We are striving to love our fellow Jews by improving the way
we interact with others.
Last week’s Stretch of the Week: Before lashing out at someone, quietly count to 10, and ask yourself “Do I really know what this person is saying to me?”
Please allow ONE person to share her experience with this exercise for ONE minute.
(Guarding One’s Speech)
Lashon hora is speaking negatively about someone, even if what you are saying is true. This includes any statement that would bring disgrace or harm to the subject, such as speaking about the conduct of his family, his own past misdeeds, or transgressions he committed toward G-d and towards other people.
It is also prohibited to imply that one is lacking in intelligence, talent, strength or wealth, or to point out his unwillingness to do favors for others. Even speaking negatively of the other person’s possessions is prohibited, such as saying that a storekeeper’s merchandise is overpriced or of low quality, unless there is a valid reason to do so in accordance with Jewish law, such as to save another person from being cheated financially.
Even if the speaker intends no harm, the lashon hora is forbidden, because G-d does not want us to disparage one another.
(Excerpts from The Code of Jewish Conduct by Rabbi Yitzchok Silver)
Story: (based on a true story)
Sarah was a middle aged, introverted neighbor who usually kept to herself. She maintained a quiet profile until suddenly she began asking people to do favors for her in the community. She would call and ask me to look after her children while she went into town to do some shopping, for example. We reside in a small city an hour and a half away from an established Jewish area. Although the big city offers an abundant supply of kosher restaurants, bakeries, bookstores and modest clothing stores, it was hard to believe Sarah had to tend to her materialistic needs every week. How much shopping could one person do? Initially, when she would call, my response was, “Of course, Sarah, it’s my pleasure!” But after three months of shopping, I became irritated and resentful.
After I hung up the phone with Sarah to arrange child care, I informed my children that we’d be looking after the Cohen kids again on Wednesday and to remember to include them in whatever games they were playing with their friends.
“Again? Why can’t they go somewhere else? Besides, I overheard Mrs. Miller saying that Mrs. Cohen is taking advantage!” I admit I found myself rolling my eyes in agreement with Mrs. Miller’s sentiments and told my children, “Just be nice to them, okay?”
Wednesday arrived and so did the Cohen children. It was obvious that the other children on the block were less than enthused. “Don’t pick her! She’s not in the club!” I heard my daughter say. “That’s not nice, Leah!” her friend Dina said. “Just because your Mommy doesn’t like watching her, doesn’t mean you have to be mean!”
I thought I’d faint.
“Well, your mother doesn’t like watching them either. I heard her say it last night in the backyard to my mother!” screamed Leah.
I felt sick. The children had overheard my conversation with my friend, Miriam Miller and the children’s negative attitude was totally our fault. I hadn’t realized my kids were even listening to what we said, let alone understanding it and taking it to heart.
The next day when my phone rang, the name “Cohen” appeared on the caller ID. With a sinking feeling in my stomach, I picked up the phone. After the first few minutes of pleasantries, Sarah shared the purpose of her call. “You’ve been so kind, along with all the other neighbors watching my children these past three months. I don’t want you to feel I’m being ungrateful. I certainly do appreciate all you’ve done for us.” She took a deep breath and continued. “However, for the past few weeks, my children have been coming home crying, claiming they’ve been teased, excluded from games, and called mean names. With all your extensive help, you deserve to know the truth. Without going into full detail, three months ago I was diagnosed with a serious kidney disease and needed to start treatment right away. Every Wednesday, I made the excuse that I needed to go shopping. The truth is I needed to travel into the city for dialysis. It was quite a shock for me and I have been very uncomfortable discussing it with anyone. Please don’t take this personally. I realize that I am partially to blame for the problems my children are experiencing. At this point, I believe I have no choice but to place them in after-school daycare, instead of leaving them with the neighbors. I am not bearing a grudge against you. I only ask if you could please speak with your children. Let them know that you made a mistake and that you can see that my kids are fun to play with and are good children that just needed some help.” With this I heard that she was doing everything within your power to hold back her tears.
When our conversation was finished, I hung up and cried. Why wasn’t I more careful speaking around the kids and with my friends? I felt embarrassed and ashamed, knowing that there was no way to truly repair the damage I had inflicted upon this person and her children. I decided to learn one law a day about negative speech as well as fix my mistakes. I have now embraced a new attitude and am truly inspired to work hard and make sure I never hurt anyone in this way again.
Discussion Question Options:
1. Would the lesson have changed if Sarah actually was going shopping?
2. Which people are we generally careful not to speak against? Why?
3. What are some practical tools to help someone stop speaking negatively about someone once they have already started?
4. What do you think would motivate people to be mindful of their speech?
Stretch of the Week:
Place signs around your home that say “Remember to watch your speech!” for the duration of this week.