See My Words

It is so easy to become impatient when a toddler, colleague, client, customer, or patient go on and on when telling us a story. In turn, when we are the ones relaying information, we get frustrated when our listeners tune us out. Too often, instead of our employees, boss, spouse, children or students 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 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, we must make it come alive, using words and imagery which captivate our listener and help him visualize what we are saying. We want him to 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 do this effectively. The words must be so alive that they can actually be seen just as they originally were when God presented them.

11 thoughts on “See My Words”

  1. Dear Rabbi , I have this question in my mind , that I discuss with my friend who teaches the Bible to children. I have heard that studies have shown , children who hear the story of “Noah, or Jonah” etc , complete with chubby cartoon characters and a short fat boat carrying 2 giraffe , or a Bubble like whale, often think the Bible is just another fairy tale story. Does this not pertain to the “word picture” idea at all ? Or is it more of a case of the teacher representing it as a fairy tale? She wonders how to go on with her teaching ( and I with my own family) when we think about this.

    1. This is a wonderful question, Karen. I’m thinking that it might make an entire Ask the Rabbi question rather than a response to a comment. I’ll see if my husband agrees.

  2. I am often in the habit of using visuals that support the scriptures I post on my Facebook page, unaware of the scripture base you used here. A picture really is worth 1,000 words. When God breathed into Adam the breath of life, He became the physical representation of God’s Word. How amazing!

  3. This was so good. I often struggle to relate uncomfortable positions as I am female and the boss of a few men that work for my business. I want to keep them close and in doing so I spoiled my nephew (contractor) and turned him into a diva sort of. There is no turning that around without confrontation. He is going on his own to make a pile of money he thinks. And so I am without him. And he’s an awesome worker. Hopefully he comes back. I am not sure if the Lord has a different idea in life for him. I do wish him well. It’s a mixed bag.

  4. Kyohairwe Susan Musiime

    Dear Rabbi Lapin,
    Always blessed by your teachings. Got two of your books though shall prosper and biblical principles of making money, I have decided to teach them to my children and God willing my grand and great grand children. Now you’ve taught me to always include visuals whenever I am making a presentation. I will also practice speaking words that make a positive impact on both my self and others. I am so much interested in studying the Torah. You really make it more meaningful. Could you be knowing any sponsors?
    Greetings to Susan and Children, I too love her musings
    May The Almighty continue to bless you and expand your territory
    Under His wings
    Susan Kyohairwe,

  5. Robert & Melanie bates

    My wife and I have been reading your two books in doubt shall prosper and businesses secrets from the Bible. It has revolutionized our business and our personal life already.

  6. Since I don’t use profanity do you offer another program that would be beneficial?
    Life and death power of the tongue … can words bring things into existence in our lives ? That’s the program I want / need.

  7. Rabindra kitchener

    Dear Rabbi
    Thank you for everything you do
    Your Thought Tools are a blessing that I give to my adult children and young parents as gifts
    I am a Anglican Christian but the the Jewish custom of righteous giving and Tzedaka ,I am very passionate about sharing with my grand kids and young people.
    Is there an article or commentary that I can access that has in it also some Old Testament verses that I can share?
    Yours respectfully

    Rabindra kitchener MD

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