[The original image is a free image - CC0 Creative Commons - designed and uploaded by Wokandapix to Pixabay]
Rabbi Dr. Yossi Feintuch was born in Afula and holds a Ph.D. in American history from Emory University in Atlanta. He taught American history at Ben-Gurion University.
Author of the book US Policy on Jerusalem (JCCO).
He now serves as rabbi at the Jewish Center in central Oregon. (JCCO).
* * *
Last week we saw how Moses berated at length the two and a half tribes who did not want a portion in the Promised land, that is west of the Jordan River, by using severe words of criticism such as: Do you mean to say that your brothers would have to battle for the land while you dodge this national military campaign? Do you know how demoralising such a thing would be? It would be akin to what the spies did some 40 years ago when they incited the whole people to return to slavery in Egypt, rather than opt for putting shoulder to the wheel and secure the Promised Land. Now you, too, follow in their footsteps and have become with this divisive mind-set a ‘’brood of sinful men’’ who would bring destruction to the whole people.
Wow, what a lengthy and scathing indictment by Moses.
Indeed, the fighting-age men of the 2.5 tribes respond quickly to Moses’ denunciation saying that they had never entertained such intentions as Moses ascribed to them. Rather, they intended all along to lead the military effort by serving in the vanguard before the rest of the Israelite army, even as ''shock-troops''.
Now, since that was their original intent anyway why did they allow Moses to harangue them at such a length and severity? They could have stopped him in his tracks as he just began his diatribe, and announce their intent to serve in the very first line of the military campaign to seize the land, and in fact to continue and do so till each tribe secured its own tribal territory; only then would they repair to their desired land portions on the east side of the Jordan outside the Promised Land.
Why, then, did they listen to Moses’ tirade and only when he concluded his biting charge did they let him know what their intent was from the very get-go?
It seems as though the 2.5 tribes actually enjoyed hearing out Moses’ words because of his tonality; it was simply pleasant to their ears, a proof that you can actually deliver a harsh invective in words but if its tone is agreeable then the music would be pleasing to the ear as well. Or in the words of Ecclesiastes : “The words of the wise are spoken quietly’’ (rather than stridently). Hence the French adage: ‘’C'est le ton qui fait la musique”.
But the fact of the matter is that the original provenance of this insight is found in this weekly Torah portion – the 1st in Deuteronomy – when Moses reminds the whole people of the previous generation’s defeatist reluctance to fight for the Promised Land choosing instead to return to Egypt. It isn’t that the previous generations used factoids, rather than facts, but ‘’the voice” of their words, we now learn, rather than the words themselves, enraged God far more than the actual words of the 10 spies. Or as it is written: ‘’And the Lord heard the sound of your words. And He was furious…’’ (Deuteronomy 1: 34).
Indeed, you can say something direct and completely honest while remaining kind and controlling the tone of your voice. We can just as easily be sweet, as we can be jarring, if not cruel just by our intonation. But the tone of the 10 spies’ reporting of their actual findings and factual intelligence offered a harsh and adverse commentary over the plan to capture the Promised Land, and created dissent and rebelliousness thus dooming the whole generation to an eventual death in the desert over a period of 40 years.
The tone of your voice is important, just as much as what you’re actually saying. It is said that you can get more with honey than with vinegar, which basically means that when you’re sweet, loving, and kind, you’re more likely to convey your perspective or beliefs in a conversation.
Part of having good communication is speaking in a kind and loving tone, on the one hand choosing your words wisely, and on the other hand delivering them in a pleasant voice.
Many times, it’s simply hard to get our points across to others when we speak, not because what we say is too harsh or direct, but because the tone of our voice can be so dominant, demeaning, as to come across as bullying, or just simply nasty. And the problem when someone speaks in such a harsh tone is that most people won’t want to listen to what someone has to say, because of their words’ ring or tone, rather than the content of the message. And that was the problem in the way that the 10 spies reported their information from the Promised Land and their ultimate conclusion to opt and go back to Egypt rather than to the Promised Land.
I once saw evidence of that when a chamber music orchestra was called to the stage by its conductor who did not conduct it for the duration of the first opus; the music was dispirited and tepid like a boat whose captain is asleep, so it drifted aimlessly on the water. The conductor, then, went up the stage to conduct his orchestra and the tone did make the music. The differences between the two performances of the same opus were stark.
One could get away on good terms with her hearers even when she uses over-the-top phrases. But it is the intonation in the voice, the harsh vibe or look, or a certain intensity in the speaker’s body that would determine if the audience looked like they'd just sucked a lemon or willingly accepted the intended message... People will forget what you said, but they'll remember how you made them feel via your tone.
When people shift away from being snippy, curt, snarky, derisive, or contentious in the tone of their words, they usually become stronger communicators. They're more grounded, more dignified when they bring up something.
But if you do in fact get triggered to say something critical, acerbic, cutting, etc., then you would act prudently by intoning it pleasantly without pouring gasoline on the fire, even as you try and earnestly imagine how your intended audience would hear your comments.
At the end of an interaction, you may not get the result you want from the other person, but you can get the result of self-respect and feeling that you did the best you could. Indeed, in the words of the biblical book of Proverbs: ‘’Death and life are in the power of the tongue (18:21) – we can build and destroy even with the tone of our words.