A Retraction: 20 Years Later
When we’re young, we think we know everything. Mark Twain, the 19th century American humorist, said, “When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.”
It seems that with age comes wisdom, or at least the maturity to admit that we didn’t really know everything. Chazal say that one doesn’t understand his teacher until he is forty, and at my age, I am ready to admit my earlier foolishness.
Now, I’m not going to start listing things I did which I probably would think better of now. We all have those and that’s not for discussion, though it surprises me that some people will discuss the crazy things they did as kids and then wonder why their own children try to do them.
Today, though, I’m taking back a specific thing I said over twenty years ago. Often, a newspaper will make a splashy headline, and when it’s proven wrong, will do the honorable thing by printing a retraction–in small print-on page 23-without referring too much to what they actually said in the first place, thereby obscuring the error while enabling them to say they printed a retraction.
I’m not doing that. This will be a bona fide statement that “I was wrong.”
Many of you know my connections to public speaking such as my website, JewishSpeechWriter.com. Over the years, having grown up the son of a very able speaker, who himself was the son of a very able speaker, I acquired a certain appreciation for the art.
In my early years, I felt I really had a handle on it, and when I was charged with choosing boys to speak in the yeshivah dining room on Shabbos, I was proud of my three rules. My first rule was that they had to keep the source material light. Parasha; Pirkei Avos; keep it simple. People are eating; they don’t want to hear you talk about a R’ Chaim [Brisker] in Menachos.
Rule two: Keep it short. Studies show average attention span is seven minutes. Try to limit it to six. And, the final rule, the one I’m retracting today, was: “Give me something to walk away with. You can say the 25th word in the Torah is ohr, (light) and that’s a hint to Chanukah which happened on the 25th of Kisleiv, but what am I supposed to do with it? I want something I can act upon.”
Now, I’m not taking back the part about wanting to be able to walk away with something from a speech. That’s ALWAYS the case. When you speak, your point should be to help others become something more than they were before and give them ways to do it.
The part I’m retracting is that saying the 25th word in the Torah is ohr is just a “cute vort,” a catchy symbol ,but not something someone can put to use in their lives. I take that part back.
You see, now that I’m older, I realize that the fact that the Torah, which was created 1000 generations before it was given, would allude to an event that would not happen until 1000 years AFTER it was given, is simply amazing.
It’s not that Hashem, “knows” the future. For Him, there’s no such thing as time so there’s no such thing as future. What’s amazing is the realization that Hashem is in control of everything that happens and that will happen. 1400 generations before the Maccabees revolted against the Greek tyrants, the Torah already assured us that they would be victorious.
But it’s more than that. Hashem looked into the Torah and created the world. It is the blueprint for creation. That means that the victory of the Maccabees was not just foretold, but also integral for the creation and survival of the world!
There’s another example of this that I’d like to share. In Bereishis, the Torah says, “Vayehi Erev Vayehi Boker, Yom HaShishi,” it was evening and morning, the sixth day. The Gemara in Shabbos(88a) quotes Reish Lakish who says the extra “hei” teaches that it is referring to a different sixth day, one that is very specific. It is talking about the sixth of Sivan, when the Torah was given (or was going to be until Moshe delayed it a day.) Hashem said to the world at the time of Creation, “If the Jews will accept the Torah, then you will continue to exist. If not, I will turn you back into emptiness and void.”
That means that Hashem, 1000 generations in advance, made it very clear that in order for the world to exist, WE need to accept the Torah. It means that Hashem gave us our marching orders even before the beginning. It means that when we see perfection in the symbolism, nuances, and references of the Torah, that’s our cue to become even more determined to connect with Hashem and his Torah.
The Zohar states (and it’s a Shavuos song, too!): Yisrael, V’oraysa, v’Kudsha Brich Hu chad hu–Klal Yisrael, the Torah, and the Holy One Blessed be He, are One. This is the message conveyed by the single letter “hei,” which we recite each week at Kiddush on Friday night.
That one letter reminds us that we are connected to Hashem through the Torah, and through the Torah is He connected to us. The world’s survival depends on that, and on us.
I was wrong when I said that “the 25th word in the Torah being ohr” didn’t give us something to walk away with. I now realize that simply realizing how connected we are to Hashem at every moment, and how connected He is to us, should make us constantly want to be more and do more. I stand corrected and regret the error.Jonathan Gewirtz is an inspirational writer and speaker whose work has appeared in publications around the world. You can find him atwww.facebook.com/RabbiGewirtz and follow him onTwitter@RabbiJGewirtz. He also operates JewishSpeechWriter.com, where you can order a custom-made speech for your next special occasion. Sign up for the Migdal Ohr, his weekly PDF Dvar Torah in English. E-mailinfo@JewishSpeechWriter.com and put Subscribe in the subject.© 2015by Jonathan Gewirtz. All rights reserved