What happens if you say something and wish to change your mind? Or you recite an incorrect bracha and wish to say the correct words? Or you wish to exclaim וַאֲנִי – “and me!” in response to what someone else has said? In each instance halacha grants a short window of time – known as תוֹךְ כְּדֵי דִיבּוּר (literally, ‘within the ability to speak’) – for this to be done. And how much time is this? Our Gemara (Nazir 20b) answers by informing us that it is כְּדֵי שְׁאֵלַת שָׁלוֹם, ‘the amount of time it takes to greet someone and enquire about their welfare’ – meaning just a few seconds.
However, I would like to add an extra layer of meaning to this concept, because in almost every situation where תוֹךְ כְּדֵי דִיבּוּר is mentioned in halacha, it is about transforming the status of a person (such as the example in today’s daf where one person declares “I am hereby a Nazir” and another then exclaims “and me!”) or a blessing. And if we take this idea one step further, perhaps in addition to how we can transform ourselves or a blessing תוֹךְ כְּדֵי דִיבּוּר, we are also being taught how we can transform others – and ourselves – in that same period of time when we take a few seconds כְּדֵי שְׁאֵלַת שָׁלוֹם – ‘to greet someone and enquire about their welfare’.
Just as תוֹךְ כְּדֵי דִיבּוּר allows us to change our mind about something we’ve said, so too, being sincerely greeted by someone who genuinely asks us how we are doing can change our mind about our worth in the world.
Just as תוֹךְ כְּדֵי דִיבּוּר can help correct mistakes that we have made, so too, the goodwill fostered by our daily interactions with others can help with the smoothing over of the mistakes that we make in life.
And just as saying וַאֲנִי within a short period of time can render someone a Nazir, so too, the very fact that we take a few moments to enquire about someone else’s welfare can make them feel that we’ve noticed וַאֲנִי – them and their existential worth.
So if you have a few seconds spare today, please take a moment to greet someone and, if possible, sincerely enquire about their welfare. You may think that all you’ve said are a few words and what you’ve done is relatively insignificant. But sometimes, תוֹךְ כְּדֵי דִיבּוּר – just within the span of a few seconds – we can transform the way people see themselves. And why? Because, in those few moments, we have shown them that they matter, and we have given them the confidence to believe in וַאֲנִי.