Rabbi Jonathan Gewirtz  – The That ‘n the That 


Operation Inspiration 

By Years ago, American children learned to read with a series of books about a brother and sister named Dick and Jane. “See Dick run. Run, Dick, run! See Jane swing. Swing, Jane, swing!” Clearly it was exciting material. Well, kids saw it for the boring blather it was, and so did literary critics and educators. 

One publisher, the story goes, approached Theodor Geisel, later known by his pen name, Dr. Seuss, (which he pronounced ‘Soyce,’ not ‘Soose’ rhyming with goose, as most of us pronounce it) and challenged him to write a book first-graders couldn’t put down. It was a challenge he accepted, but it made him work hard. In fact, it took him a year and a half to write a book which would only use approximately 200 different words (236 to be exact.) 

He found the first two words he could which he thought a first-grader could read and spell, Cat and Hat, and built a story around them. The Cat in the Hat came out in 1957 and took the world by storm. Even adults find themselves enthralled by the adventures of this Cat in a Hat and his two partners in mischief, Thing 1 and Thing 2.  

Dr. Seuss’s trademark wild stories and fanciful illustrations often camouflaged underlying political or social commentary. The rhymes and mantras his characters spoke exuded a philosophy all their own. People know many of his books by heart because of the repetitive words and phrases. Kids learned to read and loved the sound of his books, including the distinctive meter most of his rhymes followed. In fact, many of you probably read the title of this essay as you would the title of that book. 

So, what prompted me to wax eloquent on this piece of literature which is likely familiar to those whose first language is English? It was an e-mail I received from the editor of one of the publications for which I write. She sent me a sentence I’d written and the revised sentence after she’d edited it. This is what I got: 

When it comes to Shidduchim, I feel that people forget that Hashem is the One who makes matches, and that it’s our job to simply uncover the pairings that He’s made.” 

When it comes to Shidduchim, I feel people forget Hashem is the One who makes matches, and it’s our job to simply uncover the pairings He’s made.” 

Now, at first glance, you might not see the difference. But if you go back, you’ll notice the difference is a single word: THAT. Yes, in the first sentence, I’d used the word THAT not once, not twice, but FOUR times. And the truth of the matter is that she was able to remove them all without significantly changing the sentence. In fact, it made the sentence cleaner. That’s not to say there’s never a place for the word that, only that it’s not as necessary as we might imagine. 

I was amazed at this insight. To think I was wasting words (ok, in some publications they pay per word, but it’s not worth the time for the dime), this whole time! 

She responded to me, “The truth is, years ago I would not have noticed it. Recently, however, it became a pet peeve of mine when I see overuse of the word ‘that,’ so now I notice when it happens. 

It struck me as a very good topic for my column. You see, I always try to write about things I notice. When Hashem puts an insight or approach in my mind, and I can use it to learn from things around me, or to appreciate what others do or think, I attempt to use the new perspective as a tool. 

Just as this editor had begun taking note of the word ‘that’ being overused, any perspective we have can help us notice things. If we create an aversion for nivul peh, foul language and gossip, we’ll start to be irritated it when others use it. I recall one fellow at work who I could not stand because every time he spoke, he used profanity. (He isn’t Jewish.) It really upset me and I began avoiding him because it was so noticeable to me.  

When we have trained ourselves to see Hashem in everything, then when we experience disappointments, we’ll find the things we thought went ‘wrong,’ actually become messages from Hashem to adjust what we hope and wish for. 

When we recognize that people often aren’t mean or thoughtless because we’ve done something wrong, but because there’s something lacking in them, it makes it easier to turn our resentment into pity, or better yet, into compassion. 

It’s clear that when you open your eyes and your mind to new vistas and ways of thinking, you’ll start seeing things with greater clarity and awareness.  

So, my thanks go out to the editor so nice, who read through my writing at least once or twice.  

She found some items she thought could be better, so she sent them to me in an electronic letter.  

She opened my eyes and helped me to see, when I look at the world, I’m really seeing me! 

Now my column is finished, and I’ll tip her my hat, because when all’s said and done, THAT is just that. 


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