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The Systems of the Jewish Year

Just Be Quiet

By Rabbi Sender Haber

Rav Shmuel Hanagid lived just about 1000 years ago. He was a huge Torah scholar and was considered to be the most influential jew in Spain.

Rav Chaim Kanievsky quotes an incident in which Rav Shmuel Hanagid was walking with a Berber king of Spain named Habbus al-Muzzafer. As they were walking, a man called out and cursed Rav Shmuel. The king – being a good friend -ordered Rav Shmuel to have the man’s tongue cut out.

Rav Shmuel responded by sending gifts to the fellow who had cursed him. He began cultivating a relationship and soon they were friends with mutual respect for each other.

Some time later, the king and Rav Shmuel were walking again and met the same man. He spoke in greeting and the king was furious: “Didn’t I order you to cut out his tongue?”

“I did”, was Rav Shmuel’s reply, “I took out his bad tongue and put in a good one”.

The fact is that so much of what we do is governed by our tongues. It determines who we are. Human beings are distinguished from all other beings in that we can talk. G-d breathed his ‘Ruach’ into us and made us a ‘Ruach Mimalela”, a creature that could talk.

It is that spirit that enables us to talk also makes us holy or impure. We can be sanctified more than any other creation because we have the spirit of Hashem within us and we can become more impure than any other being when that ruach of Hashem leaves us. It happens when a person passes away, but it also happens by degrees whenever we choose to misuse the gifts that Hashem has given us as human beings.

Part of the sanctity that we reach through speech is to remain silent. People feel like they need to comment on everything, usually in a very concerned way, but often their subjects just aren’t interested in talking. I get approached by so many people who say: “Wasn’t it obvious that I didn’t want to have that conversation?” I tell them that it comes from a place of concern, but they are right. Sometimes it is obvious. We need to preserve our human dignity and their by taking someone’s lead. Most people don’t want to discuss their troubles with every single person who takes an interest in them.

In Parshas Tazria the leper who is being punished for inappropriate speech is forced to go into isolation. Sometimes we think too much about others and need some time to become more retrospective and put into situations where there is nobody to quiz and question and prod but our very own selves.

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