Rabbi David Wolpe teaches: “Spirituality is not a solitary affair. True spirituality means a relationship –with other human beings…and God…in the bridges we forge with others from the center of ourselves…”
Here, in this holy sanctuary we create each time we come together, we sense a spiritual bond between one another and the Kadosh-Baruch-Hu (or Hi); yet, when we go out from here, there is something that we are all guilty of doing from time to time that chips away at that bridge, loosens the bond, and demeans the relationship.
Although these traits are cloaked in very ancient terms term, they have contemporary realities:
L’shon HaRa, (Evil Speak), Chanupah (Flattery), R’chilut (Malicious gossip) and Tochacha (Rebuking). Tonight, I’d like to focus on R’chilut – gossiping.
One need not be a magician to have heard the term Abracabra; but, you should know that it is actually an ancient Aramaic term, Abra K’Dabra.…which means “I create that which I speak.”
Gossip is alluring. Seductive. Verbal voyeurism. It often makes people feels superior to another. Yet…we still know that R’chilut can be hurtful, demeaning, and rarely helps.
One Yom Kippur, Rabbi Jon Hanish, gave a sermon, based on Reverend Will Bowen’s “A Complaint Free World,” after which he handed out 1,000 “Complaint Free World” bracelets. As part of this program, every time one gossips, complains or criticizes, he or she moves the bracelet from one wrist to the other. The goal is to go 21 days without moving the bracelet. Words count, thoughts do not. It takes most people six – eight months to accomplish this task.
(Rabbi Hanish confessed that he never got beyond eight days, and after six months decided he needed a break, a very long break.
We’d all like to believe that we watch our words carefully but when really monitoring what comes out of our lips, who knows? I’m doubt that I could get through a week without stumbling.)
After the sermon, many people told him that they could never stop gossiping because it was their” hobby”. It seems without gossiping, complaining or criticizing, many people would have nothing to do. Like Rabbi Hanish, I’m all for hobbies but how about playing a sport or doing a mitzvah? The Talmud says: “Gossip slays three people – the one who speaks gossip, the one who listens to it, and the one about whom the gossip is said.” It is not just the speaker who is harmed, it is all involved parties. Even soccer seems less dangerous.
How many of us believe that gossiping is just something that people do? Try avoiding gossip for just one day. Note when you catch yourself gossiping, complaining or criticizing, or when you hear someone else doing the same. You’ll be surprised at how many of our relationships are based on gossip. In this past month, I have colleagues who have been the target of Lashon HaRa, congregants who have been hurt by Rudeness of others, and I myself have been saddened by being spoken about behind my back.
According to our Biblical tradition, creation began with the statement, “Let there be light.” God’s phrasing is simple and direct. After God spoke, light appeared and “God saw that the light was good.” Words swept chaos aside. From the first verses of our Torah, we are taught that words are holy because they have the ability to bring light into a place where only chaos previously existed. Words are the basis for creation.
The Sefat Emet wrote, “The creation of the human faculty of speech is more wondrous than anything else in Creation, as anyone who contemplates this phenomenon will understand.” He believed that because of the wondrous nature of speech, our words should be used in a holy manner. Therefore, the words which emanate from our mouths should be guarded. If the words flowing from our mouths do not have a holy intent, then we should refrain from speaking.
Before we recite the Amidah, we say, “Adonai, S’fatai tiftach u-fi yagid t’hilatecha” G-d, open up my lips that I may praise You. Perhaps we should think that before we speak…always.
Here we are in the month of Elul, the month where we ask forgiveness of one another and offer forgiveness to one another. We’ve gone through the drill here together, yet there is work to be done. In Elul we reflect on what we’ve done well in the past year and where we’ve missed the mark. R’chillut, L’shon HaRa, are areas where we can all do better.
Allow me to retell an old story:
Once it happened in a small Eastern European town that a man was jealous of the rabbi and started spreading malicious rumors about him. After a while, he began to feel remorse for what he had done and went to the rabbi to ask what forgiveness and to undertake whatever penance the rabbi might impose upon him. The rabbi told him to get a chicken and walk through the town plucking out the feathers, one by one. The man did so and then returned to the rabbi.
“Am I forgiven now?” he asked.
“Almost,” replied the rabbi. “You have one more thing to do and then you will be forgiven.”
“What’s that?” asked the man.
“Go and gather up all the feathers you have dispersed, put them back in the chicken making it just as it was before.”
“But that’s impossible,” said the man.
“Precisely,” said the rabbi. “Though you want to repair the damage you have done, you cannot do so, just as you cannot replace the feathers, once you’ve plucked the chicken.”
Once words have left our mouths, they take actions of their own accord. They can hurt, destroy and cause pain. But, they can also heal, create and bring comfort. We must guard what comes out of our lips. Our words should help spread holiness. Our relationships should enhance that which is spiritual in our lives. During the remaining days of Elul, let us practice sending the holy, and not the profane, into the world.
L’Shanah Tovah Tikateivu
Rabbi Yocheved Mintz, September 7, 2012