Do you know how to say “no”?

Friday, 1 April, 2022 - 6:18 am

People don’t know how to say “no”. I don’t mean that people don’t respond negatively, and never say “no”. They definitely do say it when necessary, and sometimes too quickly, and sometimes when it is not really necessary. It’s just that they don’t know how to say it. When someone asks for something and the answer is yes, it is very easy to respond nicely and say, “Yes, of course.” It’s also easy to smile at that moment. But what happens when the answer is negative, when there is no choice but to say “no”? That is already not simple and not easy. Too often I encounter people who say a very unpleasant, rough “no”; they said it coldly, and of course without a smile. A gevurah (strictness) “no”. Too infrequently I encounter people who know how to give a negative response in a positive way - A chessed (loving kindness) “no”. I do not blame these people whose refusals are unpleasant, because saying “no” is an art in itself. We do not feel comfortable saying “no”, so we tend to say it laconically, quickly – we want to get it over with. If we stop a moment and think of the person we are facing, then we add a word of compassion, or perhaps just a loving smile. or sometimes just a gesture of placing the hand on the heart, or a sweet emoji of some sort, which makes the “no” a chessed “no”. From my experience, it’s possible to do so – and important. Very important. The Rebbe speaks about this in parashat Tazria. It can happen that a person becomes a metzora (leper) and must therefore be defined and declared to be tameh (ritually impure). He then goes into isolation, outside of the camp. The Torah determines that only a cohen may decide and determine that a person is indeed tameh. Why a cohen? Why not a doctor? Why not some other specialist? Wouldn’t it be better if this act was performed by some professional? Moreover, the Rambam writes that in the case that a cohen doesn’t know, one should go to an expert, who will determine that it is indeed tzara’at; and then the cohen is called to make the declaration – he is the person who can define the man as a metzora and therefore tameh, necessitating isolation. Why? In other words: What exactly does a cohen know that no one else knows? What is it in the very fact that he was born to a father who is a cohen that makes him worthy of determining the fate of others? The Rebbe explains that a cohen, in his essence, is a person of chessed, a person whose role is to bless the Jewish people. Someone who blesses, must love. And, indeed, the cohanim are commanded to do so, and even mention it in the blessing they make before blessing the people: “Who sanctified us with his mitzvahs and commanded us to bless His nation, Israel, with love.” Imagine for a moment that someone is standing in front of you and asking you for a blessing that he should recover from an illness. I assume that you wouldn’t just mumble some words, but you would take the time to think and give him a heartfelt blessing of love, right? Because without love it is not really possible to bless. Therefore, when there is a situation in which there is no choice but to give a negative answer, when there is no choice but to declare that a person is metzora and tameh, we need someone who knows how to say a “no” of chessed. We need the cohen, who will come with all his love and empathy, because it is not only blessings that cannot be said without love: stern words, too, cannot be said without love. Try this at home. Shabbat Shalom and Chodesh Tov, Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski
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