The Communication Revolution
Why is it that in our age of state-of-the-art
communications – blackberry’s and iphones, e-mails
and faxes – we have hardly made any progress in personal
communications? On an intrapersonal or interpersonal level,
in families and communities, from cultures to nations, strife
and discord dominate our lives and our world. With all our
connections, we have never been so disconnected.
An underlying theme in the Exodus narrative
– related in these weekly Torah portions – is
the power of speech. Moses, the “man of no words,”
is chosen by G-d to be His communicator to Pharaoh, and
then later the conveyor of Torah to the Jewish people. “And
G-d spoke to Moses, speak to the people…” is
a phrase used hundreds of times throughout the Torah. Indeed,
an entire book of Torah (the fifth book) is called “Words”
– “These are the words that Moses spoke”
– the words of the “man of no words”…
Pharaoh in Hebrew consists of the two words “peh rah,” evil mouth. By
contrast, Passover, Pesach, is comprised of the two words “peh soch,” speaking
mouth. Indeed, the Pesach Haggadah recreates the Exodus in the form of a relating
a story. “Haggadah” means just that: Telling the story, from the verse “v’higadito
l’vincho,” and you shall relate to your children. The Passover Seder is meant
to serve as the ideal model of dialogue and communication.
We thus bring you a relevant correspondence with Rabbi Jacobson about
the nature of communication that opportunely took place this week.
Dear Rabbi Jacobson
In your last exceptional article (Your
Life: The Ultimate Journey), I was taken by your use of a powerful analogy
(of the roadmap and tools one acquires to survive on the dark lonely island),
which intrigued me and pulled me further in, until I realized – too late for
me to escape – that you were talking about God, Torah and mitzvoth.
I was wondering about your style, which one encounters in many of your classes
and writings. I am a marketing and communications consultant and am fascinated
by the way you convey ideas, that on their own could appear alien to some
of us, and yet you turn them into profound insights into the human condition
and highly attractive and relevant sources of inspiration.
Let me share with you an experience. When I first began teaching my weekly
class, the core group attending consisted of people from the arts and entertainment
industry. They were spiritual seekers, yet many of them did not identify with
any religious affiliation. In fact, quite a few – reflecting a proportionate
cross-section of society – were actually turned off by established institutions
Recognizing this fact I felt a keen disadvantage trying to communicate to
this group. I remember thinking: Here I am sitting with a bear and yarmulke
– hardly projecting a neutral image. Before even before uttering a word some
of the audience will inevitably be stereotyping me. Not with any malicious
intentions, but simply based on their experience. I may be reminding some
of an overbearing pious grandfather that may have shlepped him to synagogue
against his own will. Or an irrelevant Hebrew school teacher that taught him
hollow Bar-Mitzvah lessons. Or an angry and abusive religious authority, lashing
out with guilt-ridden fire and brimstone. Or a religious fanatic, judgmental
and condescending, mindlessly trying to impose dogma upon him and his friends.
Given, I may also be evoking some fond memories of the “old home.” But I
was intensely aware of not being in control of how they would react to my
So, I tried an experiment. Instead of using any conventional words associated
with religion or faith, in place of overtly Jewish and Hebrew words, I created
a “new” vocabulary. Instead of the word G-d in my discussion, I used the expression
“Higher Reality,” “the Essence.” For more new-age audiences – I added “non-existential
states of undefined layers of energy.” I substituted “roadmap” (or “blueprint”)
for the word Torah, “connections” for Mitzvot and “destination” for the Final
An interesting discussion ensued, with the heated participation of the entire
group, about a journey toward the Essence of all existence, following a blueprint
and connections, all reaching a destination. We all, everyone at the class,
felt the common human denominator of how we all struggle in the material world
to discover transcendence in our search to connect to something higher.
After a few weeks of these classes, all masked in the language of kindred
spirits, someone approached me and asked: “Are you talking about G-d”? I replied:
“Yes. But shhh; don’t spoil it for the others.”
The experiment worked beyond my expectations. By stripping the conversation
of “loaded” words, words that carry different meanings for different people,
religious references that are fraught with stereotypes and misconceptions,
we were able to create a meaningful dialogue. By using non-threatening, neutral,
expressions, ones that evoke our commonality instead of our differences, we
– people of such different and even dichotomous backgrounds – were able to
communicate and bond with one another. We were – and until this very day –
all enriched in the process.
Take the word “G-d.” Just my spelling is different than most people’s who
use an “o” instead of a hyphen. Are there two people on this planet that can
agree as to the definition of the word “G-d”? Try this test: Ask people you
know to define G-d. Beyond the prerequisite, text-book, response – the Creator,
the First Cause, a Supreme Being – no two people will define G-d the same
way. For many, the concept of G-d is defined by nursery school images of a
“man with a white long beard in heaven who strikes us with lightning when
we misbehave.” This three-letter word is fraught with perhaps more stereotypes
than any other word in the dictionary. Everyone has an opinion about G-d.
Some are radical believers who die and kill others in the name of their so-called
God. Others are agnostics or atheists, some radical who kill in the name of
no God. No one is neutral about G-d. Because G-d has far-reaching implications,
invoking personal responsibility, addressing the issues of good and evil,
morality, government and education. Virtually every aspect of life is affected
by our acceptance or rejection of G-d, and our definition of the word.
No wonder Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev said to his self-proclaimed atheist
neighbor: “The G-d you don’t believe, I too don’t believe in.”
We conventionally like to think of words as bridges, connecting different,
and even conflicting, people. Misunderstandings, often deep ones, can creep
in when we remain silent and do not speak with one another. Words, then, are
the way to bridge different interests.
In truth, however, words can also be forces that divide us. Use the wrong
word and you can close down the person you are attempting to open up. Certain
words may seem innocuous enough to us. But those same words can cause another
to go ballistic.
You see, words are loaded. In childhood we may have heard a certain expressions
used in derogatory fashion. Your mother may have exclaimed a particular phrase
– or snickered an insulting nickname of yours – every time she was displeased
with you. Those phrases then become etched in your psyche, and whenever they
are used you recoil.
Words, which inherently begin as neutral and objective, take on subjective
shape as they become associated with particular experiences – some pleasant
and some unpleasant.
The secret of communication, thus, is about sensitivity: not only to know
what words to use, but also – and perhaps even more importantly – to know
what words not to use. An excellent teacher will convey ideas that
resonate and engender trust. And trust is not only saying the right things,
but also avoiding saying the wrong things.
Real communication is a relationship: A relationship between two people –
not one dominant over the other, but a true partnership, with each one sensitive
to the other, and exerting effort to ensure that the words used between them
are not limited to the terms of the speaker but are measured on the terms
of the listener. In effect, one can say that true speaking is listening: Applying
yourself, paying attention and absorbing the needs of the one you want to
reach, and then speaking in kind.
Moses, the communicator of G-d’s word in the Torah, was the ultimate communicator.
As a man of G-d his utter humility allowed him to speak Divine words that
all those that heard him speak. Moses, man of no words, had a relationship
with G-d, in which they both listened and spoke to each other. This communication/relationship
would take place primarily in “ohel moed,” which means the “meeting tent,”
where G-d would and Moses would commune.
The Torah is all about developing a relationship between man and the Divine.
“Built Me a Temple and I will rest among you.” All the references to speaking
in the Torah are teaching us the method how to communicate – how to listen
and how to speak.
Unfortunately, over the passing generations the Divine truths were “lost
in translation.” Men imposed there own meanings, with their own words, on
the inner truths of reality.
Our challenge today is to revisit the original words in their pristine meaning,
before they were hijacked. We must learn to free our language from the man-made
word-filled traps that lock away true ideas. This effort requires a Moses-like
humility and sensitivity, to be focused not on what YOU, the communicator,
want to say and on your choice of words. The focus must be on the listener,
and gently finding the right resonating words (while avoiding the stereotype-evoking
ones) that will convey the essence of truth.
Be careful with your language. Words can be flowers, but they also can be
Let us declare war against stereotyping; something we all do. Stereotyping
is as natural as it is shallow. At every turn in our lives we are faced with
the option: To stereotype or not to stereotype. Instead of lazily fitting
someone into a pre-defined, and inaccurate, mold, let us look at another as
we want them to look at us: As a unique individual, not a clone nor a caricature
of our imagination or an image etched on history’s canvas.
All the gadgets in the world cannot teach you sensitivity and, its direct
product: true communication and a true relationship.
When we learn this secret we will have ushered in the true communication