emunah, tefillah, a little mussar, and a shmeck of geula

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Gently Speaking

Iggeres HaRamban

The actual mussar of the Iggeres HaRamban opens with the Ramban’s admonishment to his son that he should accustom himself (yourself) to speak gently to all people at all times.

Rabbi Moshe Hauer tells us that there is no deep meaning here that we have to ferret out because the Ramban’s words are to be taken literally, as in all words, (whatever comes out of your mouth), to all people (even those below you), and at all times (whenever and wherever you are).  And he adds that this general principle to always speak gently may be the most important rule in the entire Iggeres.

The what of this we understand, but what of the why?

Koheles teaches us that the words of the wise are heard when they are gentle.  And as Rabbi Hauer puts it, locks don’t work by force and neither do the words of the wise. The chacham anticipates certain situations and makes his words heard when things are calm, before a crisis hits the fan.  In addition, the chacham deliberates in calmness so that everything will be focused.

Clarity comes with confidence and confidence comes with calmness.  Rabbi Hauer lets us know that the more we’re able to bring a certain calmness to a situation before it becomes stressful the better we will be able to ride out the storm.  And the only sure way to bring that certain calmness into whatever it is that’s going on is to talk the talk as per the Ramban’s dictum.

Many people hear good things.  Some hear it on a constant basis and others even hear it over the course of many years, but it has little if any impact on their lives because they don’t internalize it.  And the reason that they don’t internalize the mussar that they have heard is because from the outset they never set their mind to be mekabel (to accept).

Unlike mere listening which is passive, being mekabel is an active response that requires a person to fully engage himself in order to acquire that which he is being taught.

Rabbi Yisroel Brog tells us that in order to effectively be mekabel the thought that the Ramban is trying to convey with the words accustom yourself, a mentch has to take on a new minhag.

Taking on a minhag in the context of accustom yourself to speak gently means making up your mind to speak in a certain way all of the time.  You can’t change your speech depending on who you’re talking to.

It has to be something immutable.

You have to speak all of your words gently without exception, meaning that you speak the same way to your wife as you do to your chavrusa, as you do to your children, as you do to your employees, as you do to the cleaning lady, as you do to the cab drivers in Yerushalayim, and as you do to the illegal Mexicans who cut your lawn.

In order to accustom yourself to speak gently to all people at all times you’ll have to accustom yourself to be the new you to all people at all times because the old you simply won’t cut it.