Pirkei Avot 4:18

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Timing is Everything, Elana Mizrahi (from Chabad)

My son came home with a miserable look on his face. I knew what had happened even before he opened his mouth. I had warned him earlier in the morning when I saw the toy in his hand, “Don’t bring your new toy to school. It could easily get broken or lost.” Of course, he didn’t listen. So when I saw the look on his face, I knew. The toy was either lost or broken.

His story of woe spilled out like a gushing river. I was right. He had lost the toy.

What were the words on the tip of my tongue? What was the phrase I so much wanted to say? “I told you so!” I looked again at the sorrow on his face, at the tears in his eyes, and I kept my mouth shut.

“Rabbi Shimon ben Elazar said: Do not appease your fellow at the time of his anger; do not console him while his dead lies before him; do not question him about his vow at the time he makes it; nor attempt to see him at the time of his degradation.” (Ethics of Our Fathers 4:18)

In this teaching we have the secret to marital harmony; peace in the home; and happy, nurturing relationships. What is the secret? Timing. Timing is everything.

When a person is angry, rebuking him will only make him angrier. When a person is upset, giving her advice will only aggravate her further. With the timing of our words, we have the power to raise our loved ones up, or push them down still lower. As King Solomon teaches, “Everything has its season, and there is a time for everything under the heaven” (Ecclesiastes 3:1). Timing is everything.

Your husband comes home from a terrible day at work. You have all the utility bills in your hand, armed and ready to pounce on him as soon as he walks in the door. You see the defeated look on his face, and put the bills down. They can wait until the morning.

Your teenager comes home with a failed test. She was unorganized and waited until the last minute to study. You fold your arms and give her a glare. “I told you weeks ago that you needed to start studying!” Before the words leave your mouth, before you fold your arms, stop. Think. Is this the right time for discipline? “Do not attempt to see him at the time of his degradation.” It is our job as parents to teach, to transmit, and yes, to discipline. But if your child is angry or upset, then it’s not the right time. At such a time, nothing will penetrate the heart.

A friend received another rejection. “Cheer up,” you want to tell her. “It’s not so bad. Another opportunity will come along.” Stop. Wait. Is this the right time? There are times when encouragement is not appropriate. “Do not console him while his dead lies before him.” Instead of talking, just hold her hand, or maybe leave her alone. Follow her cues, and let her guide you.

Rabbi Shimon ben Elazar is certainly not telling us that we should not appease, not rebuke, not console. In fact, the Torah teaches us that we are obligated to do so, but at the right time and under the right conditions. Timing is everything.

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