Reading between the lines

I was impressed yesterday by something someone said to me. I belong to a educators group of women that meets once a month. The group topic has been exploration of the meaning of innovation in Torah study. What is the methodology of finding new interpretations and what are the criteria for what is or is not legitimate innovation? The topic itself is not relevant to the point I want to make. What’s important is that she read between the lines of my email.

In my message to the group I had sent a few snippets of texts illustrating the Torahs affirmation of the need for conscience, the need to hear what God wants from us in a personal sense, where we use our free choice and there is no command God gives us to do. By “conscience” I am of course referring to Frankls use of the term, meaning that life calls upon the individual to take some kind of initiative or attitude, or take up a challenge in responding to what is right for any given unique situation.

To my way of thinking Torah study is an integral part of life and I see any text in front of me in a similar way to seeing a situation in front of me: as inviting me, challenging me, asking something of me. Thus my interest was slightly different from theirs. They wish to explore textual interpretation which brings to light a new meaning in the text. I want to explore textual enlightenment which reveals a personal call in a unique situation. I am interested in the element of divine providence in textual study as in life.

I had reached out to the group asking for a response and adding that I am aware that this is a bit off course from the group’s discussion up until now.

One of the group members correctly read between the lines of my message. She understood that there was more to my request than there would appear to be on the surface. From what I said and the way I said it she inferred what I did not express explicitly: my frustration and (on a bad day) feeling of abandonment that I have when I say something, especially something important to me and get no response. She was able to hear this only because she read carefully between the lines of what I wrote.

She responded by: a) giving me a shorthand outline of what the group had been doing (since I had missed a few meetings), b) saying that the nature of this group is that someone can write something very profound and it will just get lost in cyberspace unless the group sits on it and ponders it together and c) that she is sincerely very much interested in hearing what I have to say.

By now I feel very egocentric going on so much about my feelings. But I want to talk about the meaning it holds for me and I can’t do that without including the whole history.

Did I start out saying the topic was not relevant to my point? In a way it is extremely relevant. The idea of innovation in text according to one of the views they had discussed was essentially the new insights that come out of very careful reading.

Here was a teacher stooped in careful reading of text. She is extremely bright and at the same time extremely sensitive. For someone like this there is no dividing line between the ability to read between the lines of text and to read between the lines of a person. Her ability to do one flows into an ability to do the other.

The meaning of divine providence (my area of interest) is that God a) pays attention and b) is involved. There can be no involvement without first paying attention. As Frankl says we help the person to see the world “as it is,” to see the reality in front of him and then to hear what it’s asking of him, how he needs to respond to it. This is what my friend did for me.

What did this experience say to me? Pay attention! Paying attention is crucial to true textual interpretation, to hearing and appropriately responding to another person with empathy and to awareness of divine providence in life.

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