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Take the Clean Speech Challenge - Together with Jewish Organizations and Shuls from all over Jersey!

04/18/2023 08:45:44 AM


Rabbi Rudin

Who is the one who desires life, who loves their days and sees good?  It is the one who guards their tongue from speaking ill, and their lips from guile, turning aside from hurtfulness, seeking peace and pursuing peace.

-Psalm 34:13-15

Judaism doesn’t feature Seven Deadly Sins (like both Catholicism and Islam) or Five Poisons (like Buddhism) or Six Enemies of the Mind (Hinduism).  Instead, the Torah claims that just one is the root cause of all evil.

Not that we don’t mention plenty of sins: the Al Chet prayer that we all say together five times on Yom Kippur lists forty four. And then we confess twenty-five more while striking our hearts during the Ashamnu prayer. 

But there is only one sin that stretches from the Garden of Eden to the murderous hate of Cain for Abel to the rivalry between Esau and Jacob, to the fratricide attempted by Joseph’s brothers. The same red line of that same sin passes through our enslavement in Egypt, delayed our  liberation and haunted and harried us through our journey to the Promised Land. That same sin destroyed our Temple, exiled us from our home and to this day twists and turns us. That same sin, wielded by the wicked,  lit the furnaces of hate in the human heart and became the conflagration of the Holocaust.

That sin is called Lashon HaRah - using the power of speech to defame, degrade, shame, bring harm, cause damage and sow discord. In Judaism, speech is what G-d used to create the cosmos - in the words of the Midrash Ayin: “with ten utterances, beginning with Let there be light,” G-d created the world.  And with a single hurtful utterance directed at or about another, that world can be destroyed.”

In the age of instantaneous information, discourse everywhere on earth it seems has become coarsened, shrill, hurtful and ugly. None of us are immune and words used not to build bridges but to batter, stun and silence have become all too often the norm.

The remedy to Lashon HaRah, evil speech? Lashon Naki- clean speech. Mindful speech that conveys the point through kindness, gentleness, uplift. King Solomon in Proverbs and Ecclesiates says, “Gracious words are sweet as a honeycomb, pleasing to the soul, healing the bones….truth is heard when it is shared better quietly than when it is bellowed..”.  Simple truths - but profound.

During the Omer Count, when we are instructed by our Rabbis to work on our virtues, a consortium of synagogues in our area- our included- has come together to invite congregants to undertake the Clean Speech Challenge during the month of May, to set an example as the Covenant People and to become more mindful of how we speak to others, about others, even to ourselves and even about ourselves. 

Take a look at this website about the project started by a Colorado Rabbi and adopted all over the Jewish world to combat conflagration with self-awareness, harshness with gentleness, angry words with love.  Open the Clean Speech Workbook for thirty simple suggestions, one for each day in May, of how to become more mindful users of the awesome power of speech.  I invite all of us to take this challenge together.

Mon, July 15 2024 9 Tammuz 5784