nature of the relationship. Trust and sincerity are vital for strong relationships. Speaking about what is bothering you in a candid, yet dignified way is essential for a strong “real” relationship. Sometimes people are afraid to speak to one another candidly for fear of hurting their feelings. Learning how to express difficult feelings in a dignified and effective way can pave the way for relationships that are more solid. In our perasha we see several examples of how frank rebuke was used in order to strengthen relationships, between Man and Man, and between Man and God.

 

Background: Abimelekh, king of Gerar took Sarah, thinking she was Abraham’s sister. After Hashem commands Abimelekh to return her, Abimelekh rebukes Abraham. He asks for Abraham to tell him what he saw wrong with his country that made him have to lie about Sarah’s identity. Abraham tells Abimelekh “Surely there is no awe of God in this place, they will kill me on account of my wife!” Abimelekh and Abraham remain on very good terms. Abimelekh wants to make these terms official by making a treaty/covenant with Abraham.

 

Text: Beresheet 21:22-27

It was at about that time that Abimelekh, together with Pikhol the commander of his army, said to Abraham: God is with you in all that you do. So now, swear to me here by God: If you should ever deal falsely with me, with my progeny and my posterity…!

 

Rather, faithfully, as I have dealt with you, deal with me, and with the land in which you have sojourned. Abraham said: I so swear. But Abraham rebuked Abimelekh because of a well of water that Abimelekh’s servants had seized. Abimelekh said: I do not know who did this thing, nor have you ever told me, nor have I heard of it apart from today. So Abraham took sheep and oxen and gave them to Abimelekh and the two of them cut a covenant.

 

Rabbinic Text: Bereshit Rabbah 54:3

"And Abraham reproached Abimelekh”: R. Yossi son of R. Hannina said: reproach brings love, [as it is written] reproach the wise person and he will love you (Proverbs 9:8). This statement is consistent with R. Yossi son of R. Hannina's statement that any love that does not have reproach is not love. Rish Laqish said: Reproach brings peace [as it is written] "and Abraham reproached etc." This statement is consistent with Rish Laqish's position that any peace that does not have reproach is not peace." (Ber. Rabbah 54:3 T-A 578)

 

Analysis: A relationship that is built on openness and sincerity is a truthful one. Every relationship has its rough spots. Being able to communicate openly about the differences is what allows a proper relationship to be built. Abraham and Abimelekh were about to make a treaty with one another. Abraham could not do it without being sincere with Abimelekh even if that meant rebuking him. The sincerity lays the groundwork for strong relationships. The statement of the Rabbis above goes even further. Love and peace that do not include sincere and constructive reproach are not really love and peace! Torah “peace and love” require openness about the differences that are bound to occur in relationship. A truly loving relationship is strong enough to weather sincere and constructive rebuke.

 

What is interesting is that Abraham relationship with God was such that Abraham was even able to “rebuke” Him! Listen to the power of Abraham’s words to God:

Will you really sweep away the innocent along with the guilty? Perhaps there are fifty innocent within the city, will you really sweep it away? Will You not bear with the place because of the fifty innocent that are in its midst? Heaven forbid for You to do a thing like this, to deal death to the innocent along with the guilty, that it should come about: like the innocent, like the guilty, Heaven forbid for You! The Judge of all the earth—will He not do what is just? (Beresheet 18:23-25)

What is also interesting is that of all the Tenakh’s heroes, God calls only Abraham “the one who loved God” (see Isaiah 41:8). Reading more of the section in Genesis chapter 18 we can see the dignified way in which Abraham spoke when giving the rebuke and suggesting alternative behavior. He humbled himself greatly.

 

Being open about criticism and doing it in a dignified constructive way strengthens relationships.

 

Here are some ideas for how to make criticism constructive:

v      Speak about your feelings, and less about the other person’s actions. "When you put your shoes on the laundered sheets it makes me feel that you do not appreciate cleanliness and my efforts."

v      Never label!! (“Labeling is disabling.”)

v      Keep away from “never” and “always” when giving constructive criticism. (Using these words causes the person to think of the one example to prove you wrong, rather than understanding that you are bothered by his behavior.)

v      Work on one issue at a time. Choose that issue and the approach carefully.

v      Never criticize when angry. Wait until you are calm to bring up the topic in a constructive way. (This is a hard one, but in order for the criticism to be effective, you must control yourself.)

v      Be sensitive to how the person is taking the criticism. (If you sense that it is not going well ask about how the person would like to hear the criticism.

v      Remember the goal is not to “win” the argument, but to improve the relationship through openness.

 

Workshop: describe a situation in the household and different ways that one can be candidly critical about it.

·         Children not cleaning rooms

·         Husband coming home late

·         Parent breaking “promises”

·         Meals unappetizing

Choose one of these topics (or others) and everyone work on how the criticism can be given in constructive ways. 

 

To read last year's Table Talk on Vayera click here.

 

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