The When and Where Matter

This evening, Tuesday April 17, Susan and I are doing a live TV show in Akron, OH before a studio audience.  Among other teaching, we will accept questions from people in the audience to which we shall respond by employing principles of ancient Jewish wisdom.  This is what we do with our Ask the Rabbi feature that appears on our website each week. Except that tomorrow evening, we shall see the people asking and get to meet them after the one-hour show is done.

Imagine someone in the audience asking, “Rabbi, I want to get a divorce, but my wife who is here with me is really hurt and wants us to work on our marriage; what should we do?”  There is, of course, no way to respond helpfully to all the pain oozing out of that question in the few minutes available in the show format.  I know that both Susan and I would view it as a really inappropriate question to ask in a public forum.

A lawyer friend told me that, more times than he would have expected, he would be celebrating a family birthday at a restaurant when a client would approach him saying, “I know you’re in the middle of dinner, but…”  What would follow would be some technical issue that could have and should have been addressed in an office environment. 

As you roll down the track of life, with the exception of the very rare serendipitous incident, most positive events that improve your life occur only when you make them happen.  In almost all cases, that means interacting with another person and coming to some agreement.  It might mean a man persuading a woman to go out with him on a date.  It might mean two business professionals agreeing upon a mutually profitable transaction.  It might be a student getting a university admissions office to accept her application.  In most instances, one of the people is the ‘seller’, the ‘supplicant’ or the ‘proposer’ while the other agrees or declines.  Selecting the most propitious circumstances for the meeting is part of success strategy.   Choosing the right place and the right time to discuss something with someone is an imperative.  Yet so many seem oblivious. 

Take a lesson from Jacob who had a very sensitive discussion looming with his estranged brother Esau.  Jacob had received the blessing (Genesis 27:27) from Isaac which, he, Jacob, had purchased from Esau years earlier.  (Genesis 25:33).  Esau was furious and swore to murder his brother.  Jacob escaped into exile spending 20 years with his uncle Laban whose daughters he married. 

Now, returning home, Jacob dispatched messengers bearing gifts to his brother Esau.

Jacob sent messengers ahead of him to his brother Esau,
to the land of Seir, the field of Edom.
(Genesis 32:4)

The obvious question that we are expected to ask is why Jacob sent messengers to intercept Esau during one of the latter’s visits to Seir? After all, it wasn’t until much later (Genesis 36:6) that Esau left Canaan and relocated to Seir. At this point in the narrative, Jacob could still have arranged his encounter with Esau in Canaan where they both lived.

To answer this question we need to remember that one of Esau’s wives was Oholibama (Genesis 36:2) who was from Seir and whose father, Anah, was a prince of Seir (Genesis 36:20).   Now we understand; Esau was visiting Seir with his wife for a family get together.

Jacob carefully planned his rapprochement with his brother.  What he wanted to convey in this long-awaited meeting was, “Look, family matters. We are connected as brothers and we need to live that way.”  Jacob had two choices about the most propitious location in which to bring up this sensitive family matter.  He could approach Esau at his home base in Canaan which was exactly where the original trouble that split them took place.  Alternatively, he could approach Esau while he was far from his office, focusing on family in far-off Seir.  Clearly that was the better choice.  Since the meeting went as hoped and the enmity was put aside, we can see that Jacob strategized well. 

When and where we schedule important meetings matters.  The obvious may not always be the best choice.  It nearly always warrants some strategizing.

7 thoughts on “The When and Where Matter”

  1. My wife wants us to work it out but he wants a divorces. Sounds like has has made up his mind. He may not be totally happy and she has to make sure she doesn’t step on any of his toes.

  2. There you go again Rabbi, amazing me with such amazing details. So was Jacob really being sensitive with Esau because of fear that Esau would kill him? I like to think deep down Jacob knew, with the blessing bestowed upon him, having Canaan for himself was a done deal. And maybe Jacob was more afraid of what Adonai would do to Esau if Esau got crazy.

  3. Thank you Rabbi, this message is great timing for me. I need to apologize to a family member for something that I did over a year ago (I know, Yikes!) and I’ve been praying for wisdom and opportunity for this to happen. I’m so thankful the Lord changed my heart and has given me the desire to apologize.

  4. “As you roll down the track of life, with the exception of the very rare serendipitous incident, most positive events that improve your life occur only when you make them happen.” Isn’t that the truth – what a well-said proverb. I have been meditating (not “OHMMM” – style meditating, but prayerful reflection, seeking, and musing) for the past several weeks on the right hand of power/Benjamin, and how sad it seems to be that his tribe ended up being known as the tribe of a left-handed people (i.e., useless [or worse] as compared to powerful, obedient, successful, and dextrous in all ways) (& no offense meant to literally-left-handed-people who just inherited a genetic disposition), and by the same token how Jael wife of Heber the Kenite took matters into her own skillful and Divinely-guided “hands” when she hammered the tent peg through Sisera’s temple. “Most positive things that improve your life occur only when you make them happen” – by the ability of your right hand of POWER/ability, that is walking in steadfast obedience and righteousness and alignment with God and His Truth. Otherwise we become limp-wristed impotent do-nothings, whose lives, abilities, potentials, giftings go to waste and never accomplish that which they were meant to. Great WISDOM, as well of confirmation of inspiration, in your words!!! All the best to you in your meeting tonight in OH, will you ever come to SC and do such a meeting? Would love to have you!

  5. There’s also a how and why. I often get tough questions sometimes when the when and where may not be appropriate. Usually this is because the need is very great. So I have to balance giving some kind of answer for the moment, and direct the questioner to come to me later. For instance, in the case of the divorce question above, I might answer with a few generalities on divorce from the Word, and at the same time acknowledge the difficulties of application to the questioner’s current circumstance, along with an invitation to talk more later. The need in the question can be addressed without going into great detail, while the hope of speaking later can momentarily assuage some of the feelings.

    There was another rabbi who got difficult questions in public from people ignoring the when and where matter too. Sometimes the question was just an attack; other times it was genuine seeking. I’m reminded of the very public meeting of a women supposedly caught in adultery and accused by people already holding rocks. The answer was a beautiful balance from the correct application of Torah. Talk about insight and wisdom from God!

  6. i doubt if we your students will be able to see this show tonight live (cuz I assume its a local live show) so at some point will it be rebroadcast on TCT? …. ps enjoy the Ohio winter weather….

    1. Bob, I’m pretty sure that the show can be seen on TCT tonight as it takes place. It has been snowing today. Rather chilly.

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