You Want the Last Word?

January 6th, 2015 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

Has one of your children ever approached you with a long litany of complaints?  Your offspring begins detailing his grievances, some of them more perceived than real.  You gently interrupt to contradict the mistakes.

Perhaps it’s a friend or professional associate.  The instinct to defend ourselves against what we feel is an illegitimate allegation is all but irresistible.  The problem is that whether child, friend or business acquaintance, the odds are that the real resentment is only going to be mentioned at the very end.

By interrupting the catalog of charges and objecting to the first or second accusation, we never actually get to hear the climax, the main issue that brought about the confrontation in the first place.

The Torah also builds to a climax in its final lines.  The closing verse suggests that the entire book fulfills its purpose through the people of Israel.

And in all the mighty hand and all the awesome sight which Moses did before the eyes of all Israel.
 (Deuteronomy 34:12)

But, the Torah comprises five books.  Listen to the closing verse of the fourth book of the Torah:

These are the commandments and judgments which God commanded by the hand of Moses to the Children of Israel on the plains of Moab, by the Jordan near Jericho. (Numbers 36:13)

Again, we find Israel highlighted in this climactic final verse of Numbers.  To explore the possibility of a revealing pattern, let’s examine the last verse of the third book of the Torah:

These are the commandments that God commanded Moses for the Children of Israel at Mount Sinai.
(Leviticus 27:34)

Still, we’re not yet done.  Let’s see how the second book ends:

For the cloud of the Lord was upon the tabernacle by day and fire was on it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel, through all their travels.
(Exodus 40:38)

That would seem to settle it.  The climax of each book seems to emphasize the Children of Israel.  Perhaps just as a matter of course, for the sake of completion, we’ll check the final verse of Genesis as well, but with every confidence that the pattern will be maintained.  Or will it?

And Joseph died at 110 years old and they embalmed him
 and he was put in a coffin in Egypt.
 (Genesis 50:26)

Oops!  No mention of Israel.  Just when it seemed so clear.

But wait!  By the end of Genesis, there is no People of Israel.  There is only Jacob and his family living in exile in Egypt.  It follows that having no mention of the People of Israel in the final verse of Genesis makes perfect sense.

This begs the question. When did the People of Israel come into existence?  Ancient Jewish wisdom tells us that Israel became a people when it acquired a national mission.  In other words, the first time God issued a commandment to the people of Israel is the moment when they emerged onto the stage of world history.

Here is the first commandment issued to the nascent nation:

The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt saying “This month shall be for you the beginning of the months; it shall be for you the first of the months of the year.”
(Exodus 12:1-2)

Ancient Jewish wisdom suggests that in some ways, this twelfth chapter of Exodus represents the real beginning.  In this case, the first section of the Torah would really end with these words:

…but God strengthened the heart of Pharaoh and he did not send out the Children of Israel from his land.
(Exodus 11:10)

To the extent that this approach provides an alternate picture of the Torah, the first book, comprising Genesis and the first eleven chapters of Exodus also ends with a mention of the word Israel. God’s revelation, the Torah, emphasizes as a climax the emergence of the people of Israel to help the world replace barbarism with civilization.

We see that the final words often reveal the real purpose of the entire communication.  As hard as it is to hear complaints, particularly with family, try to nod encouragingly without interrupting in order to be able to hear the entire list.  The climax will probably only come just before your interlocutor finally falls silent.

That is then an excellent time to repeat the main complaint with the words, “So do I understand that you are chiefly unhappy because I (did) (said)…etc.?”  Then you should say, “I can tell that you have been thinking about this for a while and I am going to take a day to digest all you’ve said; is it okay if I get back to you tomorrow?”

In this fashion, you not only secure yourself some time to think carefully, but by the next day, the emotional tensions will largely have dissipated and the resulting conversation is likely to bring the rewarding result of rescuing the relationship.

And those closing words are the climax of today’s Thought Tool.

Start the New Year with the resolution of more Bible study through the lens of ancient Jewish wisdom. A deeper look into Genesis will provide insights to improve your relationships with God, your family and community. Our Genesis Journeys audio CD package contains eight hours of teachings sure to get 2015 off on the right foot.

Genesis Journeys

 

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