One Picture…

How easy it is to become impatient with a long story being recounted to us by a toddler, colleague, client, customer, or patient.  Unfortunately, leadership, whether in business or the family, sometimes depends upon making the best decision after receiving nothing more than a written or verbal report.

When we are the ones relaying information, we can get frustrated as our listeners tune us out. Instead of our employees, spouse, children or patients paying attention, they seem uninterested or distracted.

How do we become better at both giving and receiving information?

This verse can help:

Just watch out for yourself…lest you forget the words which your eyes saw,
and you shall make them known to your children and your grandchildren.
(Deuteronomy 4:9)

Why does Deuteronomy 4:9 refer to words that are seen? We see things, not words. I sympathize with the plight of translators who often mistakenly write, “Just watch out for yourself…lest you forget the things which your eyes saw…”

While ‘things’ is a possible alternative meaning for the Hebrew word, DeVaRiM, which is used here, it is not correct in this context.  DeVaRiM, meaning words, is the Hebrew name for the fifth of the Five Books of Moses and is the second Hebrew word of the book.


These are the words (DeVaRiM) which Moses spoke to all Israel…
(Deuteronomy 1:1)

As our verse reveals, central to the entire theme of intergenerational Torah transmission is that we must transmit to our children and grandchildren specific words and not general things. But spoken words like the Torah taught by Moses are heard not seen!

Ancient Jewish wisdom explains that the unusual language in the verse refers to the fact that the entire Sinai revelation was an integrated, comprehensive, multi-media experience; a sort of son-et-lumiere show. There was a visual depiction of the words spoken by God.

Why was this necessary? 

When we see a landscape, a statue, a battlefield or a building, we instantly grasp the entire picture.  No translation is necessary.

Many of us still prefer watches with hands because by merely glancing at the position of those little hands, we instantly understand that we’re late.  Seeing a colorful graph reflecting sales figures immediately lets us know how the company is doing compared to last year.  A picture really is worth a thousand words.

When we look at details or hear a recitation, our brains need to convert the information into useful real world information such as “you’re late!” Listening to a lesson, a speech or a piece of music requires that we concentrate through its entirety since it imparts meaning only once our brains have assembled hundreds of words or musical notes into one integrated totality.

Our verse teaches the correct technique for coping with the challenge of conveying and receiving information.  As listeners, we need to exercise our memory muscles in order to concentrate on converting a long flow of words into one complete picture that we can almost see in our mind’s eye. Only then can we exercise judgment and leadership in arriving at the right conclusion and taking the best actions.

When relaying important information, try to make it come alive, using words and imagery which captivate our listener and help him visualize what we are saying. Try making your listener see a picture rather than just hear words.

In directing the children of Israel to convey words to children and grandchildren, God taught us how to effectively do so. The words must be so alive that they can actually be seen just as they originally were when God presented them.

Reprinted from 5/2012

4 thoughts on “One Picture…”

  1. First I want to thank you for your time invested in the children of God. This is also an example of letting your Christain witness to be seen by your action and not your words. Actions can by heard louder than words.

  2. Rabbi Lapin, My immediate thoughts went to the idea this must be where today’s body language began! Excellent thoughts…thank you.

    Victoria Ares

  3. David Altschuler

    Time being a most precious commodity, I’ve often thought that it would have been better for me to have nurtured a sensitivity to visual arts rather than music. One can take in the totality of a great painting almost immediately, choosing how much time to invest in the experience. But taking in Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony takes at least 45 minutes; no shortcuts available. Music has it’s unique power, of course, but my reconsideration fits with your Torah analysis here. Agreed?

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Dear David–
      Isn’t the additional time, concentration and memory needed to appreciate music over visual arts, in itself evidence of music’s superiority in the range of human activities that draw them upwards? In my view, had you turned to visual rather than music, it would have been a loss for you and for me.

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