We are here to improve our relationships with others
in order to transform the Jewish people in these urgent times.
Quarrels and angry exchanges have the power to mess up enjoyable times. Celebrations and festivals are marred by lack of peace. Vacations can be spoiled, even ruined, by arguments over petty and inconsequential details. Shouting matches replace happiness, enjoyment, and relaxation with negative energy.
Peace is a prerequisite for enjoying celebrations, festivals and vacations. The more special the occasion, the greater the damage caused by lack of peace.
During enjoyable times, you will have to answer the following question for yourself: “Is it worthwhile to choose words and actions that will create distress now?" Put in this form, we will often see clearly that we would be wise to refrain from words and actions that will cause or prolong an unpleasant argument or quarrel.
Even on a regular, average day we will have much to appreciate and for which to be grateful. We can make enjoyable times our standard state. And, since we have this choice, isn’t it wiser to do what we can to sustain the positive instead of choosing words and actions that will create negativity? You can create an inner message: “Choose words and actions of peace and harmony and make the most of your present moments.”
(Reproduced from "Harmony" by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin, with permission of the copyright holders, ArtScroll / Mesorah Publications, Ltd.)
Story: (based on a true story)
You really think that?" my brother-in-law Shmuel asked. He had that surprised, slightly accusing tone that makes you feel like melting through the floor. And, I knew we had made a mistake.
I was sitting at the Shabbos table with my sister-in-law and my new brother-in-law, thrilled to be hosting them for the first time. Until now, my husband Avraham’s sister had lived across the country and was rarely a part of our lives. Now, they had moved to our town, and we were looking forward to seeing them often and really getting to know them.
It had been going so nicely. Avraham loved being near his sister, and her husband Shmuel was a friendly and open guy. We seemed to just fall into the relaxed comfort of easy conversation. We were lingering over dessert after my kids had gone to sleep when the elections came up.
Avraham and I have been living in our town for many years, and almost everyone here holds pretty similar political views. So when a particular candidate’s statement was mentioned, Avraham casually said, “I still can’t believe he would say that-even with his party’s misguided philosophy. This position borders on crazy, right?" I agreed, and we just assumed that our counterparts would agree and join in; all our friends did, as did our parents.
But that’s not what happened. What happened was, “You really think that?" followed by an explanation of several missteps in the party we supported. My sister-in-law nodded along, looking back and forth between her new husband and her brother.
It turned out that Shmuel was definitively for the other side of the argument. His views were as much a given to him as ours were to us, and as he and Avraham looked at each other, I could feel them sizing each other up. While I could see on Avraham’s face that he had something to say, he acknowledged Shmuel’s views and we moved on.
Later that night, Avraham and I talked about trying to make sure that any talk of politics was non-confrontational, without criticizing anyone’s views or making assumptions. But Avraham felt that wasn’t enough. He held to his views strongly and clearly so did Shmuel. There was a lot of emotion in the room that could make keeping an even, respectful tone difficult. So we decided to try to avoid talking politics. It wasn’t necessary, so why bring it up? If it came up, we would try to change the subject.
For the rest of the weekend, and for the visits that followed, this is what happened. It turned out not just on our side--I noticed my sister-in-law and Shmuel doing it too. We never discussed it with each other, but somehow, both couples came to the same conclusion: We like you, we like spending time with you, we are family, and there is nothing to be gained from these conversations but hurt feelings, animosity and lowered impressions of each other. We have so many common goals-we will focus on those. And that's what we did because shalom was more important.
What types of speech and actions that can be avoided can cause negative feelings and arguments in our interactions with others?
Why do we sometimes continue to assert our point of view, or to say or do things that make others who are with us upset? How can family relationships play into this? Other relationships?
What can we do to recognize and minimize actions or speech that cause negative feelings? How can we determine what to stop and what remains necessary?
Stretch of the Week:
Identify a topic that tends to cause disagreement with someone and doesn’t need to be brought up, and try to avoid it.