GOOD MORNING! One of the most impressive parts of a Torah way of life, is the body of laws governing relationships between people, and none are more impressive than the laws governing speech. The Torah forbids gossip, slander and talebearing. Of course, what you speak about begins with your thoughts and your perspective.
(There is a fabulous book, Guard Your Tongue, by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin which is highly readable, easily understandable and has lots of stories to illustrate the laws. I highly suggest buying a copy -- if you want spirituality, one of the best paths is to be careful about what you speak. Available at your local Jewish book store or by calling toll-free 877-758-3242.)
Last week on Tisha B'av many synagogues around North America had a program on judging people favorably. I was very impressed with a handout from the Chofetz Chaim Heritage Foundation, which works hard and effectively to educate Jews about the Laws of Speech. I am reproducing below their piece on "Why not jump to a good conclusion?"
THE SIX QUESTIONS -- A GUIDE TO JUDGING FAVORABLY
The Torah teaches that, whenever we experience or hear about the negative behavior of another person, we must "judge favorably." In simple terms, that means giving the benefit of the doubt. But how can one follow that advice when it seems that the facts clearly point to someone's guilt?
Sometimes we jump to the wrong conclusion because the facts are different from what we perceive them to be. Even if our facts are accurate, we often misinterpret the intent behind them. When we drop the assumption that there was a negative intention behind someone's actions towards us, we automatically deflate much of the anger and hurt that we feel.
Here are six possible ways to analyze a situation and jump to a good conclusion:
- Are you sure it happened at all? Sometimes our perceptions of what we see and hear are mistaken.
- Are you sure the details are correct? One small detail can completely alter the scenario. Something may have been exaggerated or omitted that would make a big difference.
- Do you know if the other person intended harm? Often the consequences are unforeseen.
- Do you know the assumptions the other person was operating under? Maybe the other person was operating under a misconception that would explain their behavior.
- Could the other person's act have been the result of an innocent, human error? Everyone has limitations. Perhaps this person lacked experience, was forgetful, distracted or simply didn't think carefully enough before acting.
- Do you know what events preceded the negative action? The other person may be enduring a great deal of pain, frustration or stress. This might be a response to a specific situation, like an illness or financial loss. Or it could be a deeper, more pervasive problem that effects the person's entire life.
Although the Torah requires us to judge others with favor and compassion, we are not required to accept abusive behavior from others. Physical, verbal or emotional abuse must be addressed and corrected.
For a catalog of books and learning projects for personal growth, contact the Chofetz Chaim Heritage Foundation at 800-867-2482 or check out their website at: www.chofetzchaimusa.org .
Portion of the Week
Moshe continues his soliloquy guaranteeing the Jewish people prosperity and good health if they follow the mitzvot, the commandments. He reminds us to look at our history and to know that we can and should trust in God. However, we should be careful so that we are not distracted by our material success lest that we forget and ignore God.
Moshe warns us against idolatry (the definition of idolatry is the belief that anything other than God has power) and against self-righteousness ("Do not say because of my virtue that God brought me to occupy this land ... but because of the wickedness of these nations that God is driving them out before you.") He then details our rebellions against God during the 40 years in the desert and the giving of the Second Tablets (Moshe broke the first Tablets containing the Ten Commandments after the sin of the Golden Calf.)
This week's portion dispels a common misconception. People think that "Man does not live by bread alone" means that a person needs additional foods beyond bread to survive. The quotation in its entirety is, "Man does not live by bread alone, but by all that comes out of God's mouth" (Deuteronomy. 8:3).
The Torah then answers a question which every human being has asked of himself, "What does God want of you? Only that you remain in awe of God your Lord, so that you will follow all His paths and love Him, serving God your Lord with all your heart and with all your soul. You must keep God's commandments and decrees ... so that all good will be yours" (Deuteronomy. 10:12).
based on Growth Through Torah by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
The Torah states, "For if you shall diligently keep all these commandments which I command you to do them, to love the Lord, your God, to walk in all His ways and to cleave to Him..." (Deuteronomy 11:22). How does one "cleave to the Almighty?"
The Torah tells us that even someone who observes all of the commandments and has attained the attribute of loving God, must emulate God ("to walk in all His ways") in order to cleave to Him. Emulating God means being compassionate and bestowing kindness on others. ("He is merciful so we should be merciful, He bestows kindness, so we should bestow kindness" -- Rashi). One might think that a person who loves God need only devote himself to prayer and Torah study and by this means he will cleave to God. We see from this verse, however, that an essential ingredient in cleaving to God is caring about our fellow man. (And if we care about our fellow human being, we wouldn't gratuitously speak negatively about him, would we?)