“Let's table the discussion" is an Adath Israel Shul initiative where a story or thought is presented in order to stimulate exciting and constructive discussion around our Shabbos table or among friends and children. (Dedicated to the Refuah Sheleima of Shalva Adina Bas Sarah Chana & Eliyahu Aharon Ben Yocheved Yetta Ettel).
Public speakers are often trained to think and speak in a certain way. In my training, I’ve been coached and re-coached dozens of times about the right way to begin a speech, what to say and how to do so. Indeed, anxiety on behalf of speakers is such a common situation that a whole field of coaches whose work focuses on how to best craft a speech from its very first line.
I recently met someone who told me that the entire line of thinking was wrong. He told me that the formal speech, the over-preparation, the focus on each detail and the anxiety were blown way out of proportion. To him, the most important part of any address – speech, Sermon, or even conversation – could be summed up in one quality – connection.
He mentioned that he had been invited to speak at a high school a number of years earlier. The high school in question was not a typical high school. The school catered to a clientele that seemed to need more rigid structure in its program. Its teachers tended to be more demanding and intolerant of deviation from their rigid behavior protocol. The speaker’s speech was deemed a minor break from protocol for the students but that they didn’t have any expectation to actually listen or hear anything impactful from him.
“Nervous as I was to speak,” noted the fellow, “I couldn’t remember what I had chosen as the opening ‘attention grabber’ I intended on using. I looked out onto the audience who were polite and at attention physical albeit disinterested – and the only idea that came into my mind was how my favorite teacher in school referred to us – He would always say ‘my dearest and most special students’. For some wild idea, I began with that same cheesy introduction – but like my teacher, I really DID mean it. The rest of the talk went as best as could be expected. And, for some reason, they asked me back every year since.”
“Last year, I learned why. I was invited to a special ceremony to honor some of the long term graduates of the program. 5 had gone on to become successful lawyers, some went to medical school and the majority were, in general, succeeding at life in its many facets. Questioning why they would bring a once-a-year guest speaker to such a special gathering, I bumped into a well-known successful judge who was also at the event. “You don’t remember me,” he began, “Perhaps you don’t even know that I went to this school. But that first time you got up and referred to us as your ‘dearest and most special students’ you woke me up. It was the first time someone considered me special and important. After you spoke, I discovered that your beginning impacted a lot of us here. Not many of us remember the rest of your talk – but the beginning really connected to us. We were dear and most special – and at least someone knew it. Eventually, the teachers started to use the same tactic – each one in her or his special way and we learned to see ourselves as important. That’s how we got here. Many of us owe ourselves to those precious words – my dearest and most special students.”
Rav Volch Shlita points out that when we try to impact our community and society as a whole, we can either come on hard or we can work to bring people close. While there are times that we need to stand up for our values and raise the people around us to know that certain societal practices are not acceptable, we also need to let people know that practices might not be acceptable but the people are.
The Mikallel (blasphemer) in the Parsha was a person who sought admission into the tribe of his mother. Although he was not allowed into the camp, the style used to push him away led him to curse God, a crime that cost him his very life.
We often have the challenge of disagreeing with members of our society. However, while disagreeing, we also need to remember that we disagree with the practices – we find the people in the world around us to possess the spirit of Hashem “dearest and most special”.
How can we show our children and friends that while we don’t always agree with them, we always care for them?
Why might this be important to our relationships with them?
Let’s “table” the discussion – by discussing it with our children, spouses, families and guests and open an exciting discussion into our homes and communities.