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Posts on the topic of "Speech"

Electronic Disconnect

Jun 5, 2012 at 08:28:55 AM

We could all use a bit more "disengagement" from electronic media in favor of more quality personal time.

Rabbi Efrem Goldberg writes about a recent performance of the New York Philharmonic. Toward the end of Mahler's Ninth Symphony, someone's cell phone began ringing… and kept on ringing.

Conductors almost never interrupt a performance, other than for truly exceptional circumstances. But in this case, Philharmonic conductor Alan Gilbert didn't just pause the performance -- he turned toward where the sound was coming from and refused to continue with the Symphony until the individual verbally acknowledged that his phone was turned off. (The audience cheered and applauded.)

I don't know about you, but I find it hard to speak with someone who is checking email. Time and again, the quality of my one-on-one communication increases significantly when I am face-to-face and there are no electronic devices in play.

To see how this manifests in real life, check out this great short film, "Disconnect and Enjoy."

Finally, what caught my attention in this hilarious-but-true cartoon is that it's actually from 1996. Imagine how much "worse" things are now!

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The Oil Spill

Feb 19, 2012 at 11:32:42 PM

I never quite understood the rabbinic statement that if you speak negatively about another person (loshon hara), you acquire their transgressions. It always sounded to me like magic. How exactly does that work? 

Today I went grocery shopping, and two of my sons helped take the groceries from the car into the house. I told them to be careful because there were a few bottles. One of them wasn't careful enough and a bottle broke, leaving a messy puddle of olive oil smack dab in the middle of the kitchen.

I didn't know who had done it, nor did I feel the need to know. I wasn't planning to punish anyone, but I did feel that the message of acting responsibly was something they could both benefit from hearing, irrespective of "who did it." 

So I got the two boys together and said: "I'm disappointed that you weren't careful enough. This was a job that boys of your age can surely handle." 

At which point one of them piped up and said, "I didn't do it." 

I was shocked! In order to raise his own stature, he cast the blame on the other. I never asked who did it; that wasn’t part of the discussion. 

Speech that reflects negatively on others (loshon hara) is no small mistake. The Talmud identifies it as the specific problem that caused the destruction of our Holy Temple, and which remains at the core of our 2,000-year spiritual exile.  

At that moment, with the oil spilled on the kitchen floor, I understood. By speaking negatively about another person, you acquire their transgressions. 

God works with us "measure-for-measure," meaning that instead of meting out "punishment," He arranges "consequences" that are commensurate with our mistaken action. In this case, one of my sons sought to implicate his brother for breaking the bottle; the reciprocal consequence is that he himself acquires that mistake. 

Interestingly, this concept is codified in Jewish law: Under certain circumstances, false witnesses ("Aidim Zomemim") are dealt the very same punishment that they intended to generate with their false testimony. For example, if witnesses conspired to obligate someone to pay $1,000 that he does not owe, they must reimburse their intended victim that sum of $1,000. (Deut. 19:19) 

The end of the story? I turned to my son who spoke negatively and asked him to clean up the olive oil. And he totally understood why.

Visitor Comments: 11

(6) Mordechai, February 21, 2012 3:23 PM

or perhaps....

perhaps the Rav was trying to teach his sons the valuable lesson that there are even worse things than being irresponsible with a bottle of oil, such as speaking out negatively about others and throwing your brother under the bus?

(5) Lisa, February 21, 2012 2:25 PM

The Blame Game......

Everyday I have my teenage son read an article of interest....Bingo....this one fits the bill perfectly....especially since he too has brothers. Let's learn not to play The Blame Game!! Thank you!

(4) Anonymous, February 21, 2012 2:01 PM

Disappointment in actions is different than disappointment in the person

Rav Shraga wrote the blog very clearly, I think. His statement of disappointment was only about his son's actions, not the character of his son, which would be truly devastating for a son to hear. Sometimes we need that rebuke about our actions. Not enough parents learn to express their disapproval in a healthy way to their children. Furthermore, about why one acquires another transgression, he explained it is because the son sought to elevate himself above his brother, but, his speaking against his brother brought him to a lower level than he may have been at if he had remained silent or even better, taken the blame for his brother and offered to clean up the mess himself. The one who spoke up may not have spilled the oil and acted irresponsibly, but he spoke against his brother which is also wrong behavior, so he was at the lowered level at that time.

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Obama in Atlanta

Jan 29, 2012 at 05:38:20 AM

My friend Harve Linder in Atlanta shared his thoughts regarding an ill-advised op-ed piece by the publisher of the Atlanta Jewish Times. In discussing how to get the United States to stand more firmly behind its ally Israel, the publisher proposed three scenarios for Israel to protect itself:

(1) Order a pre-emptive strike on Hezbollah and Hamas.

(2) Destroy Iran's nuclear facilities "at all costs."

(3) "Give the go-ahead for U.S.-based Mossad agents to take out a president deemed unfriendly to Israel..."

In case we didn’t get it the first time, the author repeats: "Order a hit on a president in order to preserve Israel's existence."

Aside from the incitement ― which the Jewish community of Atlanta rightfully condemned in the strongest terms ― there is the issue of responsible use of power. For while each of us free to speak our mind, we must be cognizant of the ramifications of our words.

At which point has the line of “free speech” been crossed? In a crowded theatre, it’s when shouting “fire” causes a panic. In an editorial by a Jewish publisher in a Jewish newspaper, it’s when his words cast pallor upon other Jews.

In this case, those who heard about this story (and many did, thanks to the Internet), the Jews dropped a rung on the ladder of  public perception. Like it or not, the reality of today's world is that when a Jew ― particularly one of authority or stature ― speaks, he is perceived as speaking on behalf of all Jews.

The publisher lost his credibility and his job. Before a person speaks, he must be aware of the consequences. When a Jewish public figure speaks, all the more so.

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