People give advice unthinkingly

Friday, 10 May, 2024 - 8:30 am

People give advice unthinkingly. Yes, unfortunately, this is really so. As an adult I have learned that much of the advice that people offer to others are not the result of an overall assessment of the situation. Usually the details are not completely accurate, and do not necessarily apply to the person who requested the advice.

Over the years I have learned whom to listen to anyway. Usually it is a person whom I consider to be a friend, with no agenda of his own beyond wanting to help me and who is a maven in realm in question.

For instance, when, over ten years ago, I wanted to buy a sefer Torah for the Chabad House, I heard all kinds of numbers and received all sorts of advice from people whose expertise consisted of having once heard the reading of the Torah. In the end, I set all of this aside, asked for writing examples from ten sofrim (ritual scribes), took them to a friend who is a sofer Stam, but who writes only tefillin and mezuzahs and not sifrei Torah, and he gave his completely objective and professional recommendation as to which sofer out of the ten to choose.

In parashat Kedoshimwhich we will read tomorrow in all the communities outside of the Land of Israel, the Torah says, “Do not put a stumbling block in front of the blind.” Rashi explains with wonderful exactitude: “in front of someone who is blind in this area – don’t give him unsuitable advice.” In other words, included in this prohibition is giving advice without thinking the matter over carefully. Because if the advice is not good for him, it is like a stumbling block.

On Shabbat parashat Beshalach, 5748 (1984), as part of what seems to me to be the Rebbe’s preparing his chassidim for his passing, the Rebbe gave a number of pieces of advice and guidelines as to how to live one’s life. “In everything connected to livelihood and getting along in life,” said the Rebbe, “one must do things according to the advice of understanding friends, according to what it says in Mishlei, ‘salvation is in abundant counsel.’ In other words, one must be a maven, and then one can be an advisor. And ‘friends’ who want only good for him, they will look into his situation as necessary and give him good advice.”

And so, when we give someone advice, we must remember that in order to do so one needs an overall view, an understanding of the person’s situation, correct understanding of the topic and mainly, true caring. If we are not sure, it is better not to give advice.

And here is what the Rebbe said on Shabbat parashat Kedoshim, 5741 (1981): From those words of Rashi, one must learn to what extent one should enter into doing a favor for another Jew: It is not enough for your advice to be good; your ‘way’ of giving advice is also very important. When you do a favor to someone, you must divest yourself of your own interests and enter completely into the other’s situation, so that your advice will not be contaminated by self-interest. And that is the fulfillment of the mitzvah of loving Jews, as written in the parasha: “you shall love your fellow as yourself.”

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

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