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Beit Midrash Jewish Laws and Thoughts Additional Lessons

Unintended Consequences

Rabbi Berel WeinCheshvan 21 5781
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Unintended consequences are well-known and ubiquitous regarding many areas of human life. It is especially true regarding legislative matters which are adopted by parliaments and congresses. No matter how carefully the law is adopted and written, there always are results that are not foreseen in that piece of legislation.

Most of the time these consequences are unfortunately of a negative nature. However, there are rare exceptions when one is able to see that human actions and behavior are positive and beneficial to others even though they were not foreseen when the original law or action, lecture or essay was first promulgated.

This law of unintended consequences is not limited to legislative or executive governmental behavior. Rather, it is present in all areas of human life and interaction between human beings. One never knows the effect of one's words or deeds. Perhaps only decades later do we begin to understand what we have caused by our speech, behavior, and habitual way of life.

It is because of this that the rabbis have warned us that even the wisest of men must be careful with their words and certainly with their deeds because others will learn from them and perhaps misinterpret those words and cause them to have a negative effect on life and society.

Everything in life creates consequences and since many times these consequences may have been unintended and even unimaginable, one must always be cautious and careful in words and deeds and hope that any unintended consequences be of a positive nature.

For many years, I have produced lectures on Jewish history, biographies of great Jews, world events and explanations of the Torah’s value system. By the will of Heaven, these tapes have proven to be quite popular and have been distributed everywhere in the Jewish world. I have always been heartened by the fact that so many people have heard what I have had to say and that it has influenced, directly or indirectly, many to intensify their connection with Judaism and the Jewish people.

That was not really my intent in producing these recordings. I merely wanted that the facts of Jewish history and the stories of the lives of great Jews be known as a matter of erudition and to necessitate a Jewish perspective. I meant them to be ancillary to intensive Jewish education that would be taught in schools, seminaries and yeshivot. However, almost humorously and capriciously, there have been unintended consequences to the production of these recordings and their distribution.

Many years ago, on the streets of Jerusalem, I met a Jew who had been one of the famous dissidents and refuseniks in the Soviet Union during the 1980s. He warmly complimented me on the recordings that he had surreptitiously heard while still in Moscow – tape recordings that somehow had been smuggled into the Soviet Union by visiting American Jews. He then proceeded to tell me that the reason the recordings were so popular was not because of their content but that it helped this group of dissidents become familiar with and learn English! Still, I was flattered because I thought that all in all this was a positive unintended consequence to my lectures.

Last week I heard a podcast interview with an Orthodox Jew, a former yeshiva student, and author of the great self-help book, who is a managing director of one of the great financial firms in New York City. The interviewer asked him where he had acquired his language skills in English, since he had attended Jewish schools that had very weak secular studies programs, if any at all. He replied that he considered me to be his English teacher since he listened to my tapes. When I used words or phrases that he was unfamiliar with, he took the time to look them up and thereby became fluent in English to the extent that he functions very well as a leading financial advisor in today's complicated business world.

Again, I was flattered even though this was a completely unintended consequence of my lectures. But, at least for him it had a positive effect. We should all pray that all of our actions and words have positive consequences that grow from them whether intended or unintended

Shabbat shalom

Berel Wein



Rabbi Berel Wein
The rabbi of the "HANASI" congregation in Yerushalim, head of the Destiny foundation, former head of the OU, Rosh Yeshiva of 'sharai Tora" and rabbi of the "Beit Tora" congregation, Monsey, New York.
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