Friday, March 6, 2015

The Tongue - Weapon or Healer?



TO BEGIN THE PROCESS OF TRAINING OURSELVES TO USE OUR TONGUE AS A HEALING TREE OF LIFE, WE NEED TO REALISE AND ACCEPT THAT EVERYONE NEEDS HEALING. WE ALL AIM TO BE APPRECIATED, RESPECTED AND VALUED. WE WANT THIS, AND WE NEED THIS, BUT RARELY DO WE GET THIS.

How great is the obligation on us to use our tongues, not only to avoid slander, insult, and abuse, but to influence positively and encourage those around us. And in truth, this obligation is perhaps more than any other type of chesed – kindness – that we could do, because the easier and more available something is, the greater will be the punishment if we ignore it.

Our tongues are ready for action at any moment and we are surrounded by people thirsty for a boost. It’s a wonder we’re not doing this all the time. There is one question that makes this a particularly hard mission: what if you have nothing to compliment? Now, this is hopefully not too much of an issue, as everyone should be able to find something to compliment in another person. Failing that, however, Chazal tell us that at a wedding, you can tell the groom good things about his bride, even if they aren’t true. They also say that at a funeral, you can exaggerate the praises of the deceased during the eulogies. Now this seems peculiar.

The deceased is in the world of truth; he knows you’re lying! Nevertheless, his soul experiences happiness through the words, despite the embellishments. Giving someone encouragement doesn’t always mean strictly telling the truth. We steer as far away from lies as possible, but when the words are meant to build someone, we are allowed to say things that deviate from the strict lines of truth. An overcooked meal can be “delicious” when your wife’s feelings are at stake. A messy scribble can be “amazing” if your child worked hard to draw it. This habitual encouragement that we should be giving is not just a “nice thing” to do. This is an obligation that the Torah describes as “walking in Hashem’s ways”. (This I do not agree with as we are not to lie at all. It is one of the Ten Commandments, NOT to give a false report)

King David writes in more than one place in Psalms (146, 147) that Hashem encourages the humble and the widowed, and we say these verses every day in our morning prayers. We aren’t just becoming decent people, or even popular people through this work, but we are becoming G-dly. Every single aspect of this world which provides enjoyment and happiness, be it a beautiful child or even a sweet apple, are all examples of how Hashem is constantly encouraging us so that we can serve Him with happiness and confidence. Our tongue is the vehicle for this, and a few words at the right time can be the healing tree of life that blossoms and blooms without limits.

In Pirkei Avos, we are told, “Who is honourable? One who honours others.” This is not limited to honouring those who deserve honour, but honouring everyone. For the basic fact that they are created in the image of G-d, and have potential for tremendous greatness, that alone is a cause for honour. And in reward for this outlook, Hashem honours us.

Rav Saadiyah Gaon even explains that the whole reason why we experience the feelings of honour and arrogance are so that we can have a mild example of the great feeling of satiation and self-worth in the world to come. Obviously, we have to avoid the pitfalls that such emotions can have, but to offer them to your fellow so that he can experience an element of life that is reminiscent of the world to come, that is a truly valuable gift.

To train ourselves to do this is hard work, but the opportunities are endless. A pat on the back, an honest “thank you”, and a well-timed compliment will all mould us into G-dly people. It will be hard, and sometimes even unnatural, to go beyond ourselves and give to other people, but they need it, and so do we.

As with all of our obligations between our fellow, the primary realm is at home. Husband, wife, parents, children and siblings, they are the first address when it comes to chesed, and they are the ladder to greatness. The closeness will test us, but this is the boot-camp in working on our middos. From there, we can spread out to a neighbour in shul, a colleague at work, and a complete stranger, just because!

If we set a goal to provide words of encouragement to people three times a day, with the intention of internalising and habituating ourselves in this type of behaviour, we will be feeding people from a tree of life and providing the needy with the most valuable commodity: self-worth. But, above all, we will be following in our Master’s footsteps. JL

Based on a series of lectures by Rabbi Avigdor
Miller zt”l.
(Article from Jewish Life Magazine Jan 2015 edition pg22)

(This statement in brackets is not in the article, but rather, they are my words)

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