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The Perfect Advice

By Doug Lipman

"Rabbi, you have to tell me what to do!" The lumber merchant stood up in Rabbi Pesach Mendel's study and began to pace. "I don't want to offend my new son-in-law. But I don't know whether to invite him into my business."

There was only room in Rabbi Pesach Mendel's study for one pacing person at a time, so the rabbi was forced to remain seated. Since he didn't know how to solve the lumber merchant's problem, he felt an even greater desire than usual to pace, himself. So he felt increasingly ill at ease as the merchant talked on and on about his problem.

"Well," the rabbi managed to say at last, "there is a story about an ancient sage who...."

The merchant ignored him. "Suppose he's expecting me to support him for a year, so he can advance his studies. If I invite him to join me, he'll think I don't respect him as a scholar."

"Uh, there is a little-known case of rabbinical law in which...."

The merchant took one more step, then reversed direction. "I want him to work with me," he said. "But if he doesn't want to be part of the business, he won't be a help. In that case, I'd be better off supporting him for his whole life!"

The rabbi tried once more to stand up and speak. "If you ask me...."

But the merchant was not to be silenced. "If I only knew what he wants...." He paused briefly. "Wait! That's it! I can just ask him what he wants! I'll get him alone, where his answer won't embarrass him in front of my daughter." The merchant, already headed out the door, spoke over his shoulder, "Thank you so much, rabbi! I knew you could help me!"

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Some time later, Rabbi Pesach Mendel's wife, Mimele, saw him pacing alone in his study. "What's bothering you, Payshe?"

"Oh, Mimele. I am a failure as a rabbi. The townsfolk think I am helping them, but it's only because they expect a rabbi to help them. In fact, I'm no help at all!"

The rabbi's wife put her hand on her husband's shoulder, guiding him back into his chair. "Tell me, Payshe," she said. "Has it ever occurred to you that the exact help he needed might have been for you to keep quiet - to listen to him sort out his own thoughts?"

The next time the rabbi's wife passed by her husband's study, he was still seated, staring thoughtfully through his window, at the bustling village life around him.

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Note: Rabbi Pesach Mendel is a fictitious rabbi created by Doug Lipman.

This story is presented as one of two stories about listening:

  1. The Shortest Way
  2. The Perfect Advice

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This page was last updated on Tuesday, August 5, 2003
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