We are stretching in ahavas yisrael together to create z’chusim for K’lal Yisrael in these urgent times.
Last week’s stretch of the week was: Work on forgiving someone in your heart whom you’ve already forgiven verbally.
Please allow ONE person to share her experience with this exercise for ONE minute.
Taking A Deeper Look - Lesson #40
אסור קללה - ISSUR KLALLAH DO NOT CURSE
PART 1 - Watch Your Words
“Don’t climb up that ladder! You’ll break your leg!” the anxious mother called out to her mischievous five-year-old.
“I’m late, I’m going to miss that bus, I know it,” Miriam said to herself. In the end, she managed to get to the bus stop on time, but the bus had left a minute early.
Chazal tell us that we should never even “open our mouths to the satan” -- that is, we should never mention that something bad will happen, since by merely mentioning it – as in the above examples – we can bring the bad thing upon others or upon ourselves. This is true even when we mention it in an ambiguous or unintentional manner. The Sh’la warned against threatening a child using language such as, “Be a good boy or the cat will come and get you,” since some aspect of the threat may indeed materialize. The greater the spiritual level of the speaker, the more potent and immediate that effect – whether for good or the bad; therefore, we seek out the blessings of great people, whose words have the most profound effect. (Mishpatei Hashalom 6:19-20)
Because of the potency of words, we find that in Gemara discussions, when learning with a colleague a passuk or Mishnah that includes negative language written in the second person, such as “He will strike you,” the Chachamim would read it as though it were written in the third person: “He will strike him.”
(Excerpted from The Code of Jewish Conduct by Rav Yitzchok Silver)
Story: (based on a true story)
My child was being bullied at camp but he didn’t even tell me about it until two weeks before the end of the summer. Why? Because the bully, Yishai, was a son of wealthy benefactors of the camp. Yishai was a golden child in the camp, and everyone knew it. He could do no wrong in the staff’s eyes. Plus, Yishai was wiley. He was careful to bully my son when no one was watching, not even other campers, so that my son had no witnesses. Under these circumstances, my son felt it was hopeless to complain.
“Did you at least tell the counselors when it happens?”
“The first time,” my son said. “But all they did was go over to him and say, ‘Don’t be mean to Yaakov, okay?’ And Yishai said, ‘Okay.’ So then they came back to me and said, ‘Yishai promised not to be mean to you again, okay?’”
But, my son confessed, Yishai continued to taunt him all summer long.
I told Yaakov to pull aside his other bunkmates privately. He should ask them if Yishai was bullying them, too; chances are he had other targets besides my son.
Outraged, I was on the phone immediately with the camp mother, the camp director and the unit head directly in charge of my son’s counselors.
“Thank you for bringing this to our attention. Bullying is a matter we take very seriously,” I was told. And, later, “Is it possible your son is doing something to incite Yishai? We spoke to the boys and everyone says Yishai is a very nice boy.”
“No, my son says he never did anything to make Yishai dislike him. I’m sure if you ask the boys, they will also say my son is a nice boy. My son also says Yishai is very nice to all the boys, but for some unknown reasons has decided to target my son, and only when no adults are present.”
“Well, then,” I was told, “it’s going to be very difficult to prove that your son is being bullied.”
“But we have proof!” I felt so frustrated. “My son is not a complainer. He is coming to me and telling me about the bullying. That is the proof!”
“I’m sorry, but we can’t really go on that. The other boys say that Yishai...”
My son got back to me about his private investigations. “Ma, it’s true what you said! I spoke to some other boys, and 3 of them said Yishai bothers them, too!”
Now we were onto something. I called the parents of the other boys to let them know about the situation. After each confirmed the information with their sons, the parents also made similar phone calls to the camp director, camp mother and supervisor in charge of our boys’ counselors.
Everyone was told the same thing: “Thank you for bringing this to our attention. Bullying is a matter we take very seriously.” And, later, “Is it possible your son is doing something to incite Yishai? We spoke to the boys and everyone says Yishai is a nice boy.” And finally, “It’s going to be very hard to prove anything without witnesses.
The other parents and I were out of our minds with frustration.
“So the only way to protect my kid from a bully is if I’m able to donate a swimming pool?”
“I can’t believe that camp mother. I’d like to see one of her kids get bullied! Then let’s see what she would say.”
That was probably the most common refrain: I’d like to see the director’s or the camp mother’s child become the victim of a bully. In my frustration, I said it to my husband.
“Sha, don’t say that,” said my husband. “It’s like a tefila, like asking for something bad to happen to their kid.” Even though my husband was frustrated by our son’s situation, he was sensitive to the power of words, especially spoken by those who are shomrei mitzvos.
So I didn’t say it again. And needless to say, we never sent our kid back to that camp. We also spoke with our son about what to do in the future should he ever encounter a bully, and how to handle it himself, if possible.
Fast forward about ten years, and our son came home from yeshiva during bain ha’z’manim with shocking news. A boy in yeshiva had been expelled for bullying. The victim of the bullying had been more like terrorized, subjected to humiliations on a daily basis for months. "Poor kid," said my son. "Crazy thing is we know the family. His parents are the directors of that camp I used to go to.”
I gasped. Of course it’s too self-centered, almost, to think that what a few parents expressed ten years ago in anger could have caused or affected such an incident to occur. Only the Ribono Shel Olam knows why bad things happen! But it certainly made me regret what we had said, all those years ago...
Discussion Question Options:
What are some innocent statements or warnings I often make, which may in fact be unintentional k’lalos?
How can I rephrase myself so that I can express my concern or give a warning in a way that is not a k’lala?
Do you think it is really possible to educate people to this level of sensitivity to words?
Stretch of the Week:
The next time you are about to give a warning, say your positive desire instead: “I want you to wear a coat so you can stay warm and healthy!” rather than “You’re going to get sick!”