Minute 760: Questions and Answers

“I don’t mean to bother you, but I really didn’t understand your answer,” Nissim said defensively.

“I was pretty clear, and it’s the third time I’ve responded to the same question,” Mr. Rothstein said bluntly. “I’m not an information booth. Seek help elsewhere.”

Hurt and taken aback, Nissim left the scene quickly to avoid further abuse. Mr. Rothstein, however, felt he had tried his best to help Nissim, who should have known the answer himself.

There are many reasons one answers a question angrily or rudely. One may be tired and stressed from a hard day. Perhaps one is pressured for time, or doesn’t like the questioner’s tone of voice. Whatever the reason, it’s not justification for hurtful or disrespectful responses.

Harav Chaim Shmulevitz, zt”l, said that just as one must empathize with another who seeks financial assistance, one must put oneself in the other’s shoes when asked a question (based on Shemot 22:24, Rashi). Think back to a time when you needed information and how you would have liked to receive a reply. By changing places in your mind from being the supplier of information to being the seeker of help, you’ll be able to overcome the external stimuli that make you feel irritated by another’s query.

Patience is an asset in helping one to politely consider another’s question — even an annoying one asked at the “wrong time.” The Talmud relates (Shabbat 31a) that two men wagered on the possibility of getting Hillel angry. One went to Hillel’s home several times, called out to the great Sage disrespectfully and asked ridiculous questions. He did all of the above late in the afternoon on Erev Shabbat. In spite of the combination of upsetting factors, Hillel answered patiently and respectfully. It’s an ideal all should try to achieve.

One More Second: Another Thought for the Day

G-d processes all of our actions and reactions instantaneously and leads us along the path on which WE have decided we want to travel — as long as it agrees with our ultimate purpose. If not, G-d throws us what might seem to be a curve ball but which, in reality, keeps us traveling on the course that’s in our best interest. (Rabbi Max Anteby, Spiritual Lite, p. 74)


Rabbi Raymond Beyda serves in the Sephardic Community in Brooklyn, N.Y. He lectures to audiences all over the world. He is author of the book 1 Minute With Yourself: A Minute a Day to Self-Improvement, Sephardic Press, 2008.