Today’s daf (Ketubot 10b) tells a story where a halachic question is asked by a husband to Rabbi Yehuda HaNassi (Rebbi), and during the exchange between Rebbi and the couple it becomes clear that they are suffering from malnutrition due to a local famine.
In terms of this particular case, Rebbi’s response includes feeding the couple. And why? Because whatever the halachic question involved, whenever people seek guidance from a religious leader who are clearly in need of physical sustenance, the provision of such sustenance must be the first response given to them.
What this means is that while a halachic question demands a clear halachic response, there can be a range of additional – yet equally crucial – responses to a question that is asked by an individual or by a couple to a religious leader such as: a warm drink, a cold glass of water, a piece of fruit or cake, phone numbers for a therapist, or some money to pay for an upcoming festival. And of course, beyond this, a further essential element of the halachic response is the tone with which that response is given.
A religious leader who has only learnt in a Yeshiva, Midrasha or Kollel may think that they know how to answer halachic questions, but it is only when a Torah student has done what is known as ‘shimush’ – when they have shadowed and observed a sensitive religious guide – do they realize that oftentimes it is the seemingly secondary responses, such as the warm drink, or the piece of cake, which completes the halachic response and transforms it into an answer that can be readily received.