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Gabbing About Goodness

Gabbing About Goodness

How to change the world with your tongue.


The day was rainy, the bus was late, and the atmosphere at the bus stop where I was impatiently waiting with several other people was tense.

A woman in her late sixties wearing a brown raincoat scurried by. Just as she passed the bus shelter, she slid on the wet pavement and fell. I rushed toward her. Helping her up, I asked, "Are you okay?"

She nodded and commented, "It says that a person who falls in front of other people is a prideful person."

I smiled, thinking, "If you were really prideful, you wouldn't be quoting that." But I said nothing.

The woman continued on her way. As I returned to the protection of the bus shelter, another woman there remarked out loud, "What a special person! She falls and she uses it as an opportunity to admonish herself spiritually! What a remarkable, humble person!"

With that comment, the atmosphere in the bus shelter palpably changed. Goodness hung in the air like a presence. We all smiled at each other and nodded.


The mitzvah, "Love your neighbor as yourself," is considered by the sages to be a fundamental mitzvah of the Torah. Like all mitzvot, it requires us to do something concrete and specific. Vague sentiments of affection for others could delude a person into thinking that s/he is fulfilling this mitzvah, but the Torah insists that we ground our sentiments in concrete actions.

Thus Maimonides, in his magnum opus delineating the mitzvot, writes that "Love your neighbor as yourself" is fulfilled in three ways: 1) By speaking well about others; 2) By seeing to their physical requirements; and 3) By treating them with honor.

Although I had had the same positive thoughts about the woman who slipped at the bus stop, the person who actually voiced her praise was fulfilling the mitzvah, "Love your neighbor as yourself." And because every mitzvah connects a person to God, the atmosphere in our damp bus shelter reflected that spiritual transformation.

We can probably triple the amount of good we speak about every day.

In the Jewish world today, much focus is given to not speaking gossip, lashon hara. The Torah prohibits us from speaking negatively about others, even when it's true, except in cases when one must protect a third party (such as a prospective business partner) from being harmed. To refrain from speaking lashon hara is an exalted spiritual accomplishment.

Much less emphasis is given to the other side of the coin -- speaking well about others. Of course, if you praise A to B, who dislikes A, B is likely to respond with a string of pejorative lashon hara: "She's not really so great. Why, I've seen her do x." As always, you must be circumspect about to whom you say what.

With that caution in mind, however, each of us could probably triple the amount of good we speak about every day.


In fact, this is an important principle in educating children. The experts instruct us to give our children more positive feedback than negative feedback. Thus, they tell us, don't wait till your toddler misbehaves to comment on his behavior. Notice when your toddler is playing nicely, and say out loud, "How nicely you're sharing that toy with your sister." This reinforces good behavior.

Even those who have acquired the skill of praising young children probably pass up manifold opportunities to voice goodness about those we live and work with. How about:

Every night at dinnertime or bedtime, telling your spouse one positive thing about each of your children. "When Jason spoke on the phone with his grandmother today, he showed her a lot of love and respect." "When I told Jennie she couldn't use the car tonight, she accepted it graciously."

Pointing out your spouse's good points to your children: "You know, Dad was really tired tonight, but he helped you with your homework anyway." "Even though Mom was super busy today, notice how she took time to call Aunt Marge so she wouldn't be lonely."

Not just thinking well about your friends, but actually mentioning their good traits: "Linda is so reliable. She said she'd do me a favor, and then even though her schedule changed, she still went out of her way to do it." "Brad is so honest. The bank teller made a mistake in his favor, and he pointed out the mistake to her."

Looking for positive things to say about your fellow workers: "My secretary has a bad cold, but she still came in today because she knew I needed her." "My boss is under a lot of pressure right now, but he took the time to mention the good job I did on that recent project."

With each of these simple statements, you fulfill that primary mitzvah: Loving your neighbor as yourself.

Rabbi Avraham Twersky points out that the Morning Prayer service begins with the words, "Blessed is the One who spoke and the world came into being." He explains that at the outset of our prayers, we have to remind ourselves that words create worlds.

At the outset of every day we should remind ourselves that good words create good worlds.

Sara Yoheved Rigler will be lecture touring in the U.S. November 1-20. To see her speaking location nearest you , click here.

Sara Yoheved Rigler’s all-encompassing online marriage program, “Choose Connection: How to Revive and Rejuvenate Your Marriage” is available to readers at a special price. Click here for more info:

November 4, 2006

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Visitor Comments: 13

(13) Nancy, April 26, 2017 1:42 PM

Good words create good worlds

How eloquent and profound a statement that is! Alas, I "arrived late" to this discussion, but I am so glad I got here. When I was a child I remember one of my teachers telling us that please and thank you are magic words. I never forgot that lesson and I am grateful that Sara Yocheved Rigler just helped me to elaborate. In fact, she may have also just improved my mood! :-)

(12) Beverly Margolis-Kurtin, October 21, 2012 11:02 PM


Listening to lashon hara prevented me from going to a shul that was only five miles from my front door. The administrator of my previous synagogue so bad mouthed the synagogue with which I am currently a member that for years I traveled unnecessary miles and wasted a lot of money on gas that I could barely afford. When gossip raises its ugly head, I walk away and explain that I do not listen to lashon hara, nor will I say bad things about others even when they are true as the day is long. Even among my non-Jewish friends, I will not participate in tearing others down. Politics? Well... My new rabbi is a wonderful example of how we Jews should act towards each other. He has two young daughters whom he loves more than "decorum." At times, during services, one or the other or both will just walk up to him for a hug and then they return to their seats. What a WONDERFUL and heart warming thing that is for all of us to experience. Love overrides decorum any day in my book and it is a joy to witness not just his love for his wife and daughters but to each of us. My previous rabbi had much to learn from him and that is all that I will say. This article warmed me to the core of my being. Thanks!

(11) Anonymous, February 22, 2011 10:20 AM

Beautiful inspirational and practical article... Thank you!

(10) O.G., December 20, 2006 4:55 PM

very nice

This is very nice, it truely shows how to keep this great mitzvah of "V'ahavta lereacha kamocha". I hope it will be a success for me. Thank You!

(9) Anonymous, November 9, 2006 5:00 PM

Sarah Yocheved's travel schedule

I am chagrined to see that this unusual and lovely lady will not be visiting anywhere in Philadelphia. You probably already know we have a large and quickly growing observant community in Lower Merion Township (Bala Cynwyd area) right outside of Philadelphia) - I read Mrs, Rigler's material everytime you send it, as I myself am traditional and learning more and growing...It would be marvelous to have her here and to hear a live and direct message from her - Is it at all possible??Many thanks!

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