Teaching and Reaching Others
Vayishlach (Genesis 32:4-36:43 )
"'My master' replied Ya'akov, 'you [Eisav] know that the children are weak, and I have responsibility for the nursing sheep and cattle... Please go ahead of me, my master. I will lead my group slowly ... according to the pace of the children ..." (Gen. 33:13-14).
In the aftermath of the long-awaited encounter between the estranged brothers, Eisav proposes that two camps voyage on together. Fearing the deleterious influence that Eisav (and his entourage) might exert (covert or overt) on his family, Ya'akov respectfully declines this less-than-enticing offer. The proffered reason for doing so was that pace of Eisav's journey would prove physically harmful to Ya'akov's children and livestock. During the course of this dialog, Rashi shares with us several words that are fundamental to effective teaching.
With regards to the "The flocks and the cattle ... they are my responsibility to lead them along slowly." (Gen. 33:13). As for the children, we must forge ahead at "my slow pace" in a manner of "unhurriedness." Dictated by what? By "the pace at which they are able to walk." (Gen. 33:14).
It is imperative to view ourselves as teachers. (And yes, we are all teachers - regardless of whether we possess tenure, have a roll book or hold parent-teacher conferences). Some teach children and grandchildren. Others impart knowledge to nieces, nephews and cousins. We may have formal (or less-formal) "students" to whom we yearn to enrich with wisdom and understanding. We educate clients and colleagues and friends and acquaintances.
That being said, it behooves us to periodically re-assess the degree to which we are capitalizing upon our "teaching" opportunities. Educating others has always been fraught with challenges - and it doesn't seem to be getting any easier. The process is quite astonishing, really. How is it that a concept (stored away somewhere in our vast cerebral cortex) can properly be understood and articulated in a way that it will lodge properly in the mind and heart of the person with whom you are communicating? The likelihood of being mis-understood is so vast. The risk of being un-clear lurks behind virtually every byte of information you seek to present. What is clear and unequivocal to you is often cluttered and objectionable by the time it reaches someone else's think pad.
As a trial attorney once coached, if you hope to win your case, you have to try and reach everyone in that jury box individually. You have to reach them where they are. One guy possesses the intellectual prowess of Homer Simpson. One woman thinks in terms of lofty ideals of social justice. To the degree you can assess how someone else processes the world, that is a very reliable gauge of the extent to which your message will hit the mark.
Ya'akov's commitment to travel "at the pace of the children," is a notion that has widespread applicability in an era when life seems to be moving at a blistering pace. As "teachable moments" present themselves, be mindful of the awesome opportunity and responsibility that lie before you. Even when you know your information, even when you know the lesson - how it is conveyed will make all the difference. One person needs a parable. Another needs a story. One person thinks in the abstract stratospheres of spiritually while another functions only in terms of the practical, "bottom line."
Your message may be the same. But just because you gave over that message, doesn't mean it was heard. And just because it was heard, doesn't mean that it was truly hit home. Give it some thought - for all those who stand to learn from your ways have much to gain.