By Rabbi Daniel Bortz
A woman once approached Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveitchik of Brisk with a question. Since she simply couldn’t afford wine for the 4 cups of the Seder, was she permitted to use milk?”
The Rabbi responded by opening his drawer and giving her a large amount of money. After she had left, one of his students asked him: “I understand why you gave her money for wine, but why did you give extra?” The Rabbi explained: “The fact that she asked if she could drink milk at the Seder shows me that she also has no money for meat (Kosher laws prohibit mixing milk and meat). So, I gave her enough to buy both wine and meat for the holiday.”
A key to effective education is looking past the question to the questioner. To peer past the surface to the root of any issue. This may manifest in a classroom, where instead of a history teacher focusing only on the facts of a world war, delves into the anthropological reasons of what led to them happening. Or an English Literature teacher who teaches students to read between the lines — “What was the author really trying to get at?
As a Rabbi and teacher, I love to peel away the outer layers of the do’s and don’ts of Jewish law, and discuss the why behind them. That’s what stimulates the mind and heart. Why do we make Kiddush on wine on Shabbat and holidays? Yes, historically it’s been a substance of importance and honors the day. But “wine” and “secret” have the same Hebrew numerical equivalent, as the liquid is hidden in the grape and when revealed and ingested reveals your secrets as well. Wine also ages better over time, as does the things that really matter, like wisdom and good deeds.
When listening to the painful problems of another, we have to look beneath the surface as well, to connect and empathize with someone on that deeper level, for behind their issue is often more. In “I Am Not Your Guru,” a Tony Robbins Netflix special, a teenage girl gets up to speak. Her issue, she says, is with her eating habits. Within a few minutes of questioning, it’s uncovered that her real life issue is her relationship with her father, his drug abuse, and more. In Tony’s words: “People present low level stuff, because we engage ourselves with little problems that we make into big things so we don’t deal with the big ones that scare us.”
Seeing your child looking depressed after school may just be the fluctuation of hormones or a bad test score. But it’s likely more existential. Parents are usually aware of the reasons behind the outer 10% surface of teen angst. Even if we don’t know everything in another person’s life, we can empathize with them on a deeper level than the outer causes they’re willing to show
At my Soul X events here in San Diego I lead a meditation session, often using sound healing and other physical techniques like breathing exercises. I feel that wisdom and guidance through words is great, but can only go so far. Many of us have pain and confusion inside of us from moments in our lives that we couldn’t internalize intellectually at the time, so we store it inside of ourselves. This can even manifest itself physically. Taking the time to delve deeper than intellect to our core essence, can help alleviate the pain we are carrying.
May we be blessed with the perception and compassion to see others and ourselves beyond the outer layer we show.