From Cantor Lee: During a recent dinner with friends, a facebook post with Yiddish words was being passed around the table. Yiddish words do have that knack of making us laugh! And yes, there was definitely much laughter as the phone was being passed from one person to the next!
But when it came to my turn I said, “I won’t look at this post. Whether I am politically aligned with someone or not, I won’t have anything to do with putting down or degrading another person.”
You are probably getting the gist of the post. Yes, the Yiddish words were quite derogatory and were being used to describe some of our political leaders. I know there will be those reading this who will want to know where they can find the post! And others who will think this is a political statement of who I support.
But this has nothing to do with political support or taking sides of any kind. Well, except the side of G-d. One of the most basic teachings of Judaism is Lashon Hara - do not speak negatively about another person.
As I told my friends that night, what good does going to synagogue and praying if we don’t try to practice the core values of Judaism? Even just making fun of someone else with a negative intention is setting the stage for bringing more hatred and violence into our world. It opens the door.
As one friend said, what I am asking isn’t easy to do. No it isn't. But what we have been doing hasn’t been working. We need to begin making changes somewhere.
When we speak or even think negatively about another person that energy also affects us. So what we say to another we are actually saying to ourselves. If that isn’t a reason to change I don’t what is!
As we approach the High Holy Days what a perfect time to start! And when we get to Yom Kippur we can even add to our fast from food, no negative words at all. Not about others, not about ourselves.
Who will join me? I hope you will!
From Rabbi David: The Bible tells us that G-D created the world simply by talking. The sages explain to us that the creation story demonstrates the tremendous power of uttered words. They warn us to watch what we say since our words carry much power. Indeed, words can be very destructive or can be creative. They can build bridges between people and can easily demolish them, destroying people’s lives.
The Torah in the Book of Leviticus makes it a point to warn us against speaking ill against anyone. That includes the use of certain words even in an indirect way. Moreover, even a seemingly innocent remark which could be possibly construed as a hidden derogatory comment is forbidden. In fact, the Torah puts into action this all important Jewish edict. When prophetess Miriam, Moses' sister, speaks ill of her brother's wife she is severely punished with leprosy.
For us, in our modern world, it is just as important to follow that biblical command. All too casually we slip from expressing criticism of someone’s actions which is perfectly okay to using insults or derogatory words in order to describe or demean others. And in today’s climate this is especially the case with those who do not follow our political/social views.
Saying it is all in harmless fun is far from an excuse. There is no "harmless fun" in going after people's dignity. I pray that this New Year we all be a bit more careful when talking about those with whom we don't agree with or those who irritate us. Speaking no evil is good for the soul, it's a good way to cleanse ourselves for the coming year.
May we all have a sweet new year and may we work together with our words to make it happen!
Cantor Lee and Rabbi David