We are stretching in ahavas yisrael together to create z’chuyos for K’lal Yisrael in these urgent times.
Last week’s stretch of the week was: Greet one person warmly who you normally might not greet in that way.
Please allow ONE person to share her experience with this exercise for ONE minute.
Situations Lesson #16
PIRKAY AVOS--ETHICS OF OUR FATHERS
And I Found Nothing Better For The Body Than Silence
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V’lo Matzasi La’Guf Tov E’la Sh’sika
Perek Aleph, Mishna Yud Zayin
Story: (based on a true story)
When I was in seminary, I was asked by one of my favorite teachers to give the siyum d’var Torah for Sefer Shoftim, which I was learning as part of our school’s nach yomi project. The siyum was scheduled to take place at the seudah shlishis on a school Shabbaton, and I spent Friday afternoon reviewing and finishing my d’var Torah, despite my throat being a little scratchy. But by the time I finished the Friday night meal, it was clear that I had lost my voice.
When I woke up Shabbos morning, my voice was back, a little. I really wanted to give the d’var Torah, so my roommate suggested that I drink lots of tea and not speak for the entire day until right beforehand. So I walked through the halls, went to meals with my friends, and hung out on Shabbos afternoon, all without saying more than a couple of necessary words.
It was hard; so, so hard. I wanted to take part in the conversation. I also had stories to tell and questions to ask. One of my friends told a story, and something similar had happened to me. I opened my mouth to speak, and then looked down at my tea and closed it again, over and over again. I just smiled in happiness or frowned in sympathy.
By halfway through the long afternoon, I had settled into my silence. I was getting used to not speaking, and it bothered me less. I also noticed some things. First, I could confidently say that I had said no lashon hara all day. Second, there were some definite benefits to being a listener in conversations. Many times when I usually would have told my own story or my own view on a topic, and this time didn’t, it turns out the speaker wasn’t quite done; I would have been cutting her off. Now, she would go on, and I would listen. Then another person would speak, and I would listen. I listened so much better when I wasn’t thinking about what I would say.
I said my d’var Torah at the siyum with an almost clear voice, focusing on Devora-a woman who used her words to guide K’lal Yisrael. I included an extra lesson-save your words, and your voice, for when they count. And, when you speak, make sure there’s a purpose, and measure and evaluate what you say. Then people will listen, because if you choose your words carefully, what you say must be important.
I thought about this recently when I was having some trouble with one of my kids who was acting out. I found myself talking and often yelling until my face ached, telling her over and over what to do, what not to do, and why not to do it, but none of it helped. It just stressed me out, especially when I spoke to her in ways I wish I hadn’t. When I brought up her behavior and my reactions to my parenting class teacher, her advice began with the words, “Talk less.”
Apparently, my daughter was tuning out my numerous speeches; all she heard was an angry mommy who always criticized her. She could only take so much guidance, so she lost it all. By saying too much, I was effectively saying nothing.
So I began consciously closing my mouth when I wanted to speak, and thinking first: Do I need to say this? What will she hear when I say it? Can I say the same thing with just a facial expression? Should I let this one go? If I talk, will I get away from myself and start yelling or saying things I will regret later?
Slowly, as I said less but said it clearly, she began to hear more. I also began to hear more, because instead of talking, I listened. She talked to me with words and with her actions, and because I wasn’t yelling or talking at her, I paid enough attention to see and hear the signals. I came to know her and understand her better, simply by being quieter.
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“Shimon b’no omer: Kol ya’my gudalti bain hachachamim, v’lo matzasi la’guf tov e’la sh’sika…”
“Shimon his son (Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel) says: ‘All my days I grew up among sages, and I found nothing better for the body than silence…’” (Perek Aleph, Mishne Yud Zayin).
Rabbi Yehuda HaChasid of Regensberg, author of the Sefer Hachassidim, states, “When I speak, I have reason to regret. But when I am silent, I have nothing to regret. Before I speak, I am the master over my words; once the words leave my mouth, they rule over me.”
Because it is so difficult to guard one’s speech, HaShem placed the tongue behind the barriers of the cheeks, lips, and teeth (Yalkut Shimoni Tehillim). And because maintaining silence is so difficult, its reward is correspondingly magnificent. Our sages praised silence at length, saying, among other things, “Silence is good for the wise, and how much more so, for the foolish” (Pesachim 99a) and “A word is worth a se’la, but silence is worth two” (Megillah 18a).
In regard to acquiring Torah, speech is praiseworthy. This may be inferred from the language that Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel employs: “I found nothing better for the body than silence”-only for matters that concern the body. Talk of a secular nature can all too easily degrade into unpleasant and even forbidden speech, such as gossip and slander.
We must exercise care even in speaking well of others. One person’s praise of someone else may encourage others to discredit that person. And so our Sages rule, “Never speak well of your friend for as a result you may come to destroy his reputation” (Arachin 16a).
Rashbatz maintains that this mishna is addressing a man who has been insulted. His ideal response is silence. In this spirit, Shlomo HaMelech advises, “Do not answer a fool according to his folly” (Mishlei 26:4). A person who is insulted but does not insult in return, a person who does not respond, may be compared to the sun rising in its might, whereas the righteous are in general compared only to the stars (Gittin 36b).
(Reproduced from Rav Lau on Pirkei Avos, with permission of the copyright holders, ArtScroll / Mesorah Publications, Ltd.)
Discussion Question Options:
What are the benefits of keeping quiet versus speaking? How can we tell when we should say something and when we shouldn’t?
How can neutral or complementary speech be problematic?
What are some practical ways to keep ourselves from speaking when it is unnecessary or could cause harm?
Stretch of the Week:
Refrain from saying something that is unnecessary and might somehow cause harm. Listen instead.