Chazal tell us in the midrash that the builders of the Tower of Bavel had achieved a high level of Achdus and unity, in speech and in goals. The midrash even describes the connection people had with each other as a sincere love, as opposed to the generation of the Flood which hated one another and stole from each other. They continue to explain that Hashem, disappointed with how they utilized their unity, broke up the generation by making it so that they could not understand one another. The Midrash describes what would happen is that a person would ask his friend for a hammer and his friend, who didn’t understand him, would give him the wrong tool. The asker would get so frustrated that he would kill his friend who he asked the favor from, and ultimately the people broke apart as did the building of the Tower.
How could it be that an entire people, united in such a powerful way, react to such a simple misunderstanding such as passing the wrong tool? Was their Unity so fragile and superficial? The Midrash does not seem to say so!
In our own way, we have all experienced this. Did you ever ask someone for something and they gave you the wrong thing? “Pass me that thing” and they passed you the wrong object? Perhaps from a child, a parent or friend? Did you feel frustrated, and how did you react? Did you raise your voice, even slightly in annoyance “no, I meant that!”. Why the reaction? Isnt just a simple miscommunication with someone who clearly is trying to do what something for us that we asked for?
I believe Chazal are showing us just how intense the feeling is for a person when they feel misunderstood, even by trivial things, and by contrast, how important it is to make a person feel understood. How much of our children’s and student’s frustrations stem from the fact that they feel no one understands them? The mantra of teenagers of the last 60 years: “No one understands me!”. Certainly among spouses most issues arise less from misunderstandings and more from the frustration of feeling misunderstood. Especially from someone you expect to understand you fully, like a spouse, parent or teacher. Does this justify actions done as a result of these frustrations? Absolutely not, but it can help us understand and diffuse situations, and work out issues when we feel a classroom or home environment doesn’t feel “united”. Try repeating back in your own words to a teen what they said before you say your piece. Make sure they felt listened to and understood. This is totally different than giving in, which often a mechanech cant do. A child who walks away with a “No” but feels they were listened to and understood still walks away with something. Suggestion 2: Actually listen and try to understand the child. Theres no guarantee we’ll always be able to, but even trying helps, and kids feel that. Kids today grow up in a totally different world than we all did. Of course, that’s not license to give in to everything they ask for, it’s a reality that calls for us to work harder to actually understand them and make sure they felt heard and understood.
I”H may we be zocheh to achieve this midda of listening and understanding and thus create and environment conducive to unity and love in both yeshiva and the home amongst all its members.
Shabbat Shalom, -Rabbi Ari Deutscher MSW