Watery Advice


My infant son was tugging on his ear and‏ ‏was just not looking himself. A thermometer reading revealed ‎that he had a bit of a fever and I was convinced that he had an ear infection. Off we went to the ‎pediatrician for an anticipated prescription of antibiotics. ‎

The doctor – a gentleman who had been at his craft for many years – walked briskly into the examining ‎room with a classic no-nonsense attitude. “What’s wrong?” he asked, after the briefest of greetings. His ‎bedside manner nowhere to be found. ‎

‎“My son has an ear infection.” I replied, expecting him to whip out his otoscope and squint into his ears.‎

‎“How do you know?” quizzed the doctor. “He told you?!”‎

I later discovered that this doctor is easily infuriated by visiting parents who volunteer their own diagnoses. ‎The message was clear: Tell me the symptoms and I’ll decide what’s wrong.‎

It is not only the layman and the ignorant that need professional advice. Experts, too, need other experts, ‎just as a dentist’s teeth require treatment from another dentist. Many situations are difficult to self-‎diagnose and self-treat. Experts can objectively consider the situation and are uniquely equipped to resolve ‎the problem. Political consultants, psychologists, and tax advisors all provide counsel. In virtually every ‎field, holy or mundane, there are specialists to help us keep our lives on track.‎

The benefit of consulting is honed by the following vignette. An American company that manufactured ‎lights for photocopiers began losing their market share to cheaper Japanese competition. With an increasingly bleak ‎outlook, the American company reluctantly called in a consultant to all but confirm that there was no ‎future. What the experts discovered was that they weren’t losing customers because of cheaper ‎alternatives. It was the competition’s admirable customer service that was attracting an impressive ‎following. The American company listened to the advice and instantly their ‎business began growing. 

When Rachel passed away, Reuvain stood up for his mother honor. He moved Yaakov’s bed from ‎Bilah’s tent to Leah’s tent. Reuvain reasoned, if my mother’s sister (Rachel) was her rival, should my ‎mother sister’s handmaiden (Bilah) also be my mother’s rival (Shabbos 55b). His rashness had catastrophic ‎results; the Shechinah departed from atop Yaakov’s bed. ‎

On Yaakov’s deathbed, he tells Reuvain that because you interfered with my bed, you lost the rights to ‎Kingship and Priesthood. This might seem an overly harsh punishment for a single crime. However, a look at ‎Yaakov’s criticism reveals a deeper reason. ‎

‎“Impetuous as water, therefore you shall not have superiority” (Bereishis 49:4)‎

It was the not the action that merited the punishment. Nor was it Reuvain’s underlying character trait – ‎anger – which yielded such a response. It was the speed with which he acted upon his anger. Perhaps, ‎Reuvain was entitled to feel angry, but that doesn’t automatically translate into taking ‎steps without first taking advice. ‎

It was because Reuvain was quick to act with the tempo of water that he was stripped of honors. His ‎hastiness rendered him unfit for kingship or priesthood. These are positions of leadership that ‎require patience and counsel from others prior to taking action. But, before one takes advice from the ‎wise, one has to consult oneself first, a person who acts on impulse cannot function as a leader. ‎

 Yaakov did not punish Reuvain by stripping him of his due. His ‎rebuke centered on the origin not the symptom. Yaakov, an expert from the outside, was able to look at the root cause of Reuvain’s error. He was telling Reuvain his nature was not one that was suited to leadership. ‎

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