In My Humble Opinion

Friday, 16 September, 2022 - 1:00 pm

It used to be that people would preface their opinion on a matter with the phrase, “in my opinion” or, if we were lucky, “in my humble opinion.” There were the abbreviations “IMO” or “IMHO.” At least then, people qualified their pronouncements with the notion that this is simply the opinion of one individual. I might think you are foolish for not accepting my opinion, but at least I recognize that other opinions potentially exist.

I have noticed a trend in the last few years, especially when people are posting on social media. People have gotten into the habit of simply making pronouncements as absolute truth, as if they are literally the fountain of all wisdom in the universe.

This is true of political statements, philosophical pronouncements, religious assertions, and things more mundane like assessments of restaurants or commercial products. Folks seem to be so full of themselves, and so confident in their perspective, that they do not entertain the possibility of an alternative view.

The prophet declares, “The wicked shall give up his way, and the man of iniquity his thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:7) The Chassidic masters offer this interpretation. The Hebrew term “Aven” (iniquity) has the same letters as “On,” meaning strength. Just as it is imperative that the "wicked leave his path," for without teshuva it is impossible to approach the Sacred, so must the "man of strength," one with unshakeable confidence in his reasoning, "leave his thoughts." He is not to insist, "I say so. This is what I think;" every "I", ego, is a source of evil, a cause of divisiveness.

Just before my 17th birthday, I underwent a process to be accepted into Yeshiva Gedolah (university level Talmudic Seminary). The process consisted of two tests, written and oral. I did well on the written test, which was meant to assess our general knowledge of Talmud and Chassidic thought. The oral test was structured so that each pair of students was given one page of the Talmud to prepare in advance, after which the dean would examine them in his office. I am ashamed to admit, that my study partner and I (who are still very good friends) did not utilize the preparation time seriously enough. We entered the dean’s office without having properly prepared for the exam. During the exam, seeing that we were inadequately prepared, the Rabbi asked me about a seeming conflict between Rashi’s commentary and the text of the Talmud itself. After glancing at the text of Rashi for a few seconds, I declared, somewhat flustered, “It seems that Rashi doesn’t make sense.” The Rabbi looked up at me sharply and then gently gave me one of the most profound lessons of my life, “Rashi makes sense. You don’t sufficiently understand the text.”

Having the humility to recognize our place, whilst maintaining cognizance of our strengths and abilities, is a healthy balanced way to live life. So next time you are about to share your profundity with the world, please preface it with “in my humble opinion.”

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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