Tag Archives: slander

Overcoming with Good

negativeThe Almighty’s perspective is the ultimate perspective. It is the basis of reality. The real question we need to ask ourselves is, “What does the Almighty consider my true value to be?”

From the Almighty’s viewpoint, the answer is, “You are My child and you are precious. You are created in My image. In essence you are a Divine Soul. I have created the world for you. Your entire being and your value is a gift from Me. When you see yourself from My perspective, you know that you have infinite value. Your intrinsic worth is greater than anything that can be measured materially.”

Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
Daily Lift #984
“Almighty’s Perspective on Your True Value”

Just to let you know, this has nothing to do with my recent commentary on John MacArthur and his Strange Fire conference.

However, I recently have become aware of a resurgence of poor attitudes among believers in the blogosphere and the wider realm of the Internet. I guess it’s easier for these sentiments to be expressed in a semi-anonymous environment where accountability doesn’t appear to be an issue.

I’m not here to add to that negativity. Believe me, resisting this temptation is difficult, but in the end, if I didn’t, I would be no better than those I find who have betrayed friendship and trust.

There is always injustice in the world. Just as the Master said to his disciples that “you always have the poor with you,” it’s sad to say that we always have the unjust with us as well. Jesus went on to say “and whenever you wish you can do good to them,” reminding his listeners (and us) that poverty is an opportunity for us to help others and to do the right thing in his name. What can we say of the unjust? What opportunity do they present?

I could say they offer us the opportunity to be just and humane as they are unjust and inhumane, but the mistake here would be in attempting to confront others who, in their own “wisdom” and self-service, see themselves as upholding the cause of right.

No, confrontation and the continuation of angry words profits no one and does not serve man or God.

But there is another opportunity here. The opportunity is to uplift and uphold those who have been trampled on under the muddy and self-righteous boot. The opportunity is to offer healing words, an olive branch of peace, friendship, and hope.

unpopularRabbi Pliskin wrote the words I quoted above probably with the idea that he was addressing a primarily Jewish audience, but his words are true for everyone. We were all made in the image of God. To denigrate any human being is to lower that Godly image and even to drag it into the gutter. When people do this in believing they are serving God, it is a sad and miserable thing. It’s especially poignant that the instigators are woefully unaware of what they are doing and who they are hurting.

“Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.’ Then they themselves also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?’ Then He will answer them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Matthew 25:41-46 (NASB)

…it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.

Matthew 18:6 (NASB)

I know that some in the Christian world feel they just have to “call out” people and behaviors, even to the point of betraying a trust to do so, but if you feel there is a conflict or you feel you have been hurt, there is a better way.

“But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Romans 12:20-21 (NASB)

I encourage you all and especially my brothers and sisters in the faith, if you feel anger within you for another, if they are within the faith or not, consider the words of Paul. And please, please, consider the consequences for failure as spoken by our Master.

So you shall not wrong one another, but you shall fear your God; for I am the Lord your God.

Leviticus 25:17 (NASB)

For those among the believing community who purport to observe the Torah, this verse is the basis for one of the 613 commandments to not wrong someone in speech, which I would extend to wronging someone in the blogosphere or other text-based environment.

Standing before GodA large number of the mitzvot that are specific to “love and brotherhood” are found in Leviticus 19, such as “not to carry tales” (Lev. 19:16), “not to cherish hatred in one’s heart” (Lev. 19:17), “not to take revenge” (Lev. 19:18), “not to put anyone to shame” (Lev. 19:17), and “not to curse any other person (implying Jewish person)” (Lev. 19:14).

The core of these commandments is that all human beings are created in the image of God. To deliberately attempt to damage or cause harm to another person, regardless of the provocation, is to also deliberately attempt to damage or cause harm to God’s image.

Saying that you love God while trying to hurt another person is kind of crazy-making.

And He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”

Matthew 22:37-40 (NASB)

Love of God and love of your fellow human being, regardless of who they are, even if they are not like you, even if they have different beliefs, even if they have a different outlook, are two acts that are inseparable. A man who says he loves God but hates or denigrates another person, plunging their name into the mud publicly, is a liar.

The image posted at the top of this blog post was the inspiration for today’s “extra meditation.”

Any negativity that comes to you today should be returned to the sender.

That is my only response to the negativity I’ve been addressing. There is no one to fight. There is no one to hate. Anger solves nothing and only robs the person giving into anger of his peace. I choose peace.

Today, any negativity I discover in the blogosphere or any other environment I encounter will be promptly returned to the sender. My peace will be preserved. This is also my gift to any friends who have been victims of negativity, hostility, or any other ungodly attitude.

open-your-handAnd in the end, the real victims of negativity are those who nurture it in their own hearts and attempt to send it out to others.

It is said that Shabbos is a small foretaste of the peace of the Messianic Era. The Queen arrives within just a few short hours. In the tiny march of time left until we light the candles, I implore anyone reading these words to set your house in order, and by the time the sun dips below the western horizon, please be ready to invite peace into your home, and into your heart. But of course, you will need to repent and ask God for forgiveness. And if you’ve hurt another human being, before God will forgive, you must repent and ask forgiveness from those you have hurt.

He who conceals a transgression seeks love,
But he who repeats a matter separates intimate friends.

Proverbs 17:9 (NASB)

Good Shabbos.

When the Fruit Tree is Silent

the-fruit-treeOne who humiliates another person in public … even though he may be a scholar and may have done many good deeds, nevertheless loses his portion in the eternal world.

-Ethics of the Fathers 3:15

Imagine a situation: you have a fine home, a well-paying job, a comfortable car, and a substantial retirement annuity. If you do a single thoughtless act, you will lose everything you have worked to achieve: home, job, car, and savings. What kind of precautions would you take to avoid even the remotest possibility of incurring such a disaster? Without doubt, you would develop an elaborate system of defenses to assure that this event would never occur.

The Talmud tells us that everything we have worked for during our entire lives can be forfeited in one brief moment of inconsideration: we embarrass another person in public. Perhaps we may say something insulting or make a demeaning gesture. Regardless of how it occurs, the Talmud states that if we cause another person to turn pale because of being humiliated in public, we have committed the equivalent of bloodshed.

Still, we allow our tongues to wag so easily. If we give serious thought to the words of the Talmud, we would exercise the utmost caution in public and be extremely sensitive to other people’s feelings, lest an unkind word or degrading gesture deprive us of all our spiritual merits.

Today I shall…

…try to be alert and sensitive to other people’s feelings and take utmost caution not to cause anyone to feel humiliated.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
“Growing Each Day, Adar 2”

I suppose this is a continuation of a previous morning meditation and yet another attempt on my part to appeal to the body of faith. I am aware of a discussion in the Hebrew Roots “blogosphere” that has cast me and a friend of mine in an unfavorable light, but up until now, I’ve said nothing about it. I certainly have no intention of visiting said-blog and attempting to refute the accusations. What would be the point? As we see from Talmudic wisdom, behaving unkindly in response to criticism is unsustainable. Of course virtually all Christians, including those in the Hebrew Roots movement, have little use for the Talmud, so I imagine Rabbi Twerski’s appeal is in vain when applied to such an audience.

Accessing the Bible, do we really get a sense that if we humiliate another person publicly, we’ll lose our salvation as the Rabbi suggests? No? So why worry about it? I guess we are free to humiliate others with impunity, right?

And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.

Romans 1:28-32 (ESV)

OK, that’s a little harsh, even for me. Also, Paul was talking about God’s wrath upon the unrighteous, and that couldn’t possibly include anyone in the body of Christ, could it? Maybe I should look elsewhere for more appropriate scriptures.

For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous. Do not be surprised, brothers that the world hates you. We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.

1 John 3:11-15 (ESV)

That may still be a little over the top, since you don’t actually have to hate someone in order to publicly embarrass and humiliate them. I’m sure my recent critics don’t actually hate me. Given that, is it OK with Jesus then to be insulting?

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.”

Matthew 5:21-22 (ESV)

Hmmm. I don’t know about you, but that one seems to be pretty close to the mark. In fact, it is pretty much identical to the following:

He who publicly shames his neighbour is as though he shed blood.

-Talmud: Bava Mezia 58b

studying-talmudWell, so much for the Talmud having absolutely and totally no relevance to a Christian life of faith. Perhaps a certain amount of the Torah and traditional Jewish halachah applies to Christians after all, if it connects back to what we learn from our Master.

But getting back to the main point of this missive, it seems that (and I’ve mentioned this many times before) our endless series of rants, public insults toward others, and general “bad mouthing” of other Christians with whom we disagree, isn’t exactly “kosher,” so to speak. Unfortunately, when I say stuff like this, the usual response from some quarters is that I’m just an old “softie” and that I’m sacrificing “clarity” and “truth” for the sake of patience, kindness, avoiding envy or proud boasting, and attempting not to dishonor others (see 1 Corinthians 13:4-5).

Obviously, I’m not perfect at it, thus some of the language that I’ve included in this “extra meditation.”

But what are we to do under such circumstances when other believers insist on overlooking both Matthew 5:21-22 and its Talmudic corollary Bava Mezia 58b?

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Romans 12:14-21 (ESV)

But in making this an issue on my blog, am I “repaying evil for evil” rather than “heaping burning coals” (by heaping kindness) upon the heads of those who are so critical of me? (As an aside, Paul’s quoting partially from Proverbs 25:22, so again, I guess more of the Torah is applicable upon us than we commonly realize.)

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Easier said than done, especially on the Internet, when people visit each other’s blogs and make sniping comments like gangbangers doing drive-by shootings. It’s one of the reasons I don’t visit and especially don’t comment on the blogs of some of my “opponents.” My minor effort at not repaying evil for evil and perpetuating the cycle of “drive-bys.”

But this still isn’t working because I’m still writing a message to people who don’t want to listen. There’s no hope of trying to get them to see why what we’re all doing is so wrong. Self-justification is a powerful lure and there’s a tendency to confuse our priorities with God’s.

But if there’s no hope, what’s left?

There is hope, and there is trust in G-d –and they are two distinct attitudes.

Hope is when there is something to latch on to, some glimmer of a chance. The drowning man, they say, will clutch at any straw to save his life.

Trust in G-d is even when there is nothing in which to hope. The decree is sealed. The sword is drawn over the neck. By all laws of nature there is no way out.

But the One who runs the show doesn’t need any props.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Between Hope and Trust”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson

shhhhSo I should trust in God to take care of whatever (or whoever) is bothersome and move on. That’s pretty much what Rabbi Freeman said as I quoted him on a previous meditation.

Why don’t people like to remain silent when others insult them? Because they’re afraid that others might think they’re weak and unable to answer back.

The truth is, it takes much greater strength to remain silent when someone insults you. Revenge, on the other hand, is a sign of weakness. A revenger lacks the necessary strength of character to forgive.

(Rabbi Yerachmiel Shulman; Ketzais Ha’shemesh Big’vuraso, p.42; Rabbi Pliskin’s “Gateway to Happiness,” p. 302)

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
“Daily Lift #728: It Takes Strength to Keep Silent”

Yeah. I’ve got to work on that one. After all, I can hardly say I’ve advanced further spiritually than my critics if I’m just as prone to the same misbehavior as they display. We shall know a tree by its fruit. In my case, I’ve striving to be a “silent fruit tree.”

Taking a page from Rabbi Twerski’s book…

Today I shall…

…try to refrain from replying to insults that others say to me or to those people I care about and strive to return good for evil.

Beckoning the God of Peace

in-the-face-of-the-stormPrepare yourself with this meditation, and when you feel anger overcoming you, run through it in your mind:

Know that all that befalls you comes from a single Source, that there is nothing outside of that Oneness to be blamed for any event in the universe.

And although this person who insulted you, or hurt you, or damaged your property, is granted free choice and is held culpable for his decision to do wrong — that is his problem. That it had to happen to you — that is between you and the One Above.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Advice on Anger”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson

I’ve spent the past several days monitoring some disturbing and less than “Godly” attitudes on the Internet (No Judah, your not one of them). I suppose it’s obvious that hostile and critical people and organizations should express themselves in an environment as open as the World Wide Web, but it’s always disappointing when the sources of such poor behavior are those who claim the cause of Christ (though they may not call him by that title). I won’t give honor to either of the two specific sites/blogs to which I’m referring by linking to them on my blog, but suffice it to say that they both (apparently) desire to denigrate Jews and Judaism in general, and specific individuals in the Messianic Jewish movement in particular.

There’s more than a little irony happening here. First off, both of the sources I am speaking of advertise themselves as being educated and scholarly, in addition to being holy and honorable. And yet, how can what they say about themselves be true when the results of their “scholarship” and “reviews” are a widespread (relative to the scope of the Internet but perhaps not their readership) reiteration of classic hatred of Jews, a further expression Christian supersessionism, and a great outpouring of comments about individuals bordering on character assassination?

After Shabbat had ended on Saturday night, in a fit of pique, I wrote this on Facebook:

There’s so much injustice masquerading as scholarship and that reduces the history of Jewish people to a subject that’s examined under a microscope. How far do I go to challenge people who think they are defending the cause of Christ but who actually are walking in the footsteps of everyone who has authored a pogrom and constructed a holocaust?

I found myself sorely tempted to respond to the sources of my frustration via email, blog comments, and twitter, basically to (proverbially) give them a piece of my mind. Fortunately, I stopped myself. It’s hardly taking the moral high road when another can provoke you to descend to their level. On the other hand, is this blog post any better?

In all my days I have never had to look behind me before saying anything.

-Shabbos 118b

Lashon hara (gossip or slander) is not necessarily untruthful. The Torah forbids saying something derogatory about a person even if it is completely true.

One of the best guidelines to decide what you should or should not say is to ask: “Does it make a difference who might overhear it?” If it is something that you would rather someone not overhear, it is best left unsaid.

Sometimes the information need not be derogatory. A secret may not be saying anything bad about anyone, but if someone has entrusted you with confidential information, and you have this tremendous urge to share the privileged communication with someone else, you should ask yourself: “Would I reveal this if the person who trusted me with this information were present?”

Sometimes people want to boast. They may even fabricate their story to those who have no way of knowing that it may not be true. Still, they would be ashamed to boast in the presence of someone who knew that their statement was false.

Volumes have been written about what is proper speech and about what constitutes an abuse of this unique capacity to verbalize with which man was endowed. But even if one does not have time to master all of the scholarly works on the subject, a reliable rule of thumb is to ask, “Do I need to look behind me before I say it?” If the answer is yes, do not say it.

Today I shall…

…monitor my speech carefully, and not say anything that I would not wish someone to overhear.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
“Growing Each Day, Shevat 30”

Let’s look at the first two sentences of Rabbi Twerski’s commentary on “lashon hara” again:

Lashon hara (gossip or slander) is not necessarily untruthful. The Torah forbids saying something derogatory about a person even if it is completely true.

That’s very difficult for most of us to do, especially when we have free access to the Internet and the ability to create and edit websites and blogs we have created or to make comments on the blogs and discussion boards of others. The web is full of harsh criticisms aimed at others and yes, some of those criticisms are true. And yet, and this is especially focused at those folks who claim to observe the Torah of Moses whoever they may be…to publish comments regarding specific individuals for the express purpose of destroying their reputation or causing them personal and emotional harm, cannot be construed in any manner as actually serving God.

peace-of-mind1I’m not unmindful that such individuals are responding in anger, and that they even feel justified due to the belief that they are fighting against what they see as some sort of “injustice” they think was perpetrated against them or their own cause or tradition, but is such a response really the right thing to do? I know that I’m struggling with my own anger at such behavior, but in doing so and in writing this blog post, I’m walking the edge of the very abyss I believe they have already fallen into.

But what is Rabbi Freeman’s advice on anger? If anyone has insulted you or done you wrong, it is a problem that they possess. It’s only the problem of the person insulted (in this case, me) if they (I) allow the insult to affect them (me). Thus, the individuals who are behaving rather poorly on the web are only a problem to me if I let them affect me. That I’m even writing this “meditation” means I must confess that I have allowed this to happen. In that case, my conversation must not engage those who have behaved in an insulting matter, but to the degree that they have entered my life with their discordant behavior, I must take the matter to God. How I feel and how I must respond is between Him and me alone.

To apply Rabbi Twerski’s commentary on what I’ve been saying, in addition, I must monitor my own “speech,” which includes anything I post online. I’m glad I didn’t give in to temptation last Saturday, otherwise I would have failed in that area as well.

(Unfortunately, I did give in to temptation on Google+ Monday morning and I am now living with that regret. The resulting comments on my recent Return to Jerusalem blog post were actually stimulating, but the “comments storm” that occurred on my Why I Go to Church missive were troubling and disappointing for the most part..though thankfully only from a single individual.)

Where do I go from here?

We cannot think two thoughts at the same time. Consequently, when negative thoughts arise, you do not need to fight them. Make an effort to think positive thoughts, and the negative thoughts will disappear.

(see Rabbi Nachman of Breslov; Likutai Aitzos: machshovos, no.11)

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
Daily Lift #727
“Fill Your Mind with Positive Thoughts”

There is a much older “midrash” on this topic in which I can also take comfort.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me — practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

Philippians 4:8-9 (ESV)

Not only think of what is honorable, just, pure, lovely, and commendable, but practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

candleIt is not unexpected that we in the body of faith at one time or another, will turn to God in our anguish and ask Him to quiet our minds and our lives, to shield us from the turmoil that comes from the world and from inside of ourselves. And yet, if we want the “God of peace” to reside with us, Paul says that we must choose to focus our thoughts on peace and then to practice peace.

As Rabbi Twerski might say:

Today I shall…

…strive to practice peace by embracing peace within my thoughts, so that the God of peace will be with me and guide me in His ways, and so that no other person may suffer for anything I say or do.

“The only man I know who behaves sensibly is my tailor; he takes my measurements anew each time he sees me. … The rest go on with their old measurements and expect me to fit them.”

-George Bernard Shaw, Irish playwright

Slandering the Image of God

The Sages tell us, “What is the remedy for one who has spoken leshon hara (slanderous speech)? If he is a Torah scholar, let him engage in Torah study.” (Arachin 15b). Leshon hara defaces man’s “image of God”, and Torah study restores it.

According to the Midrash (Tanchuma, Kedoshim #13, and Nedarim 32a), Avraham was punished for his reaction to God’s promise in the Bris bein Habesarim that He would grant him possession of the land of Canaan. God told him, as it were, “You want to know? Here is something you can know (Bereshis 15:13): ‘Know with certainty that your offspring will be strangers.’”

Daf Yomi Digest
Distinctive Insight
“The power of word”
Arachin 15

There is one who speaks [harshly] like piercings of a sword, but the tongue of the wise heals. True speech is established forever, but a false tongue is only for a moment. –Proverbs 12:18-19 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

I suppose I’ve been on something of a mission lately to try and emphasize that, among people of faith and disciples of the Master, we have an obligation to treat each other with the same love and respect that Jesus has for his people, both the “lost sheep of Israel” and we non-Jews sheep who are “other sheep…not of this fold” (John 10:16). I know I’ve said this before, and blogs and sermons on the topic of “lashon hara” (the evil or slanderous tongue) are plentiful, but it is a lesson that we can’t seem to get enough of. I say this because, if we were taking this teaching to heart and incorporating it into our lives (and our speech), then there wouldn’t be so much harmful speech, insults, and character assassinations in the religious blogosphere.

And I would be writing about something else this morning.

It’s interesting what the Daf has to say about the “cure” for “evil speech”. “What is the remedy for one who has spoken leshon hara (slanderous speech)? If he is a Torah scholar, let him engage in Torah study.” Is the same remedy available for those of us who are not Torah scholars? I hope so (though I can’t speak from Jewish halacha on the matter). Where else can we find a cure for the evil that resides inside us than within the Word of God?

The commentary on the Daf tells us why speech is so important and how it can be so potentially lethal:

Rav Shach once explained that the uniqueness of man in creation — the “image of God” that was bestowed upon him—lies in the fact that he is a “living soul”, which Onkelos renders as “a speaking spirit.” It is the ability to speak that sets man apart from the beasts. The power of speech is indeed a reflection of “God’s image.” Just as God’s very word is capable of accomplishing the same as an actual deed, as it says (Tehillim 33:6): “By the word of God the Heavens were created,” so too is man’s power of speech capable of “establishing the heavens and settling a foundation for the earth” (Yeshaya 51:16). We must therefore ensure that our speech is pure and exact, in order not to corrupt the “image of God” within us.

This is why Avraham was punished for his expression, “How can I know,” although this was seemingly only a minor impropriety of speech. Similarly, Moshe was taken to task for asking God (Shemos 5:22; see Rashi ibid., 6:1), “Why have You treated this people badly?” There are many other examples of improper expressions and harsh penalties for them — all because of the fact that to misuse the gift of speech is to tarnish man’s image of God.

One way I choose to read this is that the “power” of speech comes from our being made in the “image of God” and that it defiles something about our Creator when we misuse this unique gift that he has provided only to humanity. Also, when we use this unique gift to harm another, we are injuring something of that “image” in the other person. Harmful speech damages not only that aspect of God in which we were made, but the same aspect in the other human. It is as if we are using “the power of the word” to damage or destroy “the power of His Word.” So we are hurting ourselves, hurting someone else, and “hurting” God when we commit “lashon hara”. Why is it so easy (I say this, because such speech is exceptionally common in the blog comments I read in the religious blogosphere) for us to spew our insults and harsh words on other brothers and sisters in the faith?

Haven’t we read what the Master said about this?

It is not what enters the mouth that contaminates the person, but what comes out from the mouth – that contaminates the person. –Matthew 15:11 (DHE Gospel)

Even the brother of the Master teaches this lesson.

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things.

How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water. –James 3:1-12 (ESV)

If you’ve been a Christian for any length of time, you already know these lessons and you know what they mean. If you then continue to deliberately use your speech (or what you write in blog comments or discussion threads on the Internet) to hurt someone else, you must realize that you are also deliberately disobeying the teachings of Jesus and spitting on the will of God. Please keep that in mind.

I am sometimes questioned about how I can use Jewish teachings to help me better focus on the lessons of Jesus (and no, I am not a “mere imitator of Judaism” in my faith or practice), but I find many seemingly associated themes. I don’t know that they are directly connected in any manner, but I find them comforting nonetheless.

Today’s daf discusses the negative consequences of speaking leshon hara.

Once a certain father heard that a child of the rebbe of Toldos Aharon, zt”l, wished to make a match with his daughter. He was overjoyed…until someone told him that the young man was not in his right mind. Obviously, the father was distressed. He was also worried about how to ascertain the truth; surely a maggid shiur or other person within the Toldos Aharon system wouldn’t say anything negative about the rebbe’s grandson.

He finally decided to ask the rebbe himself, since he was certain that the tzaddik would not deceive him. When this question was put to the rebbe he denied the claim against his grandson. “I know that child since he was born. No one has ever thought there was anything wrong with him.”

The father was very glad to hear this, but also furious at the one who had slandered the innocent bochur, and immediately blurted out, “Do you know who told me? It was…”

“Just a moment,” the rebbe firmly interrupted, “It is a question of leshon hara. Perhaps you are forbidden to tell me. Working out whether this is permitted is no simple matter. I am going on a fundraising trip for two weeks in the next few days. When I return you are welcome to come back and I will tell you the halachah.” When the rebbe was away, he learned the entire Sefer Chofetz Chaim through twice with great care. When he returned, the father of the girl—now engaged to the rebbe’s grandson—came to ask whether he was permitted to tell the rebbe who had slandered the bochur.

The Rebbe of Toldos Aharon said, “I learned the sugya very carefully while I was away and I concluded that if you don’t derive any pleasure in the telling, you are permitted to tell me who slandered the young man.”

Before the man could say a word, however, the rebbe stopped him with a motion. He astounded the man with his concluding words, “It may be permitted, but nevertheless, I do not wish to hear about it!”

Daf Yomi Digest
Stories Off the Daf
“A Question of Leshon Hara”
Arachin 15

We may not be able to prevent our brother from using harmful speech or trying to “stir the pot,” but we can certainly control our own tongues (or fingers on the keyboard). And like the Rebbe of Toldos Aharon, when someone is about to speak in such a manner, even if it is “permitted,” we can refuse to listen and refuse to respond.

No Prayers for Heaven

SpeakWhen a metzora leaves the camp, he declares, “Impure! Impure!” Vayikra 13:45 He informs everyone about his condition of suffering as he exits the camp, in order for the community to respond and daven for him and ask that he be cured.

Why is a metzora different from any other person who is ill, in that he must inform the community about his condition and ask that they daven on his behalf? In fact, the rule is that the prayers of the person who is ill are more cherished to God than the prayers of anyone else who may be davening on his behalf. (see Rashi, Bereshis 21:17) Therefore, we should have expected an emphasis to be placed upon the prayers of his own self, rather than the fact that he appeals to others to daven for him.

Yalkut HaUrim answer this question based upon the Zohar. “…It is because his prayers are closed off from ascending to the heavens.” The metzora caused damage with his mouth by engaging in evil slander. Therefore, measure for measure, his verbal requests to God are banished. The metzora must appeal to the community at large to daven for him because his ability to daven for himself has become impaired.

Daf Yomi Digest
Distinctive Insight
“Calling out for help”
Chullin 78

Thinking has a profound effect. So does not thinking.

A mind obsessed with yesterday’s travesties, today’s aches and pains, and tomorrow’s dark clouds, creates problems where none exist. It transforms daydreams into realities, molehills into monstrosities, innocent creatures into venomous snakes. All the more so when such words pass the lips into the tangible world we all share.

That is why simply turning your back to those thoughts is such a powerful form of healing—for every sort of illness. Distract your mind to good thoughts, productive thoughts, thoughts of confidence in the One who made you, and especially thoughts of Torah.

Heal your mind and heal your soul. You will heal your body as well.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“The Power of Not Thinking”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson

“We are shaped by our thoughts; we become what we think. When the mind is pure, joy follows like a shadow that never leaves.” -Buddha

We see here that we are both what we think and what we do. Often, we excuse our “bad thoughts” such as unkind (internal) comments about family and friends, our true feelings about the person who just cut us off in traffic, and our opinions about various public figures in the realms of politics and entertainment. We excuse these thoughts because we did not actually give them voice or, if we did, the object of our thoughts, feelings, and words could not hear us.

James, the brother of the Master, laments that “no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison” (James 3:8) and Paul states that we are to “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). Do we? We see the consequences of failing to do so, at least among the ancient Israelites, in Leviticus 13:45 and the commentary for Chullin 78 that the prayers of one who slandered are “cut off from heaven”. What a horrible fate for someone in dire need of God’s help. That person becomes dependent on the kindness and forbearance of others, perhaps the very same people who he or she has injured, for the prayers that will ascend to God and provide for their healing.

What do you think about? What occupies your thoughts? Even when contemplating the things of God, is it within the context of doing His will and uplifting others, or are you condemning and cursing others vainly in His Name? Are you even paying attention to where you are and what you are doing right now, or are your thoughts consumed with visions of the future, “end time prophesies” (which are all the rage these days in certain circles), and matters over which you have absolutely no control?

If you see someone hungry, do you feed them? If you see someone shivering in cold, do you provide them with adequate clothing? If someone is sick, do you visit them? If someone is downhearted, do you give them good news?

That’s what’s happening here and now. That is the focus of our lives as people of faith. These are matters that are worthy of our thoughts. Words of encouragement and compassion are the messages that need to be leaving our tongue.

Every day; every hour we make a decision about who we are and how we are to express ourselves. While a tree is known by the fruit it produces, the “seed” of our fruit as human beings begins with a single thought. Then that thought springs into action.

With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water. –James 3:9-12

This morning, with what thoughts and words will you choose to occupy your day? What choices will you make tomorrow morning and beyond? Because of your choices, will your prayers ascend to heaven?

Addendum: Please keep in mind that the relationship between metzora and slander is midrash and cannot be specifically derived from the scriptural text. I’m using it here for its value as a metaphor rather than as a statement of fact.