Off the Pulpit: The Right Kind of Silence

By RABBI DAVID WOLPE

The Talmud tells the story of Rav Safra, who was offered a price for some goods but could not respond as he was in the middle of prayers. The buyer kept upping the price. When Rav Safra concluded, he told the buyer he would accept the initial offer since his silence was misinterpreted, and he would have accepted the initial offer had he not been in the middle of prayer.

Rabbi Leo Jung told the story of the once formidable company Beer, Sondheimer and Co. In 1870, just before the Franco-German war, Mr. Beer left his office for the Sabbath. His company had the copper and other metals the war ministry required and they sent a series of telegrams offering him more and more for his material, none of them answered because of the Sabbath. On Sunday morning, Mr. Beer returned to the office and said, recalling the precedent of Rav Safra, that he would accept the initial offer because they misinterpreted his silence.

The ministry was so impressed by his scrupulousness that they made his company the main supplier and so “established its global significance.” Sometimes doing the right thing turns out to be the right thing.

(Rabbi David Wolpe is the senior rabbi of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles.)

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