Rabbi Abba and Rav Menashya were once travelling together, when it came time to go their separate ways. Standing at the bank of the Yofti river, Rabbi Abba said to his friend, “Teach me something I don’t know, before we part company.”
Rav Menashya responded, “How drunk may a person be if they wish to daven? The determinant is: Would they be prepared to stand before a king in their current state of intoxication? If not, how could they imagine standing before the Supreme King of Kings, the Holy One, blessed be He?!”
אָמַר רַבָּה בַּר רַב הוּנָא: שָׁתוּי אַל יִתְפַּלֵּל, וְאִם הִתְפַּלֵּל — תְּפִלָּתוֹ תְּפִלָּה. שִׁיכּוֹר אַל יִתְפַּלֵּל, וְאִם הִתְפַּלֵּל — תְּפִלָּתוֹ תּוֹעֵבָה. הֵיכִי דָּמֵי שָׁתוּי, וְהֵיכִי דָּמֵי שִׁיכּוֹר? כִּי הָא דְּרַבִּי אַבָּא בַּר שׁוּמְנִי וְרַב מְנַשְּׁיָא בַּר יִרְמְיָה מִגִּיפְתִּי הֲווֹ קָא מִפַּטְרִי מֵהֲדָדֵי אַמַּעְבָּרָא דִּנְהַר יוֹפְטִי. אֲמַרוּ: כׇּל חַד מִינַּן לֵימָא מִילְּתָא דְּלָא שְׁמִיעַ לְחַבְרֵיהּ, דְּאָמַר מָרִי בַּר רַב הוּנָא: לָא יִפָּטֵר אָדָם מֵחֲבֵירוֹ אֶלָּא מִתּוֹךְ דְּבַר הֲלָכָה, שֶׁמִּתּוֹךְ כָּךְ זוֹכְרוֹ. פְּתַח חַד וַאֲמַר: הֵיכִי דָּמֵי שָׁתוּי, וְהֵיכִי דָּמֵי שִׁיכּוֹר? שָׁתוּי — כֹּל שֶׁיָּכוֹל לְדַבֵּר לִפְנֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ. שִׁיכּוֹר — כֹּל שֶׁאֵינוֹ יָכוֹל לְדַבֵּר לִפְנֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ.
Rabba bar Rav Huna said: One who has drunk wine must not pray, but if he nonetheless prayed, his prayer is a prayer. One who is intoxicated must not pray, and if he prayed, his prayer is an abomination. What is the definition of having drunk wine; and what is the definition of intoxication? The following: As Rabbi Abba bar Shumni and Rav Menashya bar Yirmeya from Gifti were taking leave of each other at the ford of the Yofti River, they said: Let each one of us say something that his fellow has not yet heard, for Mari bar Rav Huna said: A person should always take leave of his fellow in the midst of d’var halacha (words of Torah), for he will thereby remember him. One opened and said: What is the definition of having drunk wine, and what is the definition of intoxication? One who has drunk wine refers to anyone remains able to talk in the presence of a king. One who is intoxicated refers to anyone who is not able to talk in the presence of a king.
Think about the conversations you’ve had with people over the last week. What was the last thing you said to them? Some of the parting words might have been OK. Others were probably unmemorable. And yet others may have been conversations you’d rather forget. Whether these encounters were with friends, acquaintances, strangers, store clerks, colleagues, or loved ones. Now, imagine, God forbid, that was the last conversation you will ever have with them.
One of the tragedies of the coronavirus pandemic is the closure of borders and the shutdown of air travel between most countries across the globe. As a result, many of us have been cut off from close family and friends. Many have aging parents whom they would visit on a regular basis prior to the crisis. Sadly, many of these individuals not only lack access to visit them, they have been delivered the heartbreaking news of their passing and been forced to attend their loved one’s zoom funeral.
It goes without saying that we shouldn’t part company with someone in a huff. The last thing you would want etched on your eternal memory is the fight you had with your loved one in that final conversation. But Mari bar Rav Huna’s advice is more profound. Not only should the parting of company not take place in a state of conflict, it shouldn’t be trivial either. Do you want the last thing you remember chatting with your loved one about to be your thoughts on your favourite reality TV show?
I will always remember the last conversation I had with Aunt Shprintza. I was livid, insisting that Jack should never have been voted off The Apprentice.
Is that the memory you want of Aunt Shprintza for the remainder of your life? Now instead, try this:
I will always remember the last conversation I had with Aunt Shprintza. I asked her what motivates her to go to shul every Shabbos. She told me how she always closes her eyes as the chazan hits the Adon Olam high note at the end of the service. That feeling carries her through the week.
The d’var halacha needn’t be deep and profound. Even the parting words of our great sages, Rabbi Abba and Rav Menashya, dealt with how drunk is too drunk. Undoubtedly a discussion with halachic ramifications. But hardly a pilpul (sharp textual analysis). Most importantly, however, it was an unforgettable subject. They ended on a relatively lighthearted – and yet, meaningful – note.
Imagine how much deeper and richer your conversations and relationships would be if you always endeavoured to take leave of every conversation with a D’var Torah, a slice of life advice, or even a simple blessing:
I’ll always remember Aunt Shprintza’s characteristic parting words. She would say, “May God bless you with the resilience of tashlich fish. Those stubborn things can take anything thrown their way.”
You don’t need to imagine that every conversation might be the last conversation with your friend or loved one, God forbid. Even if it’s the last conversation you’re having with them for today, it’s worth investing the time and thought into parting words of inspiration. As Mari teaches, those inspirational thoughts will remain at the forefront – or even at the back – of the other person’s mind, long after you’ve parted company.
May every one of your encounters be enriched from the moment you meet until day, weeks, months, and years after you’ve last spoken!