Lashon Hara

Lashon Hara

I would like to bring attention to the issue of our speech. It seems there are cases where we openly attack other believers in the Messiah. Be they called Christians, Messianic Jews, Messianic Believers, Believers, we should not make disparaging comments about what they are called, we should not take pot shots as to their faith.

If some one is a Believer in Messiah Yeshua – Jesus the Messiah or other circumlocution’s we might choose. Believers are NOT “what ever flavor”. These are our brothers and sisters. They are members of the Body of Messiah.

If they are saved by the Blood of the Messiah, by Grace then they are our brothers and sisters. We do not always agree with their theology, or their choice of Denomination, but until the Most High G-d tells us they are otherwise, any derogatory comment, or name we apply to them is Lashon Hara.

We can and do openly come against teaching we do not agree with, and when we bring scriptural citation and reasoned discussion this is highly acceptable. But when we belittle some one by attacking them personally it becomes a violation of G-d’s laws.

Christians, Messianic Jews, Messianic Believers, Believers, Hebrew Christians, Messianic Hebrews are acceptable terms and there are more.

Xians, Xtians, Messy’s, Judys, SNer, Yah-Yah’s are not acceptable as well as dozens of others.

Tasteless descriptors and the like are again against G-d’s laws and lashon hara.

On Jerusalem Council we discuss doctrines, dogmas, halakha, Torah. We often will discuss and dissect teachings of various movements, religious beliefs, sects, denominations. We can do this in a respectful way and with out violating G-d’s laws. If we can not do so we do not need to post.
We should never post in anger, or with contempt. To do so would be against G-d’s laws.

*The following Teaching may only be quoted in it’s entirety with copyright notice intact, it is used by permission*

Lashon Hara
The Evil Tongue
There are Jewish laws that apply even to one’s speech, and one who endeavors to abide by these laws will notice a tremendous difference in not just how he speaks, but also in how he acts and feels toward others.
There are many different kinds of speech that are “non-kosher” and best to avoid.

The most common, and perhaps the most serious speech problem is lashon hara, literally, “evil talk.” It refers to any statement that is derogatory or potentially harmful to others — even if it is true. Although there are other distinctions in Jewish law, the term lashon hara is also popularly used to include tale bearing (rechilus) and slander (motzei shem ra) or spreading lies.
In simple terms, this means that one may not tell his friend that someone else did something wrong. Nor may one make a statement about someone that will bring physical, psychological or financial harm to that person. Any statement that will lower the subject in the eyes of the listener is to be avoided.
The above rules, however, do not apply in all situations.
There are situations where one is required to speak up, such as in warning about a prospective marriage or business partner. To know when to remain silent and when to speak up is the subject of an extensive body of law. By turning to the Torah for guidance, one can learn what should and should not be said in all situations.
Why is watching what one says so important? If you take a look at just about every broken marriage, shattered friendship, or ruined career, you’ll see that the damage was often caused by hatred. And where did that hatred come from? Often, it starts with a few hurtful words.

HURTFUL WORDS (Ona’as Devarim)

“The pen is mightier than the sword…” and words can cause more pain than any weapon.
The Torah says that the greatest pain in this world is embarrassment. One who embarrasses another so the person blushes is judged as if he spilled blood.
And one who embarrasses another so the person’s face becomes ashen and drained of blood is likened to a murderer.
Consider all the little comments we make all the time to our parents, spouses, co-workers, or children. One poorly chosen word spoken in anger can cause major damage in a relationship. This is why the Talmud suggests this formula for a good, long life:
There is no greater advice than silence.

Fooling people with words is also problematic. Asking a salesman “How much is this item?” is deceptive if one has no intention of actually buying the item.
If you really need to know, be straight and say initially that you have no intention of buying.
In many other ways we mislead others through our speech, including flattery and boasting.

Another kind of “non-kosher” speech is disgusting language. Included in this category are such things as curse words, off-color jokes, or negative innuendo.
What’s wrong with saying an occasional curse word?
The Torah teaches that the way one acts on the outside affects who one is on the inside. So even if a person is basically good, once he begins to speak in a crude way, his character will become negatively affected.
The more crude a person’s speech, the more crude he becomes.
Idle chatter also falls into this category of impure speech. A Jew shouldn’t talk just for the sake of talking. First, this often leads to gossiping about others, simply because a person has nothing better to say. Second, in Judaism there is a concept that each person is allotted a certain number of words in their lifetime. Who wants to waste them on idle chatter?

Speech becomes “kosher” when a person chooses to point out the good in others rather than the bad, when his words uplift others and to encourage and advise them.
“Kosher” speech is also categorized as speech that is free of expressions that are beneath a Jew’s dignity. He instead uses words that reflect the traits of humility, modesty, and loving kindness that are a manifestation of his soul.

By giving the Jewish people guidelines to “kosher” speech, G-d has also given us a tremendous gift — the key to living peacefully together.
“Kosher” speech is the tool for preventing and neutralizing the anger, bitterness and jealousy that commonly exist between people. It brings in its place love, kindness and harmony, which unite the Jewish people with each other and, ultimately, with G-d.
Learning to use “kosher” speech is a very worthwhile investment. The benefits for oneself and for others make “kosher” speech a win-win choice.

Rabbinic Midrash
The Torah teaches of the punishment of leprosy, or tzaraas, which visits a person on account of his speaking “Lashon Hara”, derogatory remarks concerning another. The method for the Leprosy visiting the person is in stages. At first, Leprosy attaches itself to the person’s home. If the person heeds the warning and repents, it is gone. If not, it excels towards the person’s garments. Again, if one repents, it is gone. If not, it finally attaches to the person’s body.
The questions are, what is the purpose of this progression, and why these objects? Additionally, the Torah states that for one to be “micapare” or atoned, one must bring two birds, one is slaughtered, and its blood is caught in a bowl. The live bird is dipped therein along with a branch of hyssop and myrtle, and the live, bloodied bird is now set free over an open field. On the surface, this seems barbaric, or at the least, unintelligible. However, as we know G-d is the Designer of the Torah, and “all its ways are pleasant”, there must be a rational explanation for these required practices, and for the objects used in attempting to correct the person who spoke badly.

In order to understand how “mida k’neged mida” (measure for measure) works in this case, we must first understand the crime.

Speaking derogatorily against another has at its source, the desire for self affirmation of one’s greatness. An insecure person will usually be found degrading others, and in this manner, he is higher in his self- estimation by comparison. A secure individual however, will not concern himself with others, as this doesn’t effect his self estimation. Being secure, another’s level has no effect on his status. What then is the remedy for this egomaniac type of personality? To diminish his image of his self proclaimed, imagined grandeur with a realistic dose of self recognition that he is undesirable by others. Part of the need to elevate oneself is the desire to be loved by others. When this cannot be, as a leper is banished outside the camp of the Israelites, he is faced with the fact that he is not the great image he conjured, and he must eat his words of scorn.

G-d however tries to avoid the worst by hinting to the person that he has done wrong. G-d doesn’t send the Leprosy to the body first. He initially uses other vehicles with which the person identifies, viz., his home, and his clothing. G-d commences with the home, as this is further removed from the person, but specific enough to him so as to awaken him that there’s something distasteful in him that he should delve into. If the person is obstinate, G-d sends the leprosy to a closer object, his garments. This is more closely tied to one’s identity, and is more effective. But if not heeded to, G-d finally has the punishment of leprosy delivered to his body, undeniably him. We see from here G-d’s mercy, and intelligence in using that with which one will identify.

Parenthetically, these three objects, namely the house, clothes and body, are exactly where Mezuza, Tzitzit, and Tefilin abide. These are also tied to the idea of identification, but from a different angle.

Since G-d desires that one place their trust in Him, and not in their own strength, G-d created these three mitzvot (commands) to redirect where one places their trust.

Mezuza reminds one not to invest too much reliance in his home, as G-d should be recognized as the True Protector. The home is correctly viewed as a haven from the elements. But G-d desires that we act above the norm, meaning, that we have trust in His dominion of the world. So we place a reminder on the doorway, which is the best place for us to be reminded of G-d, as a doorway receives most of the activity of a home.

We are urged not to place too much importance on our dress, and therefore are commanded to wear tzitzit, fringes. Clothing again is an area where people derive identity, as people wear different styles to express themselves. Lastly, but most closely tied to our self identity is our bodies. One is most effected when something happens to his body, even if no pain is suffered. This is due to our false definition of what “man” is. Society tells us man equals body.

The Torah tells us that man equals intellect and love of G-d. Hence, we are commanded to wear tefilin. A reminder placed on our bodies that we should not invest too much worth here either.

These three, the home , clothes, and body are the three main areas where one identifies, and thus, the three areas where G-d therefore saw it fit to place reminders that G-d alone should be Who we depend on.

What are the ideas behind the two birds?

Besides correcting the person’s flaw of overestimation, he must also realize the damage done to the other.
Rashi states that birds are brought who chirp, to make clear that the crime had to do with his “chirping” like a bird. The one bird ( resembling the sinner) is dipped in the blood of the other bird (resembling the one humiliated by the speech) and let over an open field to demonstrate that just as his evil speech is irretrievable, so is this bloodied bird, “bloody speech” irretrievable.

As you cannot catch the same bird twice, so also he cannot catch his words which were let loose on the world. The damage is done, the “bird is loose”, a spoken word is irretrievable. This will hopefully give recognition to the person who spoke destructively and make clear his crime.

Knowing one’s sin is the first step to atonement.

Priestly Dressing
Even our priests were ‘on guard’ against Lashon Hara.
On the extensive description of the eight garments which the Torah gives us, we have also the description of the rabbis, who name each specific garment as protection to its wearer from an individual sin.

1. The inner garments guard against the urge to murder.
2. The pants, against the urge to form illicit relationships.
3. The turban, against haughtiness.
4. The belt, against illicit thoughts.
5. The breastplate, against incorrect judgments.
6. The ephod, a kind of vest, against idol worship.
7. The robe and incense were to guard against two kinds of lashon hara.

Yeshua’s Midrash (Matt 5)
“5:21 You have heard it said…”
One of the teachings of Judaism regarding Messiah (to this day), is that He will come and teach His people the deeper points of the Torah.
Yeshua does just this in the remaining verses of chapter five. He begins with the expression, “You have heard it said.” This He does both to draw his audience’s attention to a specific point, as well as to make a distinction between His opinion on a matter of Torah and any other(s) of His time.
He is offering His authoritative interpretations on how to follow the commandments. In the Judaism of Yeshua, these are called halakhic (hah-LAHK-ik) rulings. Later in this Gospel we will see Yeshua extending this authority to His apostles. We also see Paul issuing such halchic rulings in several of his epistles.
It is important to realize that Yeshua did not come to, “correct all the misguided teachings of the Pharisees.” (This thought is commonly expressed in religions that have little understanding of the Judaism of Yeshua’s time.) First, it should be noted that there was no dominating concensus among the Pharisees and other religious groups at that time. A brief look at the Pharasaic writings in the Talmud, show a diversity of opinion, including many that argue against each other.
This is called arguing for the sake of HaShem (G-d). Secondly, Yeshua actually supported most Pharasaic opinion on the Torah that eventually were captured in the text of the Talmud. Yeshua not only quoted and supported Pharisaic teaching, as seen in the chart above, He also upheld the religious authority of the Pharisees. He told the people to obey the Pharisees, as they “sat in Moses’ seat,” meaning their authority came from G-d. (Matthew 23:1-3)
There were two majority schools of Rabbinic thought at that time, the school of Rabbi Hillel and the school of Rabbi Shammai (both of whom had died prior to Yeshua’s ministry). Hillel was the grandfather of Gamliel, who was the leader of the Sanhedrin and who taught the apostle Paul. Hillel’s teachings were thought to be more liberal than those of Shammai, which were considered more strict. As we will see, throughout the Gospels, Yeshua is often agreeing with an already existing Pharasaic interpretation of Scripture.
The main point is that Yeshua’s comments are within the framework of Pharasaic discussion. Unfortunately, the term “Pharisee” has a totally negative meaning today, even though many Pharisees were G-dly men and some followed Yeshua – (i.e., Paul, Nicodemus, and the factions mentioned in Acts 15 and Luke 13:31). As uncomfortable as many would find hearing this — Yeshua Himself would have been regarded as a Pharisee. When the Pharisees went out to question John the Baptist about who John was, he said that one among THEM (the Pharisees) was the Messiah to come (John 1:26-27).
The Pharisees themselves were highly critical of one another, saying there were “seven kinds of Pharisees,” and not all were good. (1) The disciples of Hillel went so far as calling those of Shammai, “sons of Satan,” in a similar fashion to what Yeshua called some of them. (2) When we see Yeshua rebuking the Pharisees, it is very much a “family argument,” and needs to be understood as such.
In Matthew verses 21-48, Yeshua brings up a number of issues surrounding actual commandments. As we will see, he often quotes directly from the Talmudic writings of the Pharisees. He is addressing the “fences” (safeguards) placed around the Torah — in some case supporting the ones the Pharisees put in place — in other places he offers His own “fences.”
Matt 5:21 Thou shall not kill …
This is a direct commentary on the sixth commandment (which is actually against “murder,” and not “killing”). Note that when He says, But I say unto you, He is not canceling the commandment, as murder is still sin and will bring judgment. Rather, He is showing that in addition to following the letter of the commandments, one should go beyond the minimum requirements as we grow in our relationship with G-d.
Matt 5:22 … But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother …
This comment is on the heels of 5:13-21 where Yeshua says he is teaching Torah “correctly” (in its fullness) to His Jewish audience, so that they can take this Torah out to the world.

Yeshua makes a connection between murder in verse 21, and “speaking evil” of someone in verse 22. This was not a “new teaching,” but had been greatly overlooked by that time. Such “evil speaking” is called speaking “Lashon Hara” (Evil Tongue) against a person, and is equated with murder throughout Jewish literature. The book of “James” (Ya’akov is his real name), it also speaks of the subject of “the tongue” to great length (See James 3).

Yeshua is reminding the people that “character assassination” is as bad a “physical assassination” in G-d’s sight. This is the higher level of Torah that He taught — All part of His greater command to “Love one another.”
This is also the first of many examples we will show of Yeshua supporting Pharisaic Talmud:
Babylonian Talmud, Bava Mezia 58b – One who shames the face of his fellow, it is as if he has murdered him.

The Torah Speaks to Lashon Hara :

Negative Commandments Relating to Lashon Hara
1. “You shall not go about as a talebearer among your people” (Vayikra 19:16)
2. “You shall not utter a false report” (Shmot 23:1)
3. “Take heed concerning the plague of leprosy” (Dvarim 24:8)
4. “Before the blind do not put a stumbling block” (Vayikra 19:14)
5. “Beware lest you forget the Lord, your G-d” (Dvarim 8:11)
6. “You shall not profane My holy name” (Vayikra 22:32)
7. “You shall not hate your brother in your heart” (Vayikra 19:12)
8. “You shall not take vengeance nor bear any grudge against the children of your people” (Vayikra 19:18)
9. “One witness shall not rise up against a man for iniquity or for any sin” (Dvarim 19:15)
10. “You shall not follow a multitude to do evil” (Shmot 23:2)
11. “You shall not act similar to Korach and his company” (Bamidbar 17:5)
12. “You shall not wrong one another” (Vayikra 25:17)
13. “(You shall rebuke your neighbor) and you shall not bear sin because of him” (Vayikra 19:17)
14. “Any widow or orphan shall you not afflict” (Shmot 22:21)
15. “You shall not pollute the land wherein you are” (Bamidbar 35:33)
16. “You shall not curse the deaf” (Vayikra 19:14)

Positive Commandments Relating to Lashon Hara
1. “Remember what the Lord you G-d did until Miriam by the way as you came forth out of Egypt” (Dvarim 24:9)
2. “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Vayikra 19:18)
3. “In righteousness shall you judge your neighbor” (Vayikra 19:15)
4. “If your brother be waxen poor and his means fail him when he is with you, then you shall uphold him” (Vayikra 25:35)
5. “You shall rebuke your neighbor” (Vayikra 19:17)
6. “To Him shall you cleave” (Dvarim 10:20)
7. “You shall fear My sacred place” (Vayikra 19:30)
8. “Before the gray-haired you shall rise up, and you shall honor the face of the old man” (Vayikra 19:32)
9. “You shall sanctify Him” (Vayikra 21:8)
10. “Honor your father and mother” (Shmot 20:12)
11. “The Lord your G-d shall you fear” (Dvarim 10:20)
12. “You shall teach them diligently to your children, and you shall talk of them by the way when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise up” (Dvarim 6:7)
13. “From a false matter you shall keep yourself far” (Shmot 23:7)
14. “Walk in His ways” (Dvarim 28:9)

Here are nine rules to remember:
1. It is lashon hara to convey a derogatory image of someone even if that image is true and deserved; it is slanderous (motzi shem ra) to do so when the image is false.
2. It is lashon hara to convey information about people that can cause them physical, psychological or financial harm.
3. It is lashon hara to embarrass people, even in jest, or to tell embarrassing things about them when they are not present.
4. Lashon hara is not limited to verbal communication; the written word, body language, innuendo, and the like can also be hurtful.
5. It is lashon hara to speak against a community, race, ethnic group, gender, or age group as a whole.
6. Do not relate lashon hara even to your spouse, close friends or relatives.
7. Do not repeat lashon hara even when it is common knowledge.
8. Avoid r’chilut (Gossip): Do not relate to people negative things others may say about them, for this may cause needless conflict.
9. Do not listen to lashon hara or r’chilut. Give everyone the benefit of the doubt.

Guard Your Tongue!
Copyright © MZkn. Walter N.Thorpe, esq.


The Letter of Ramban

The Letter of Ramban

A Letter For The Ages/Iggeret HaRamban/The Letter of Ramban

This letter was written by Rabbi Moshe Ben Nachman, more widely referred to by his acronym Ramban and known in English as Nachmanides. The Iggeret HaRamban was printed for the first time in Mantua, Italy, in 1623 as part of the book “Tapuchei Zahav” by Rabbi Yechiel Mili.

This letter occupies a special place in the world of Torah literature. It is recited and studied regularly by masses of Jews who hold dear the lessons of this letter and try to live in accordance with its lofty spirit. Through the ages, Ramban’s letter has been cherished by Torah scholars as well as the masses of Jewry.

This letter was sent by Ramban from the city of Acre in Eretz Yisrael to his son in Catalonia, Spain, to inspire him to act with humility. He instructed his son to read this letter once every week and to teach it to his children as well, so that they might learn it by heart, in order to train them in their youth to fear God.

Ramban assured his son that on the day that he read this letter his wishes would be fulfilled from heaven:
“Heed, my son, the discipline of your father, and do not forsake the guidance of your mother(Proverbs 1:8). Accustom yourself to speak gently to all people at all times. This will proect you from anger – a most serious character flaw which causes one to sin. Our Rabbis taught(Nedarim 22a): “Whoever flares up in anger is subject to the discipline of Gehinnom, as it is written: Banish anger from your heart and remove evil from your flesh (Ecclesiastes 11:10). The evil mentioned here refers to Gehinnom, as it is written: And the wicked are destined for the day of evil (Proverbs 16:4).

Once you have distanced yourself from anger, the quality of humility will enter your heart. This sterling quality is the finest of all admirable traits, as Scripture writes: On the heels of humility comes the fear of HASHEM (Proverbs 22:4). Through humility, the fear of God will intensity in your heart, for you will always be aware of from where you have come and to where you are destined to go. You will realize that in life you are as frail as the maggot or the worm – all the more so in death. It is this sense of humility which reminds you of the One before Whom you will be called for judgment – the King of Glory. Of Him it is written: Behold, heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain You (Kings a 8:27; Chronicles 6:18), surely not the hearts of men (Proverbs 15:11). Furthermore, it is written: Do I not fill heaven and earth? says HASHEM (Jeremiah 23:24).

After you give serious thought to these ideas you will stand in awe of your Creator and will be guarded against sin. Once you have acquired these fine qualities, you will indeed be happy with your lot.

When your actions display genuine humility – when you stand meekly before man, and fearfully before God; when you stand wary of sin – then the spirit of God’s Presence will rest upon you, as will the splendor of His Glory; you will live the life of the World to Come.

And now my son, understand clearly that one who is prideful in his heart towards other men rebels against the sovereignty of heaven, for he glorifies himself in God’s own robes, for it is written, HASHEM reigns, He dons the mantle of grandeur (Psalm 93:1).

For indeed, of what should man be prideful? if he has wealth – it is HASHEM who makes one prosperous. And if honor – does honor not belong to God? As it is written: Wealth and honor come from You (Chronicles b 29:12) – how can one glorify himself with the honor of his Maker? If he takes pride in wisdom – let him understand that God may remove the speech of the most competent and take away the wisdom of the aged (Job 12:20).

Thus, all men stand as equals before their Creator. In His fury He casts down the lofty; in His goodwill He elevates the downtrodden. Therefore, humble yourself, for HASHEM will lift you.

Thus, I shall explain to you how you may accustom yourself to the quality of humility, to walk with it always. Let your words be spoken gently; let your heat be bowed. Cast your eyes downward, and your heart heaven-ward; and when speaking, do not stare at your listener. Let all men seem greater than you in your eyes: If another is more wise or wealthy than yourself, you must show him respect. And if he is poor, and you are richer or wiser than he, consider that he may be more righteous than yourself: If he sins it is the result of error, while your transgression is deliberate.

In all your words, actions and thoughts – at all times – imagine in your heart that you are standing in the presence of the Holy One, Blessed is He, and that His Presence rests upon you. Indeed, the glory of HASHEM fills the universe. – Speak with reverence and awe, like a servant who stands in the presence of his master. Act with restraint in the company of others: If one should call out to you, do not answer with a loud voice, but respond gently – in low tones, as one who stands before his mentor.

Take care to always study Torah diligently so that you will be able to fulfill its commands. When you rise from study, ponder carefully what you have learned; see what there is in it which you can put into practice.

Review your actions every morning and evening, and in this way live all your days in repentance.

Cast external matters from your mind when you stand to pray; carefully prepare your heart in the presence of the Holy One. Purify your thoughts, and ponder your words before you utter them.

Conduct yourself in these ways in all your endeavors for as long as you live. In this way you will surely avoid transgression; your words, actions and thoughts will be flawless. Your prayer will be pure and clear, sincere and pleasing to God, Blessed is He, as it is written: When You prepare their heart [to concentrate], you are attentive [to their prayers] (Psalms 10:17).

Read this letter once a week and neglect none of it. Fulfill it, and in so doing, walk with it forever in the ways of HASHEM, may He be Blessed, so that you may succeed in your ways and merit the World to Come that lies hidden for the righteous. Every day that you shall read this letter, heaven shall answer your heart’s desires… Amen, Selah”.

Laws of De’os – Chapter 2, Law 4(b)

Maimonides on Life


Laws of De’os – Chapter 2, Law 4(b)

Silence and the Road to Self-Discovery

“A person should always accustom himself to keeping silent (lit., ‘should increase his silence’). He should speak only of matters of wisdom or matters pertaining to his living needs. It was said regarding [the Talmudic scholar] Rav, the student of our holy teacher [R. Yehuda haNasi], that he never engaged in idle chatter his entire life. This, however, is the speech of most people. One should even limit his words when discussing matters pertaining to one’s living needs. Regarding this the Sages commanded us, saying: ‘Whoever talks excessively brings about sin’ (Pirkei Avos 1:17). And they said, ‘I have not found anything better for oneself (lit., ‘better for one’s body’) than silence.’ (ibid.)”

Last week we discussed the preciousness of the Divine gift of speech. As we explained, unlike animals whose communication is limited to expressing their bodies and physical wants, man was granted speech on an entirely higher plane — as a means of expressing his soul. This is why the Sages look so askance at empty speech. It is not only a matter of the wasted words. It is the taking the very tool G-d granted us to express our souls and using it to express our bodies — our physical wants and animal drives.

This week I would like to approach this topic from a different perspective. Thus far we have said that since speech is such a valuable commodity we must not waste our words or sell them short of their potential. But in truth silence is much more than just a lack of wasteful speech. As the Rambam implies, there’s a great value to developing the ability to remain silent.

There are actually a lot of ways of bringing this out — the importance of being a good listener, of not being too aggressive, the self-reflection it engenders. While I’m at it, I’ll make reference to another Pirkei Avos class I wrote on a related subject — Chapter 3 Mishna 5 ( (Gee with 350+ classes out there, there’s almost nothing new to write nowadays…) However, this time I’d like to convey a single relevant message. It is actually one I’ve observed myself from my limited experiences as an educator.

Most of us are very image conscious. We’re concerned with our external appearance and with the impression we make upon others. This is of course natural; there’s no reason not to present ourselves as favorably as we can. Yet I often find it excessive — especially among the young. Some people are so busy cultivating their own image that it’s difficult to get them to actually listen to what is being said to them. As I heard R. Motty Berger ( once complain, youth today walk around as if they’re the stars of their own television mini-series. Say something to them — perhaps something meaningful and significant — and they’ll be too busy thinking up a “comeback” or imagining how their TV role model would respond that they never even stop and think about what is being said to them. The words just do not register. And they spend so much time projecting an image of whom they’d like to be that they never begin thinking about whom they actually are.

As a result, only when such youngsters are far older do they really pause and begin to ask themselves the real questions of life — who they are, what are their values, what should they believe in — which any thinking young adult should have asked himself years earlier. Only years later — quite possibly when it’s too late to do very much about it — do such people ask themselves if the performance they’ve been staging all these years is who they actually are.

Silence thus engenders within ourselves the ability to hear and absorb what others are saying. It allows us to grow out of ourselves, to pause and truly be receptive to other thoughts and points of view. Rather than being wrapped up with ourselves and the impression we make, we must at times pause and truly listen — and understand what is beyond.

But there is an even more pernicious manifestation of this problem. We’ve all come across people who seem to always be talking. Certainly such speech itself is excessive and usually out of place. But I feel it often betrays an even deeper flaw. Talking is a form of asserting oneself, of getting the last word. If someone says something to you (especially something critical) and you answer back, it’s basically a form of refusing to take anyone else’s words sitting down. You have to respond; you have to have the last word. No one else’s words can be accepted for what they are — however valid they may be. You must stay on the defensive and hold your ground.

And I’ve found this among students as well. Some students have to always have the last word. Whatever you attempt to explain to them they must restate their own way. Now of course, that could be a very good quality. To truly understand, the student must attempt to express the ideas himself and put the thoughts into his own words.

Yet often, the motive is more sinister: The student must “hijack” the words. I don’t want to be told. I don’t want the words to changes me. I want to be in control of them. I’m too sure of myself and set in my ways. And to the teacher’s exasperation, such a student can never actually hear and accept the teaching. He has to restate and reshape the words, construing (and usually misconstruing) them into a form he’s willing to accept. Rather than accept what the teacher is saying and absorb the teaching for its full worth, he must take the words and fashion them according to his liking. I’m in control of myself; I am who I am. And I decide what enters and how.

Silence, however, allows us to absorb — and be shaped by — what we hear. Hear the words, take and ingest them for what they are. Be passive, be silent. Allow yourself to be shaped by wisdom greater than yourself. Silence enables us to open ourselves to new ideas and new ways of thinking. And it’s not only a matter of having good ears and a reasonable attention span (themselves not easy qualities to come by). It requires openness and sincerity, a willingness to absorb new ideas and allow them to influence us for the better. Let the words change you; take them for their full and absolute worth. And only then will we learn to think outside the box and grow to become who we are not today.

(Needless to say, we must be sufficiently discerning to know what is worthy and what is not. We all know how many charlatans and snake oil salesmen are out there peddling the “truth” — on the Internet in particular. We must be selective about what we allow in. There have been many all through the generations who have introduced “new and improved” version of our timeless Torah. But when we do discover truth, we must find within ourselves the ability to incorporate and integrate, and to grow from what we hear.)

Let me just conclude by tying this in to the statement from Pirkei Avos which the Rambam quoted above. R. Shimon said that his entire life he grew up among the Sages, and he has not found anything better for oneself than silence. I believe there’s a deeper idea implied in his words. The precise translation of his words is actually that he “has not found anything better for the body (la’guf) than silence.” It seems a peculiar choice of wording. Why bring up the body?

But I believe the idea is as we wrote above. For one to truly grow from his studies, he must be malleable. He must see himself as a body — almost a shapeless mass, ready to be molded by the wisdom he studies. Only then will the wisdom he studies truly move him and fashion him into a greater human being. And further, when wisdom penetrates a person so deeply, it permeates his very body. Even our bodies will respond to such wisdom if we only let it in. Our very essence will be shaped. And rather than our bodies weighing us down with sluggishness and desire, we will become whole human beings, body and soul, fashioned through and through in the image of G-d.


Text Copyright © 2008 by Rabbi Dovid Rosenfeld and

HEBRAYA / Hebrews 1:3

HEBRAYA 1: 3 — he, the effulgence of his glory, 481 hu pro he, it, she 1516 semha nn effulgence 1718a subha nn glory and the icon of his essence 1514 salma nn icon 71b ’ituta nn essence

and holder of all by the power of his word 49c ’ahid ’kul idi holder of all, almighty 605a haila nn power, empowered, empowerment 1008a melta nn word

— and he, in himself, 481 hu pro he, it, she 1590 qenuma nn self, substance worked a purifying of our sins 1247a ebad vv enslave, work 430e dukaya nn purifying 601b heta nn sin

and seated upon the right of the Rabbi Priesthood 814a yiteb vv sit, seat, establish 1306a ‘al prp about, above, concerning, over, upon 793a yamina nn right 1631h rabuta nn rabbi priesthood

(Etheridge) who himself is the resplendence of his glory, and the image of his Being, and upholdeth all (things) by the power of his word; and he, in his (own) person, hath made purification of sins, and hath sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.[The Greatness in the high places.]

(ERRB) Who being the brightness effulgence of his glory, and the express image character of his person essence , and upholding bearing all things by the word rhema of his power dynamis , when he had by through himself purged purified our sins, sat down on at the right hand of the Majesty on high;

(HRB) for He is the brightness of His glory, and the express image of His being, and upholding all things by the power of His Word; having made purification of our sins through Himself, He sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high, (Psa. 110:1)

(HNT) והוא זהר כבודו וצלם עצמותו ונושא כל בדבר גבורתו ואחרי טהרו אתנו בנפשו מחטאתינו ישב לימין הגדלה במרומים׃

(KJV) Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high;

(KJV+) WhoG3739 beingG5607 the brightnessG541 of his glory,G1391 andG2532 the express imageG5481 of hisG848 person,G5287 andG5037 upholdingG5342 all thingsG3956 by theG3588 wordG4487 of hisG846 power,G1411 when he had byG1223 himselfG1438 purgedG4160 G2512 ourG2257 sins,G266 sat downG2523 onG1722 the right handG1188 of theG3588 MajestyG3172 onG1722 high;G5308

(Lamsa NT) For he is the brightness of his glory and the express image of his being, upholding all things by the power of his word; and when he had through his person, cleansed our sins, then he sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high; (Murdock) who is the splendor of his glory, and the image of himself, and upholdeth all by the energy of his word; and by himself he made a purgation of sins, and sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high.

(OJB) Who being the Shechinah zohar (brilliance) of Hashem and the exact impress and demut of Hashem’s essential nature, being, and reality, and sustaining everything by his Dvar HaKo’ach, after he made tihur (purification) of chatta’im (sins), sat down at LIMIN (“the right hand” TEHILLIM 110:1) of the Majesty on High.

Rabbinic literature