Aged one hundred and twenty-seven years old, our Matriarch Sara dies. Avraham wants to buy a burial plot for her and is involved in a transaction with the sons of Chitti, in Chevron. They are willing to allow him the use of their burial plots, but not to purchase his own. He stands firm, negotiating with Efron, the owner of a field he would like to buy. Efron generously agrees to gift it to Avraham. Avraham refuses to accept this gift, insisting on paying for the field, and the cave within it. Finally, after difficult and protracted negotiations Efron consents to sell it to him, but only for an exorbitant price of four hundred silver shekels. Based on this lengthy and arduous bargaining process, Efron is considered to be a classic example of someone who has plenty to say but does very little. This is the opposite of the teaching in Ethics of the Fathers, Ch.15:1, where Shammai instructs us to “say little and do a lot.”
The next major story in this week’s Parsha introduces us to someone who does follow Shammai’s teaching. Eliezer, the servant of Avraham, searches for an appropriate wife for Yitzchak, his master’s son. Rivka is chosen based on her response to a request for water. Not only does Rivka offer Eliezer water, but she draws water from the well for his ten camels as well. In last week’s Parsha of Vayera, we saw Avraham offer his guests some water and bread, but then he goes further serving them a feast including cakes and meat, butter and milk. Rivka, like Avraham, demonstrates kindness and says little, but does so much.
Shammai’s words are a useful guide for parenting too. It would be far easier for us to tell our kids what to do, how to change, and where to improve, but change comes from modeling, watching us and absorbing our values. Actions speak far louder than words.
Joanna Faber & Julie King, authors of How to Talk so Little Kids Will Listen, explain that talking less is also an effective tool. Kids switch off when they hear you talking. They have heard it many times before, and they are not interested in a lecture. Faber & King, recommend not using lots of words, when even one word, or even better an action or gesture will work.
Rather than, “you guys left the chairs out again. How many times do I have to tell you? There’s no maid to clean this classroom after we leave,” Say, “Chairs!” So too, instead of instructing your child to brush their teeth, just use a toothbrushing gesture.
I am not sure how many camels I will be giving water to this week… but I will make a conscious effort to lecture less and to do more.