My brother Eli and his wife Nina were making their first bar mitzvah. Anyone who has ever arranged such an occasion can tell you how much planning goes into that milestone.
The bigger hall or the closer one? Do we invite second cousins? What color should we make the invitations? How many guests should we plan on? Where do we find a patient and competent teacher for bar mitzvah lessons?
My brother and sister-in-law made it through all the preparations, and we made it too -- we were all there. Our parents, all the sisters and brothers and their families, aunts, uncles, friends, neighbors, and second cousins, celebrating together with Nina and Eli.
And there was Ari, the bar mitzvah boy, looking so grown-up in his new suit. All the months of practicing paid off -- he read the Torah without one mistake.
We were sitting and listening to Ari deliver his bar mitzvah speech. It was longer than the usual speech of a young and inexperienced speaker, and we sat marveling at how well he held the attention of his audience, amazed at his clear and well-organized presentation.
This euphoric state was quickly shattered as one of Eli's neighbors turned around and whispered to me, "He's a boring speaker."
Just like that! Straight to my face! Hard to believe, right? And that's not all. From the look on his face it even seemed as if he were expecting me to agree with his evaluation of my nephew!
I glared at him. How could a guest make such a callous statement to a family member -- even if it were true? We all remember what our first-grade teachers taught us, "If you have nothing good to say, say nothing at all." It's hard to believe that a normal adult would do something like that.
Do you think I could enjoy the rest of that speech? I was just glad that I was the one who heard it and not anyone else. And mostly I was glad that my brother was spared. Eli was sitting too far away to overhear anything, and besides, he was too busy listening to Ari.
How do you deal with such thoughtlessness? I was thinking when this neighbor turned to me again and said, with the same conviction as before:
"Take it from me. I've heard a lot of bar mitzvah boys, and I'm telling you again, this one is a born speaker."
Off by one syllable. But look how far off those extra two letters took us.
Verbal misunderstandings are so often the reason for dark suspicion, long-lasting grudges, and even nasty feuds. Nonetheless, we continue to trust our ears, rarely questioning their infallibility, even though they fool us time and again.
Of course, we human beings were created to be dependent on our senses, and surely our auditory perception, which helps us acquire essential knowledge about the world around us. At the same time, to help safeguard us against the hazards of miscommunication, the Almighty has warned us to take caution. The precept of judging [every person] favorably teaches us that when our senses bring a denunciatory verdict, we should [cautiously] contest the validity of this testimony.