Counting the Omer with Dr. Lenny Hoffman
Day 48 — Saying Something in the Name of its Speaker
Ha’Omer Davar b’Shem Omro • האומר דבר בשם אומרו
By Rabbi Neal Schuster, KU Hillel, Overland Park, KS
I am constantly repeating myself. In fact, I’m kind of “in the business” of repeating myself, or at least repeating the wonderful things I’ve learned throughout my life and studies. Repeating such things is how we make them relevant and alive; by passing them on to others. As twenty-something me once wrote, “Wisdom is like a kiss: there only when given.”
Repeating great truths, insights and teaching is not only a virtue, it is at the heart of Jewish tradition. And one of those great truths is that when the wisdom we are sharing was given to us by someone else, we need to acknowledge that and give the person credit. In no fewer than three places, (Pirkei Avot 6:6, Chullin 104b, and Megillah 15a), Rabbi Elazar says in the name of Rabbi Chanina “Kol haOmer davar b’shem omro mavi ge’ulah l’olam — whoever reports a saying in the name of the one who said it brings redemption to the world.”
Not only does this principle apply to repeating what someone else has said, but I’ve come to realize it also applies to my own sayings when I am the one repeating them.
As a teacher, I have particular ways of saying things, teaching things and even (or especially) jokes that I repeat. Delivering these lines as if they are occurring to me for the first time in that moment; presenting deep insights and carefully crafted expressions of wisdom as if they flow effortlessly from my mind — would be as much a falsehood as an outright lie. What’s more, because I would know it is false, I would be doing damage to my middah of emet — truthfulness. Worst of all, because there are always students who have heard me use such lines, teachings (and jokes) before, I am inviting them to develop a veneer of cynicism over whatever I teach, to snicker knowingly at the delivery of a well-worn quip — it would be like placing a stumbling block before the blind (prohibited in Leviticus 19:14).
To avoid this, I have adopted the simple practice of prefacing such statements with something as simple as, “Like I always say…,” or “…the way I like to put it is….” It is simple, but it makes a difference because it is far more real and true.
This practice is a matter of truthfulness, but it is also a matter of kavod — honor. Not only does it honor those before whom I am speaking, but it also honors myself. Rather than becoming a caricature of myself, it allows me, even forces me to make sure that I am simply — myself.
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