From The Other Side Of The Bench
By David J. Seidemann, Esq.
When I submitted last week’s article about the trial I was engaged in, the jury had not yet returned its verdict. Accordingly, those who read the article were left in suspense. I am happy to report that late Tuesday afternoon the jury returned a verdict in favor of my client and awarded him compensation for the injuries he sustained in the motor-vehicle collision.
They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. So when the defense attorney used one of my opening lines in her closing statement, I took the opportunity in my closing to call her out. I rose to my feet when she concluded her remarks, smiled at the jury, and said, “First they steal my client’s health and now they steal my lines. I guess old habits are hard to break.” I then delivered my prepared remarks and, apparently, they were persuasive.
While I was sitting with my client awaiting the verdict, he told me that, win or lose, he appreciated how hard I’d fought for him. I told him that if the fight is worth fighting, it does not make sense to give it any less than 100 percent. But not every situation is worthy or deserving of the confrontation. For every five phone calls our office receives regarding a personal-injury case, we accept one. Not every injury brings with it the right to seek compensation. Sometimes the injuries are not severe enough despite the tortious acts of another. Sometimes the injuries are horrific, but they are self-inflicted or not legally attributable to the alleged wrongdoer. The law does not presume that every injury is serious or that every serious injury is the legal responsibility of another.
Divorce cases are different. While some divorce cases we handle are resolved amicably, the majority are not. In most cases, the litigants want to fight. They could save themselves lots of angst and money if before entering litigation, they would make a list of things that are worth fighting about and things that are not. I recall one case where the parties paid two attorneys, my adversary and me, to come to the marital home, where we spent more than two hours watching the soon-to-be-ex-couple fight over a saltshaker. Estimated value of the saltshaker? Ten dollars. Sometimes walking away, forgoing the need to be right, is the wiser path to choose.
When I was a practicing rabbi, I officiated at marriage ceremonies. I assisted couples in entering the holy union. Now I’m involved in the exit strategy. I’m not the world’s foremost expert in marriage or divorce, but I have picked up a few pointers along the way that are relevant to both living together and living apart.
And since it is free advice, I’ll say it again: Those who insist on always being right alone often wind up being left alone. Walking away from a confrontation many times is walking tall. If the goal is peace, then one will allow a spouse to be right even when wrong. If your goal is personal vindication, you will never be able to live with your spouse supposedly getting the better of you.
Sometimes, when you read something for the fiftieth time, you learn something new. Since that fateful day in 1959 when my parents took me home from the hospital, I must have read the Book of Ruth fifty times. And it was only this year that I noticed for the first time, near the end of the story, that when Ruth gives birth to her son, the community gathered to name him. How strange. Can you imagine giving birth and not naming your child yourself?
Not only did Ruth, the child’s mother, not participate in the naming of the newborn, but the grandmother, Naomi, didn’t offer her opinion either. Both of them, Naomi and Ruth, had the right to name the child, and also had loved ones whose memories could have been perpetuated through the naming of this child.
Ruth had lost her husband, Boaz, the father of the newborn. Surely she could have insisted that the child be named Boaz. Naomi, Ruth’s mother-in-law and grandmother of the newborn, had lost her husband and two sons. Surely she had good reason to request that this child be named after her husband or sons who had passed away.
Both women took a pass. Both women let others decide the child’s name. Why? Because Naomi knew that if the child were named Machlon, Kilyon, or Elimelech–after her husband or sons–every time Ruth heard that boy’s name being called, part of her would weep that the child wasn’t named Boaz, after her loved one.
And Ruth knew that if that child were named Boaz, every time Naomi would hear the child called by that name, part of her would weep that the child wasn’t named after her husband or children.
Neither woman wanted to be the source of pain to the other. Neither woman wanted this child to be the instrument of pain to the other. So they walked away. They deferred. They didn’t need to win. They didn’t need to be right. They didn’t need to have their way. They didn’t need to impose their will on another. They walked away from conflict and, in doing so, walked tall.
The rest, as they say, is Jewish history. Because history records for us that this newborn child, named Oved, begot Yishai, who in turn begot David, King of Israel.
David Seidemann is a partner with the law firm of Seidemann and Mermelstein and serves as a professor of business law at Touro College. He can be reached at 718-692-1013 or email@example.com.