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William Hamilton

Your ratio of questions to statements

This week’s portion of Torah precedes the giving of the Ten Commandments at Mt. Sinai, with some leadership lessons for Moses. His father-in-law, Jethro, advises him on how to get better at delegating and sharing burdens. Why is Moses getting taught and why now? To show us something profound: the best teachers need to first get credentialed as the best learners

A closer look reveals something particularly interesting about the advice. Bigger questions, presumably more far-reaching, go to Moses, whereas more minor issues get resolved by other capable leaders. All good. But then, after this advice had been applied, bigger (gadol) disputes grew into more difficult (kasheh) matters (Ex. 18:22,26), the thorniest of which required Divine counsel. 

The vehicle that clarified the size and difficulty of a dispute was the question. Questions, when they are curiosity-driven, contain the word quest. They produce discovery; a revealing that’s fitting for a Torah portion that contains the Sinai Revelation when we all become learners.

This week I heard something fascinating on a leadership podcast from Adam Grant. Good leaders should audit their ratio of questions to statements

Today, I would contend, the illiberal-left is showing itself to be morally confused. I believe it’s currently failing on two fronts: 1) to condemn terrorism, and 2) to defend secularism. I realize those are both statements. So the next time I encounter one of them, I’ll try to pose them in the form of questions. 

In our own disputes, may we audit and be attentive to the ratio of questions to statements we find ourselves and others making. Sometimes, just knowing such an audit can exist is all somebody needs to be reminding there is a time and place for learning. 

About the Author
Rabbi William Hamilton has served as rabbi (mara d'atra) of Kehillath Israel in Brookline, MA since 1995.
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