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Vayikra 5782 - Pausing for Understanding

March 11, 2022 - 9 Adar II 5782

Have you ever had a heated conversation with a loved one in which, thirty minutes in, you both realize you’re speaking about completely different things? Then, you have to go back to the beginning and start all over again, hoping you’ll understand each other this time around.

Throughout the book of Leviticus - Vayikra - God wants to make sure that God and Moshe are on the same page. Rashi asks the question of why “Vay’daber Adonai eilav, or vay’daber Adonai el Moshe,” “and God spoke to him or to Moshe,” appears so many times throughout this book of Torah. The reader already knows that God is speaking to Moshe in uninterrupted conversation throughout most of our parshiyot. Rashi’s answer is that each Vay’daber, along with each phrase that starts with a conjunctive vav, a “v” sound, represents God pausing long enough to check for Moshe’s comprehension. God models an effective communication and teaching tool, checking for understanding every so often, to make sure Moshe is processing the information he hears in the way God intends.

 When I have a conversation with you, I inherently bring my own assumptions, opinions, and knowledge that you may not share with me. I know, too, that I tend to avoid conflict in conversation, while others hit it head on. Growing up as a Los Angeles-based millennial, the way I use and understand language is different from the way someone raised in Shreveport in the 60s might use and understand language. When two people step into conversation subconsciously carrying different ideas of the world and the nature of conversation itself, respectful communication can be a real challenge.   

If we take on God’s model of pausing every so often in each conversation we enter, we have the chance to accomplish so much more in our speech with one another. Every time we finish a complex thought or idea, we can ask, “Does that make sense?” If it doesn’t, we can leave space for the other to ask questions, or inquire about what specifically is confusing. Remember that each and every one of us holds a different internal library of facts and knowledge. In any potentially divisive, frightening, or even exciting conversation, we can pause and actively ask about the feelings in the room: “What does it feel like for you to say or hear that?” If an opinion or worldview on any side of the conversation gets in the way, we can pause and ask each other what experiences and assumptions have led to this gap in understanding. That pause also gives us a moment to catch our breath, if one of the stated ideas in the room seems offensive to us. Most importantly, we can pause and ask each other the goals of this conversation - are we aiming to inform or advise each other, to comfort, to explore possibilities, or to make a firm decision? Two people may enter a conversation with different goals, and these goals in themselves may be something that sprouts another important discussion. Of course, checking for understanding on both sides can mean just embracing a moment of silence. *silence* With silence, all parties have a chance to take in the information, opinions, and emotions that have just been shared. 

In the same breath that Rashi extols God’s wisdom to pause, to leave space in the conversation, Rashi asks why our parashah begins with a doubled act of speech, “Vayikra el Moshe, vay’daber Adonai eilav…” And God called to Moshe, and Adonai spoke to him…Why do we need the language of calling and speaking? The initial calling, Rashi teaches, denotes that God calls Moshe specifically, honoring him for the unique prophet he is. When God is in conversation with Moshe, God speaks with attention to the needs and language of that particular person. We, too, can achieve clarity in conversation through listening to the other enough to know what would be comforting and compelling for them to hear. Please know that sometimes, what is needed in this moment, by this particular person, is the simple presence of a listening ear. When we pause in speech, we make room for others to ask questions or give input, we allow ourselves to read the room, and we better understand how to have a conversation with the specific person or people across from us. When we better understand that, we open ourselves up not only to achieving goals, but even better, to building relationships of mutual respect, compassion, learning, and love. Shabbat Shalom. 

Sun, July 14 2024 8 Tammuz 5784