Ignoring others is something we do when we become overly engrossed in ourselves. It often happens when we experience distress and difficulty. We revert inwardly, shrink into ourselves, become self-absorbed. We aren’t intentionally ignoring others; we are just too focused on ourselves to let others in.
The truth is that ignoring others doesn’t only hurt them, ignoring others also hurts us. Turning to others in times of distress is cathartic. It doesn’t improve our circumstances, but it makes our pain more bearable. When we turn outward, the time passes more quickly; we are less focused on our problems and are more open to solutions.
In The Ark
Noah and his family are a wonderful example of this. They spent their year in the ark providing for and feeding the animals. They had not a moment to themselves: from early morning till late at night they circulated around the ark and took care of the animals in their charge. One would think this was a hardship, but if you stop and think about it you will realize it was a G-d-sent.
The world was drowning around them, their friends and extended family were being decimated, their houses and lands were being destroyed, yet they had nary a moment to dwell on the pain. They had no time to think of themselves.
Imagine how much more difficult their experience in the ark would be had they had time to brood. They would have become self-absorbed and focused on their loss. They would each have ignored the others and would in turn lose camaraderie and support. This way, they had no time to think of their loss; when they had a moment to breathe, they rested and recovered together.
The Dates Anomaly
It struck me that this might help us explain an odd disagreement between two of the classic commentators on the Torah. Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, known by the acronym Rashi, lived in Provence, France in the eleventh century, and Rabbi Moshe Ben Nachman, known as Nachmanides or by the acronym, Ramban, lived in Girona Spain in the thirteenth century.
Both wrote popular commentaries on the Torah. Rashi’s commentary focused on the literal meaning of the word, Nachmanides’ commentary offers a logical and often mystical understanding of the words. In this case the two carried on an argument across the centuries that focused on the dates of the flood.
The Torah tells us that the flood began in the 2nd month, the ark landed in the 7th month and the mountaintops became visible in the 10th month. Both Rashi and Nachmanides agreed that the flood began in the 2nd month of the year. The argument was about when the ark landed and when the mountaintops became visible.
Nachmanides said that the ark landed in the 7th month of the year and the mountaintops became visible in the 10th month of the year. Rashi said the ark landed seven months after the rainfall ended and the mountaintops became visible ten months after the rainfall began.
According to Rashi’s system, the Torah toggles between three dating systems. The beginning of the flood is dated to the months of the year. The ark’s landing is dated from the end of the flood. The visibility of the mountaintops is dated to the beginning of the flood.
Nachmanides’ system is smoother and more logical, but Rashi’s system is more literal. Rashi presented several passages that would contradict each other unless his complicated formula was employed. (To explain this formula exceeds the boundaries of this article but suffice it to say that) it is a compelling argument if you insist on a literal reading of the text, which Rashi does.
Nachmanides, however, had no qualms about interpreting the text in a logical though not entirely literal manner. He was, therefore, able to interpret the dating system in a more logical manner.
If these numbers leave you a little confused, I apologize, but this is where we return to more solid ground. It occurred to me that beyond the literal and logical components of this argument, there is a deep psychological and spiritual component.
Rashi is famously known as the teacher of the young student. It is why one of the acronyms for Rashi is Raban Shel Yisrael, the Rabbi of all of Israel. All Jews begin their foray into the Torah with Rashi as their guide. Nachmanides is the teacher of a more mature student. One who can relate to the logical and the mystical.
It follows that Rashi speaks to the way the young and emotionally underdeveloped deal with their problems. They become engrossed in their troubles and lose sight of everything else.
When the rains begin, Rashi’s students are still cognizant of the outside world; they use the universal dating system—the months of the year. When it begins to flood, when the troubles began, the young or emotionally and spiritually immature, lose sight of everything and everyone outside of them. They can’t tell you which day it is outside and which month it is for others. They can only tell you how long they are suffering. How many months since the flood began and how many months since it ended. Rashi is cognizant of this reality as he presents the story of the flood.
Nachanmides, who speaks to the older student, insists that as we mature emotionally and spiritually, we must maintain perspective. Ignoring others is not an option because it doesn’t help us or others. We must think not only about our own misery but also about others. It is not the 7th month since the flood, it is the 7th month of the year.
This tells us that though introversion and ignoring others was an effective coping mechanism in our youth, we must graduate from it as we grow older. Holding on to it doesn’t help us cope. It only helps us self-destruct.
I want to close with a more common example of this concept. Many people are introverted in the morning and take a while to wake up. They walk into a room and ignore all who greet them. They are not interested; they are not coping well; they are busy ignoring others and nursing themselves.
They justify it by saying it takes them time to acclimate and people should be patient with them. As soon as they will take their first hit of coffee, they will wake up and be available.
It doesn’t work this way. Ignoring others when we don’t want them, leads to them ignoring us when we do want them. Our neglect can be hurtful to them, and they might not be so kind to us in return. If we can’t converse and offer a sunny cheerful good morning, we must at least explain why we can’t answer. It isn’t easy, but it is the mature and right thing to do.
Ultimately, it is also the self-serving and smart thing to do because the very effort will bring us out of our introversion shell. Coming out of our shell a little earlier than we are ready, is in our best interest because it makes for a sunnier and more cheerful morning.