Shabbat-Table Talks: Vayera
To read last year's Table Talk on Vayera click here.
By: Rabbi Ralph Tawil <firstname.lastname@example.org>
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
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…!
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)
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
Being open about criticism and
doing it in a dignified constructive way strengthens relationships.
Here are some ideas for how to
make criticism constructive:
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."
label!! (“Labeling is disabling.”)
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.)
on one issue at a time. Choose that issue and the approach carefully.
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.)
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.
the goal is not to “win” the argument, but to improve the relationship
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”
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.