0 Posted by - January 23, 2014 - Parsha, Shemot


Parshat Mishpatim

elen Keller once said, “Hearing loss is a worse misfortune than being blind. When you lose your vision, you lose contact with things; but when you lose your hearing, you lose contact with people.” In the words of our Sages, this is true, to a degree. The Talmud (B Kama 85b) discusses the five payments for bodily damages, נזק צער ריפוי שבת ובושת, with which one must compensate the damaged. Our rabbis tell us how to calculate the value the person lost as result of the damage. The monetary courts figure according to the slave market. If someone were to be blinded, we would figure the value of the person before being blind, and how much he is worth in the market as a slave now, and the difference in value between the two conditions goes to the damaged person. This is just one of the five payments, נזק. The Talmud discusses the evaluation of loss of different parts of the body, losing a hand, losing a leg, etc. Each loss incurs a different decline in the value of a slave; a different factor is involved in each and every limb. This is how devaluation is calculated in regard to all the bodily functions. With one exception. If you make someone deaf, the person’s value as a slave is reduced to nothing, and you need to pay the whole value of the person, according to what it would have been had he been sold as a slave before becoming deaf. No one wants a deaf slave.

Why not? Our rabbis explain (Raavad) that people get revolted from trying to communicate to someone who cannot hear. There seems to be a contradiction. According to the aforementioned discussion, loss of hearing is the greatest loss possible, even worse than becoming blind. Elsewhere in Talmud, (Nedarim 64b) it seems that being blind is worse than being deaf. The Talmud discusses four people who are considered as dead, and one of them is a blind man. A deaf person is not one of the four. How can this be? Didn’t we learn that being deaf is worse than being blind?

The answer is simple. In regards to the blind man, himself, we consider that he is “dead”, and a deaf man isn’t. (R’ Yosef, a blind Amora, tells us, that a blind man can never really enjoy food, never become satiated.(Yoma 74b) As a slave, however, a deaf man is considered to have the least value! On the communication level, deafness takes away all value from a person, and is worse than blindness.

The Hebrew word for ear is אזן . The Hebrew word for the handle on a cup or jug is also אזן. In a way, the ear even looks like a jug handle. This is because the way to get a handle on any relationship is by listening…

I remember that this concept came up when I was learning life coaching in R’ Geizler’s course, in Jerusalem.. I used to think, when teaching yeshiva students (17 and up), that the way to help the boy was by finding and knowing the right thing to say. I used to think that a mentor could motivate the most efficiently by giving just the right speech or saying the right thing in a one-on-one talk. But, I learnt that giving sparks of inspiration or motivation can be well and good in the mentoring state . But, if the student’s “battery” is dead, a spark doesn’t help. So, what can you do to help a confused student? You can coach him. Ask him questions .. listen to him… and then ask him again… and then listen again… I would have to speak less and listen more, if I wanted to move from mentoring to coaching. I needed to change from a ratio of 80 percent talking with 20 percent listening, to 20 percent talking and 80 percent listening. And ever since, my success rate of helping students went from 20 percent to more than 80 percent. And, the best part of it all is, I don’t have to huff and puff anymore. I leave all that up to the yeshiva student.

So, what has more value, knowing how to talk or knowing how to listen? You may be very valuable as a speaker, but when it comes to your worth in personal relationships, if you don’t listen a lot in a conversation, you’re still holding at 20 success, even if you are the world’s best speaker. You can never serve people properly if you don’t listen, and everyone in our lives wants to be served. The better you serve, the greater your worth. In the United States, the one who is the best president, or best in any other leading position, is the one who knows how to listen to the nation best and serve the nation best. The art of serving is the most valuable art you have. And the first element in serving someone is listening, to be attuned to and understand what they really want. Hellen Keller said, “The only thing worse than being blind is having sight, but no vision.” She would probably also say that the only thing that is worse than being deaf is being able to hear but incapable of listening.

After reading the next few lines, you will possess tools which will help you to listen. Implementing those tools will result in your becoming a more valuable person, a more effective communicator and a better conversationalist. The rule of thumb is, the more you are listening instead of talking, i.e., the more you shine the spotlight on the other person in your conversation, the more interesting he will find you, and the more valuable you will be as an acquaintance. I will show you how. Just listen. This will help you in dating, marriage, parenting, business, in many different social situations, etc…

After reading this article, approach your conversation with the next person you schmooze with as if you respect them as a Tzelem Elokim, a creation that is in the image of G-d. There is so many interesting things in this person’s life, interesting opinions, knowledge you may not know, etc. Without intruding into his or her life, ask him, in sincere interest, how things are going… Ask how his day was so far, and how he wants it to end. You need time for this, time to listen. When he has finished, and you have more time to improve your relationship, ask for his opinion about anything he may have something to say about. And then listen. Then, ask about interests, (people, places or things,) and just listen. DO NOT SPEAK ABOUT YOURSELF UNTIL YOU ARE INVITED TO. According to studies, the most common word people use is the word “I”. And the most common word used by people who have lots of friends, people who are good communicators, is “YOU”.

If you find silence, don’t get nervous. It still doesn’t mean that you need to talk about yourself or your interests or opinions. If you ramble on and on, you are going to have a one way conversation. So, what happens when I ask a question, and there is no immediate response, or a response that is short and to the point? Sometimes, you need to wait for an answer, to wait for things to percolate until the other party feels comfortable enough to speak. If they don’t answer so fast, respect the silence; they are in middle of thinking what they want to say or how they want to answer you. If you find a question about something that he has interest in, it may open him up for discussion. But I don’t know what he is interested in!!! Sometimes, you have to listen well to figure out what people are interested in. Find out how he spends his time. Time and money are of the two most valuable things on earth. If he spends his time or money on something, it means that it has value for him. A big part of listening means asking questions that will cause the other person to talk. It also means that even if you speak a couple of sentences, you do not leave off with a period, but with an open ended question. You know what I mean? … That is a yes or no, close ended question. They can give a short answer. What is your opinion about what I am saying? … is an open-ended question.

If the person rambles on and on, there is something you can do that will keep you focused on what he is saying. In your mind, repeat the words as he says them. After he finishes, you can summarize in just a few words what the person said, to show him that you are listening, and he will feel comfortable about continuing to talk, because he has found someone who can understand him.

The next time you are trying to be a conversationalist, remember to look for the other person’s OLI. Opinions, Life and Interests. Why is listening so powerful? Why do people love it so much when you listen? When you ask about these subjects, you are showing respect for them, treating them as a tzelem elokim, or properly serving them. And when you do this, you are doing one of the greatest mitzvoth in the Torah.“Love your neighbor as you love yourself.”

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