Pirke Avot chapter four, verse twenty-three

Tell me, Gentle Readers, what is the secret to all great ethical behavior? Timing. This is Judah Goldin’s translation:

Rabbi Simeon ben Eleazar says: Do not appease thy fellow in his hour of anger; do not comfort him while the dead is still laid out before him; do not question him in the hour of his vow; and do not strive to see him in his hour of misfortune.


The commentary are all pretty much in agreement that Rabbi Simeon is pointing out the (perhaps obvious) fact that it isn’t just what you do but when and how. I think there’s another point to it, which is that none of the four actions are of any tangible help. Perhaps what is implied is that these moments of crisis require more than speech. If your friend is angry with you, you need to do something to resolve the problem. Not just appease his anger—if you view his anger as the problem, then you aren’t looking to solve whatever is making him angry. When your friend is bereaved, the issue isn’t that he is sad but that he needs help with the day-to-day tasks that need doing even on days when you don’t want to get out of bed. In the hour of a vow (and vow-making is almost always a Bad Thing by the Sages), questioning your friend is, again, taking the vow-making as the problem rather than the root, which needs to be addressed with action. And in the hour of your friend’s misfortune, you can always be of material help to him without putting him to the trouble of a visit.

Not to be totally down on talking. I do a lot of talking myself. And I do think that talking, a lot of the time, is helpful when people are in a bad way. But I also think that people, well, that Your Humble Blogger is likely to start, first, with the talking, and only later think that it would have been nice to have, oh, done the dishes for them, or looked after the kids, or otherwise engaged in the kind of help that would be helpful.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

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