Torah Tuesdays

Torah Tuesdays: Speaking well of others

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, the three weeks, and within them, the nine days, are some of the saddest days on the Jewish calendar.  Many of the calamities that have befallen the Jewish people (and oh, have there been a lot of those) originated from events that occurred during this time period.  These sad days lead up to Tisha B’Av, the saddest day of the year.

Why all the sadness?  

Well, to go back to the very beginning, we have to look at the generation in the desert, the ones who spoke ill of the land of Israel and prompted a national panic.  Remember that?  After the spies went to check out the land (and even that was a questionable move, if you recall), they came back and nearly all of them said,

“No way we’re gonna be able to do this.  The people who live there?  Massive!  We’re like grasshoppers compared to them and we’re gonna get squashed.”

Mass hysteria ensues, and Hashem decrees that since they cried over nothing (since of course it was going to be okay to go into the land), then for all the years to come, there will be reasons to cry.  And there were.

Why are we still crying, then?  Hasn’t it been long enough?

You would think so, right?  I mean, it’s been over 2000 years.  That’s a long time.  Since then, lots has happened.  The world was discovered to be round, and the earth revolves around the sun, there’s gravity, America, revolutions and industrialization, cars, space race, world wars, cold war, women’s lib, civil rights, internet … a lot.  So many developments, yet here we are, still mourning the loss of our temples, and remembering the massive amount of calamities that our people have suffered over the long, long years of exile.

The Chofetz Chaim said that because the root of all this sadness was the sin of Lashon Hara, bad speech (in this particular case, slander), that’s what we need to fix to end the sadness.  And if we don’t have our temple yet, it’s cause we haven’t fixed this part of ourselves.  Basically, it’s up to us.

Sound familiar?

I feel like this is a very commonly mentioned idea, even to the point that it has become part of the scenery.  When it’s brought up, a feeling of oh-this-again can occur.  Because of the repetition of this concept, of the importance of avoiding lashon hara, there can be a knee-jerk reaction to say,

“Yeah, I know that I’m not supposed to speak lashon hara and that it’s really bad, but what am I supposed to do?  Not talk at all?  Only talk about the weather?  How am I supposed to communicate with people and still avoid all the things I’m not supposed to say?”

Perhaps also because it can seem like a very daunting goal, a normal reaction is to just brush it off, as it were.  To say

“I’m just not holding there right now.  I’m not on that level.”

I recently read an article in Binah magazine (Vol.4 No.183 – thanks for lending it to me, E) about Rebbetzin Batsheva Kanievsky in Bnei Brak.  One point in the article stood out for me.

“And to those who say that shemiras halashon [guarding one’s speech] is only possible when one avoids interacting with people, the Rebbetzin disproves that claim.  Her entire day is spent speaking with women, from all walks of life…”

Okay, so it can be done, but I’m no Rebbetzin Kanievsky.  How am I, an average woman, supposed to manage it?

How to get past the mental block

Start Small.  A reasonable way to begin is to select one hour a day and designate that period of time to be a lashon-hara-free zone.  Now, picking from 3-4 in the morning is a little bit like cheating, so try to pick a time that’s realistic but not a gimme.  A time period that you’re awake, but that you think will be possible to achieve the goal.  Like during carpool, or when you’re making dinner, or getting the kids ready for sleep.  A time period where you could theoretically talk to people, but not where you feel you are likely to be overly challenged.  Save that time for a future goal.

Knowledge is power.  It can be overwhelming to follow the rules of correct speech if they are only vaguely familiar to you.  If you can, get a friend to study the laws with you.  Two a day is the recommended amount.  There are two books by Artscroll publishing that divide the laws of speech up into nice little daily doses.  A Lesson A Day and A Daily Companion.  I highly recommend them.

If you can’t find a friend to study with, don’t be discouraged. You can always study on your own.  It’s just better to have a friend to help motivate (like the same thing about gong to the gym, you know?  Peer pressure and all that).  If you like, contact me, and I’ll be your buddy.

An additional word about speech

These days, it’s not just what comes out of your mouth.  I’ve seen some really heinous comments on blog posts (thank G-d, none on mine – thank you all for being such positive commenters!), things that perhaps wouldn’t have been said if there were a face-to-face dialogue.  With the internet, it’s so easy to just post a comment or send an email that can really cause a lot of damage and pain.

During these nine days (well, eight now), I’m going to try to be more careful with my speech, bli neder.  If we all make an effort to improve ourselves, just a little bit, in this area, then we could really merit to see the redemption.  And who doesn’t want that?  After everything that has happened, even just in this past month.  We could use a better world.  Let’s try to make it so.

What are some ways you try to work on correct speech?  Any tips or tricks to help make it easier?

11 thoughts on “Torah Tuesdays: Speaking well of others

  1. Great post Rivki! I think I’ll get the books you mention and study this too. I have already mentioned that my hero on the rules of speech is Rabbi Telushkin but anything to improve the way I speak is good.

  2. Rivki – Thanks for this post. This can be really hard to do. If I want to get just one book, which one would you recommend? (Remember, I pretty new to studying Torah)

    1. It can be hard, that’s for sure. I would recommend A Daily Companion. It can still get pretty intense at times, so sometimes if I’m feeling overwhelmed, I skip to pages that I think will speak to me, instead of just going through chronologically.

        1. Haha, that’s interesting. I think it’s likely a matter of personal preference. After flipping through both of the books, I decided that a Daily Companion has a more narrative feel to it. Also, it has a table of contents, which makes it possible to skip around if you like to do that kind of thing. Also, Sindy requested something which would be suitable to someone who is new at Torah study, and I felt that the Daily Companion was more accessible. Personally, I like to read both of them at the same time.

  3. Very interesting. It’s fascinating that Tisha B’AV has such significance, but we really hear very little about it (at least those of us in a more Reform-Conservative life). It really should be noted and discussed as much as Yom Kippur. Thanks for the reminder.

    1. It’s a pleasure, as always. Sometimes it’s up to us to make the noise about certain days. Even in my frum world, I haven’t heard as much about it ’cause I’m busy with the kiddos. It’s up to me to do my part in paying attention. Thankfully, my husband helps, too.

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