“How could you forget? You knew we arranged to meet for coffee at 1:30 today!”

“Really — it just slipped my mind. I’m sorry. I just forgot.”

“What do you mean you just forgot?”

“I don’t know. My memory isn’t perfect. These things happen.”

“Well, if it was really important to you, you would have remembered.”

Ouch.

Moshe, in his address to the Jewish people as they’re about to enter the promised land, declares, “G-d did not give you a heart to know… until today (Deut 29:3).” What does the verse mean when it says “a heart to know” — isn’t it the brain that does the knowing?

The answer is that we remember, we retain what we have learned, when our hearts want it. There’s so much trivia and outright nonsense in the average mind, but much less that makes a lasting impression. How can we recite the exact lines of Return of the Jedi, or all five stanzas to We Didn’t Start the Fire, but not remember what the Rabbi said in his sermon last Shabbat? It’s all about what we want to know. If it’s really important to us, we remember it.

Knowing G-d, and studying His words of Torah are important to us, but we’re often pulled in the other direction by more tantalizing pursuits. Jews pray each morning, “Put into our hearts” — help us want — “the ability to understand, to think, to hear, to learn, and to teach (Siddur, Blessings of the Shema).”  Part of knowing is wanting to know. So if we don’t actually want to learn as much as we should, let’s pray for that: we should want to want it. (Based on Sefer Taam V’Daas)

2 Comments

  1. How can we recite the exact lines of Return of the Jedi, or all five stanzas to We Didn’t Start the Fire, but not remember what the Rabbi said in his sermon last Shabbat?

    IMHO, one reason is that while all the Rabbis I have known have studied a lot and know more than I ever will, although I have never been to any rabbinical college, it seems that these schools do not teach how to do public speaking. As someone who has done a lot of public speaking, I have seen the Rabbis make many of the basic mistakes and so their talks tend to be forgettable, even if you try to listen.

    I apologize for going into a different direction than you intended.

    Reply
    • Thanks David, and there’s no reason to apologize because it’s absolutely the same direction I intended! A successful speaker can tap into the natural desires and interests of their audience by grabbing their attention with tantalizing stories, relevant points, and an organized, crystal clear delivery. That’s the speaker’s job, and it will make his speech less forgettable. At the same time, if the audience has a deep interest in the subject matter, the words of Torah in this case, the speaker/Rabbi won’t need as much technique to deliver an unforgettable sermon.

      In regard to Rabbinical Colleges, some have more public speaking opportunities for the students than others, and I agree that a focus on public speaking will improve their ability to relate Torah to their congregants and communities. Great point!

      Reply

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