49 - Situations - And He Does Not Interrupt The Words Of His Colleague

The wise person allows the person speaking to him to complete his thoughts without interrupting him.



We are stretching in ahavas yisrael together to create

z’chuyos for K’lal Yisrael in these urgent times.


Last week’s stretch of the week was:  Ask a parent or in-law to share some of their knowledge with you.

Please allow ONE person to share her experience with this exercise for ONE minute. 


Lesson #49


And He Does Not Interrupt The Words Of His Colleague

ואינו נכנס לתוך דברי חברו

V'Aino Nichnas L'Soch Divrai Chavayro

Perek Hai, Mishna Tes Part 2

Story(based on a true story)

A woman I know from my parenting class saw me at the playground and crossed over from the slides to the swings.  I knew I was in for quite a conversation as usual, and I was right.  In the course of the fifteen minutes we pushed our kids’ swings, I knew all about her son’s upcoming bar mitzva, her first grader’s learning disability and the problems with her new shaitel.  Any time I mentioned something about myself, she said, “I know, right?  I had something just like that happen to me.”  And then she would proceed to tell me.

Later that day I found myself talking to my next door neighbor for a little while, and, when I went back into my house I realized that I had been talking most of the time.  She had encouraged me, and seemed truly interested in what I was saying.  She also didn’t change the subject, and she didn’t offer advice unless I asked.  Instead, she encouraged me to figure out what I could do.

I wanted to be a listener, not a talker, so I started paying more attention when I spoke to people.  Instead of matching their stories with my own, I started asking them questions.  I actually found that in general, not sharing about me at the expense of others wasn’t that hard to do once I paid attention to it, and I found my conversations very rewarding.

But there was one major challenge:  not trying to solve people’s problems.  A conversation often ended up sounding like this:

Friend:  It’s so hard managing homework with three kids at the same time.

Me:  Maybe you should stagger them.

Friend:  I do my best, I try to do that, but it’s just hard, you know?

Me:  Maybe you should get a chessed girl to come help.

Friend:  Maybe, but-

Me:  It’s not that hard to do, just a phone call.

The thing is, it’s not that offering help is bad in and of itself.  But it’s good to first see if that’s what’s wanted, or whether I have the whole picture yet.  More often than not, my friends just want to be heard, but I take that away from them.  Instead I jump in and sometimes even interrupt them because I feel like I already know what they’re going to say, and I have help to offer.

But I don’t always know.  Who does?  Not the woman I know from my parenting class who is always answering and asking questions without being called on.  She really does know a lot, and she’s actually really great about acknowledging when something that’s said is new to her.  But sometimes she doesn’t get to hear new ideas because of how she calls out.  I know it’s just her nature and that she doesn’t realize she’s doing it, but she’s losing out, and sometimes taking opportunities from others.  Plus, she sometimes gives the wrong advice to someone because she hasn’t finished listening to the situation or thought it through.

So I try to remember not to jump to offer solutions or interrupt.  I don’t always know what will be said, or should be said in return, and it’s best for everyone if I sit back and listen.  It’s OK if there’s a situation that I have no clue about, and if I do have an idea of how to help, I think it through first, including acknowledging what I don’t know.

Pirkay Avos:

"...ואינו נכנס לתוך דברי חברו; ואינו נבהל להשיב; ... ועל מה שלא שמע אומר 'לא שמעתי' ..." 

"...V'aino nichnas l'soch divrai chavayro, v'aino nivhal l'hoshiv...v'al ma she'lo shoma, omair 'lo shomati'..."

"...And he [a wise person] does not interrupt the words of his colleague, and does not rush to reply...and regarding something he has not heard, he admits, 'I have not heard'..."(Perek Hai, Mishna Tes).

The wise person allows the person speaking to him to complete his thoughts without interrupting him.  Aharon exhibited this behavior when, after his sons died, he allowed Moshe to finish questioning him before responding.  And HaShem himself demonstrated this trait when he permitted Avraham to plead at length on behalf of the inhabitants of S'dom.  This trait extends to maintaining a patient and attentive demeanor when someone else is speaking.

It is a common misconception that a wise person has all the answers at his fingertips and therefore responds quickly.  But true wisdom is the fruit of deep thought welling up from the desire to arrive at the truth, not to impress others.  He considers a matter carefully, analyzes it in all its ramifications before he responds.  We find this quality in the fourth of Iyov’s associates, who does not speak until Perek Lamed Bais of Sefer Iyov.  However, when he realizes that his companions were not answering Iyov properly, he decided, “I will speak…” (Iyov, 32:6).

Admitting one’s lack of knowledge demonstrates both wisdom and civility.  When Moshe Rabbainu was presented with a halachik question by to'mai individuals who wished to offer the Korban Pesach, he replied, “Stand there and and I will hear what HaShem has commanded concerning you” (Bamidbar 9:8)-meaning, our sages amplify, “I have not yet learned this.  Stand and I shall hear from HaShem” (Sifri).  In the days of the Sanhedrin, it was the custom to send sages to guide diaspora communities.  Once R’ Yehuda HaNasi sent a letter to such a community in which he stated, “We have sent you a great man.  And what is his greatness?  That he is not ashamed to admit that he has not heard something” (Yerushalmi Chagiga 1:8).

(Reproduced from Rav Lau on Pirkei Avos and from Pirkei Avos with Ideas and Insights of the Sfas Emes and other Chassidic Masters, with permission of the copyright holders, ArtScroll / Mesorah Publications, Ltd.)

Discussion Question Options:

Why might someone interrupt with good intentions?  How can we learn not to?

What are the dangers of rushing to answer someone, whether we are asked for a response or not?

Why might we not acknowledge that we don’t know about something?  How can we help ourselves to be comfortable with not knowing?

Stretch of the Week:

Spend a conversation mostly listening instead of talking, offering advice only if asked.


Stretch Of The Week