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    Speaking with them – Sh’mini

    Targum Onkelos makes a tiny change to the instructions Moses gives his brother and the elders.

    In the text (Lev. 9:3) Moses says, “Speak to the Israelites”; according to Onkelos, the instruction is “Speak with the Israelites…”.

    The difference between speaking “to” and “with” is the tone of voice and attitude. “Speak to” is harsh and peremptory; “speak with” is softer and quieter.

    Onkelos’ change in the wording highlights the two ways of approaching a subject. There are times to bark out a command, like a drill sergeant on a parade ground or like a parent who shouts at a child, “Get away from the fire!” There are also times to reason things out so that the addressee of the message feels no resentment but thinks they have been consulted and convinced.

    There are times for that approach too, but it can be dangerous when someone uses words and a sweet tone to manipulate you into feeling that it is your own decision.

    The secretary of a certain synagogue knew the president would oppose a particular policy so the next day he called the president and said, “Mr…, I’ve been mulling over what we discussed yesterday. I think we’ve made a good decision and this is what I’ve done this morning…”

    The president was so disarmed that he found himself supporting a policy that he had adamantly objected to the previous day.

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