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

Saturday, March 23, 2013

If You Wouldn’t Say it….


(In June 2012 we launched GuardYourSpeak which, as its name implies, was dedicated to focusing on all aspects of Shmiras HaLoshon.  In short order it became burdensome to maintain both sites, so in recognition of the fact that the material posted on GuardYourSpeak was a natural fit for EmunahSpeak, it was decided to discontinue GuardYourSpeak and repost all of those pieces on EmunahSpeak over the course of the next few months.)

Rabbi Yossi is quoted as effectively saying that he wouldn’t say anything about someone that he wouldn’t say directly to that person himself.

The fact is that he never actually said it this way.  What he actually said, as quoted in the Gemara, was that Never once in my life did I have to retract anything that I said to anyone, but nevertheless, by wrenching his words totally out of their context a popular misconception has arisen that assumes that it’s permissible to speak loshon hora if one is speaking directly to the victim of said loshon hora.

In the commentary of the Be’er Mayim Chaim to the first Halacha in Klal Gimmel, the Chofetz Chaim devotes close to a dozen pages to vaporize this misconception.

For those lacking the staying power to attend to the Chofetz Chaim’s detailed and cogent analysis, the dozen pages of the Be’er Mayim Chayim can be summed up in one word:


Like most things in life, there’s also a flip side to Rabbi Yossi’s words, be they actually said, be they supposedly said or otherwise, that the Chofetz Chaim didn’t deal with, and if made into a rule of thumb it would spike the vast majority of one’s loshon hora from the get go.

Success in holding the line on loshon hora is a matter of attitude and focus, and if the attitude is that the laws of loshon hora are an obstacle to one’s desired discourse then the focus will be on trying to dance around them. Those who cite, or rather miss cite, Rabbi Yossi do so because they are seeking wiggle room to say what needn’t be said and more often than not shouldn’t be said altogether.  Those, however, who hearken to the converse of what Rabbi Yossi was purported to have said focus on Hashem’s desires, as opposed to their own, so as to not say anything other than what should be said.

So how can we slice and dice Rabbi Yossi’s words so as to morph them into verbal body armor?

It’s a simple fact of life that most of the baali loshon hora amongst us are not so brazen as to exercise their tongues in the presence of those who they are attempting to run down with their speech, and all the more so for the casual speakers of loshon hora.  If one thinks his next door neighbor is a jerk it’s not likely that he will so express himself when the neighbor is in hearing range.  It’s basic human nature.

Therefore, if you wouldn’t say it in front of yenem don’t say it behind his back.  

And if you would?

For everyone but the fewest of the arrogant few, who in any case are reading neither this, nor Sefer Chofetz Chaim, there is no such thing as and if you would because you wouldn’t.

The difference between this statement and that of Rabbi Yossi is small and somewhat subtle, but bottom line it’s all the difference in the world.

If one internalizes these fifteen words, then ninety per cent of the loshon hora scenarios that one would normally encounter in his war with the Yetzer Hora will be removed from the battlefield.

It’s simplicity itself.

There are no conditions and rules to remember and no inferences to be drawn.  At the end of the day there’s nothing but these fifteen words standing between you and ninety percent of all of the loshon hora that you would otherwise speak over the course of the rest of your life.

It’s as simple and as difficult as that.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Doing Our Part For An Aliyas Neshama

You should be a Meilitz Yoshor is usually the parting request made by each speaker to the recently deceased at his funeral.

He’s gone only a few hours and we asking him for favors already.

And what are we asking for exactly?

Reduced to its lowest common denominator, we are essentially putting in a bid for proteksia.

The niftar (recently deceased) will soon be going to a better place and we are asking him to put in a (good) word for us by way of his tefillos when he gets there.  The higher one’s place in Olam Haba the more influence one is presumed to have.  And the more (presumed) influence the better placed one is to shake things up.

So what are we doing on our end for an aliyas neshama that will move our loved ones out of their Heavenly cubicle, so to speak, to a corner office with a view from where they might be able to exert a little more influence?

Sad to say, not all that much.

The few dollars that we give or the learning that we do in the name of the niftar is to be sure, a little something in the right direction.  A nice touch this, but nice touches are not the stuff of serious elevation.

As with almost everything else, here too Hashem operates in midda keneged midda mode (measure for measure). 

Want to expand someone’s horizons in Gan Eden?  Then you have to expand yours in this world in inyanai ruchniyes.  Simply put, when you seriously grow you’re a different you, and you therefore now occupy a different place in this world.

And if you are a different you who is occupying a different place in this world then you have made the most compelling argument possible to have the one you are asking to act as a Meilitz Yosher be put in a position in which he is better situated to make it happen.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Annihilating the Universe


Because of the great love Hashem Yisborach has for his Jewish People and because He desires only good for us to the point where He calls us His children, that we are His possession and other names of endearment that demonstrate the great love He has for us….He therefore separated us from all of the bad qualities that exist in the world and in particular Loshon Hora and Rechilus (gossip).

So begins the introduction to Sefer Chofetz Chaim.

It seems, however, that as careful as the Chofetz Chaim was with his words he somehow managed to lose two of them in the introduction.  Would it not have been more correct to write that He therefore ATTEMTED TO separate us from all of the bad qualities….?

After all, had we been actually separated from Loshon Hora and Rechilus I wouldn’t be writing these words in New York, a.k.a. golus because as the Chofetz Chaim teaches us further on in the introduction to his sefer, the essential reason today for our golus is because of the actions of the spies sent to survey the Land of Israel.

And as we know from Chazal, the fundamental sin of these spies was Loshon Hora in that they brought back an evil report about Eretz Yisroel concerning which our ancestors cried needlessly.  And the Chofetz Chaim tells us that because the Ribbono Shel Olam is not a big fan of needless crying it was decreed against us that the crying would continue for generations.

So here we are thousands of years down the road and the Chofetz Chaim reminds us that we are still crying due to the endless calamities that have befallen us because of this bitter sin.  A decree is most certainly a decree but it could have been discharged with an occasional whimper.  That it translates into a steady stream of crying from one generation to the next is only because that which was for the spies a once in a lifetime mistake has become for us a lifestyle. 

And calamities include those that threaten to befall us in the not so distant future.

When a certain demagogue threatens to annihilate us with nuclear weapons it’s imperative that we know that his ability to make good on the threat, chas v’shalom, is not inherent in his thousands of centrifuges or other technological menaces.

Everything that comes our way is by way of a boomerang effect that originates in our mouths, for as we said in GuardYourSpeak: Someone Who Wants To Be Purified, the Zohar HaKodesh lets us know that there is a force in the world that is nourished by those who speak Loshon Hora.  Its name is Sachsuchah and with the impure power that is his by virtue of all of the Loshon Hora that is spoken, he ascends to the Heavens and spreads death, war, and catastrophe throughout the world. 

The Chofetz Chaim tells us, that this ability of Loshon Hora to bring devastation in its wake was set in motion from day one when the Serpent spoke Loshon Hora against HaKodesh Boruch Hu in his conversation with Chava.  And as Chazal have taught, the Serpent corrupted her by introducing into her a spirit of impurity which the Chofetz Chaim says caused adultery and illicit relations to come into the world.  And if that wasn’t enough, for good measure the Serpent also caused murder and death to come knocking on our door.

So fuggedabout about all the threats and the piles of enriched uranium because it’s only a smoke screen. 

It’s the one who speaks Loshon Hora, says the Chofetz Chaim, that seizes a quality that annihilates the universe.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

They Belong To Him Alone

In EmunahSpeak: Swordfish, we asked from whence creative people derived their inspiration and we concluded that:

There is no muse, no inner voice, no well spring of creativity from which writers, composers, artists, and the like draw their inspiration.  And you can throw in doctors and such for good measure.  Every word, note, brush stroke, and diagnosis is spoon fed to those so endowed by Hashem. 

Not exactly an ego booster for the kochi v’otzem yadi crowd, but we’re not running a self esteem clinic here, so deal with it.

Then we queried:

Endowed by Hashem to do what exactly?  If every jot and tittle is by way of Hashem then what separates the creative personality from the unwashed masses?

Fair question this and we answered:

In much the same way that a given radio frequency can pull in a broadcast set to that frequency, creative people have been hard wired from the get go of their existence to process the creative flashes that Hashem is sending them.  It’s not that a writer has been given the ability to write.  He has rather been blessed with the genius to take Divine dictation because it’s all from Hashem, typos included.

I wrote it, to be sure, but as it turns out I didn’t fully comprehend the import of what I was saying.  Looking back, it’s apparent now that my grasp of the words was only intellectual whereas emotionally I was still treading water.

Recently, I wrote a piece in which ninety-five per cent of the words belonged to someone else.  I had given proper attribution to the originator of the ideas that I was quoting in addition to repositioning several paragraphs, not to mention adding a few key stage directions that took the piece somewhat past the original thrust of my source material.

Nevertheless, I still felt unfulfilled in that there were too many of yenem’s words and not enough of my own.

In the words my own are subsumed a fundamental misunderstanding of much of what we wrote in EmunahSpeak: Swordfish, the essential paragraphs of which were quoted above.

When we said, it’s not that a writer has been given the ability to write.  He has rather been blessed with the genius to take Divine dictation because it’s all from Hashem, typos included, I failed to realize that Hashem challenges the creative individual with what are seemingly two voices.  Sometimes He feeds me yenem’s words to be manipulated however slightly and other times He feeds me words which I am foolish enough to think are my own.

But in reality they’re neither.

Hashem is sole master of the inspirational vocabulary for as we said above, every word, note, brush stroke, and diagnosis is spoon fed to us by Hashem and they belong to Him and Him alone.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Do You Think it Was An Act of G-d?

Sandy that is.

So asked the representative of the garage door company who came to take measurements for our new door meant to replace the one that Sandy used for target practice.

For an uneducated workman to ask such a question is already somewhat of a madreiga.  But for frum Jews to be anything but slam dunk certain as how to answer it is a sad commentary on their understanding of the very basics of how Hashem runs our world.  And, nebach, there are all too many of us keeping company with the same uncertainty.

It seems that there is some confusion as to the nature of teva (no pun intended).  A number of us have picked up the idea from certain well respected seforim that Hashem deals with Eretz directly and that He jobs out the nuts and bolts of the daily coming and goings in Chutz L’Aretz to the melachim (angels) union (Intergalactic Brotherhood of Melachim) to take care of business.

Rabbi Yitzchak Fabian tells us in the name of Sefer Ali Shur that a person who looks at the world with Emunah looks for the Hashgacha Pratis.  He sees Hashem in nature and in every historical event.  He lives in a spiritual world even though his two feet are firmly planted here in this world.

So what did such a person see in Sandy?

He saw the same Yad Hashem that the Chofetz Chaim z”l saw in the severe natural disasters that devastated vast areas in interior Russia (where hardly any if any Jews lived) in the late 1920s.

As is well known, the Gemara teaches that every disaster that comes upon the world comes only because of Klal Yisroel.  It’s always about us.  It always was and it always will be.

So in response to this devastation the Chofetz Chaim called for public fasting and Teshuva.

In the same light Rav Miller, z”l used to say that if you see a small news item on the bottom of page 89 in the New York Times reporting a cyclone in Bangladesh that killed 200,000 people, the whole purpose for this devastation was that a Jew named Miller in Flatbush should hear about it and do Teshuva.  And if he doesn’t do Teshuva, then it’s a waste of a lot of goyim for nothing.

These days everything is teva.  Up to a point, that is, because even those who hold from the concept that the Intergalactic Brotherhood of Melachim keeps things humming on an average Tuesday in November as well as on all similar occasions,  when teva does something to catch our attention they understand that NUMERO UNO is now running the show hands on.

In EmunahSpeak: A Divinely Pulled Punch, we said: Had Hashem stuck with the original picture of Irene that He revealed to the weather satellites, the storm would have whacked us pretty good.  But at the end of the day rather than devastating most, if not all of the kehillas stretching from Baltimore to Boston, He withdrew His Hand and threw water in our face instead.

To answer that workman’s question, that was an act of G-d.

But all we saw was rain.

So this year was an act of Din (strict justice) instead.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Making Room for Yenem

Rabbi Akiva Eiger was famous for his humility.

It is said that once at the Pesach Seder a poor man sitting at his table accidently knocked over his wine glass which considerably altered the color scheme of the beautiful white lace tablecloth which covered the table.

Rabbi Akiva Eiger was so reflexively sensitive to the poor man’s embarrassment that within a heartbeat he also knocked over his own wine glass, further soaking what had already become a red tablecloth in the vicinity of his seat.

No, he wasn’t hard wired to act this way from birth.  Sensitivity is an Avodah, and he devoted years to the avodah of being sensitive to another’s feelings.

So where are we holding?

We don’t hear the voice of Hashem because we’re too busy hearing the voice of our body.  And that goes for the voice of yenem also because we are too busy trying to hear ourselves, submerged as we are in our own needs/wants.  And because we can’t hear anything but ourselves we are oblivious to what affects others.

Rabbi Shimon Kessin tells us that the purpose of avodah is not to become more religious.  It’s to develop character traits which allow one to elevate himself in his relationship with Hashem.

And the single most important factor which will distance you from Hashem is if you are unable to relate to another person.  You can’t be a Tzaddik or righteous person in respect to Hashem if you’re not that way with stam people. To the degree that you are unable to relate to your peers, to that extent you will be unable to relate to Hashem.  And given the fact that we are too busy being full of ourselves to relate to others, things aren’t looking good for the Jews as far as relating to Hashem is concerned.

Humility is the essence of Yiras Shomayim and the essence of relating to another person so is it any wonder that the same quality that separates you from your fellow man (arrogance) will also separate you from Hashem. You just can’t pick and choose when and when not to be arrogant because it’s impossible to be arrogant to man and not be arrogant to Hashem.

The bottom line of the Mesillas Yesharim is the concept of Avodah which is a step by step process and the first step is to become sensitive to others.  We start by elevating awareness of another person, and we don’t get there by stam thinking about another person for as Rabbi Kessin further points out, if you sit down and say:  “I have to start thinking about another person,” it will never happen.

The trick is to stop thinking about yourself long enough for another person to find his way into your thoughts. 

Saturday, March 2, 2013

You Can’t Believe a Word of it



(In June 2012 we launched GuardYourSpeak which, as its name implies, was dedicated to focusing on all aspects of Shmiras HaLoshon.  In short order it became burdensome to maintain both sites, so in recognition of the fact that the material posted on GuardYourSpeak was a natural fit for EmunahSpeak, it was decided to discontinue GuardYourSpeak and repost all of those pieces on EmunahSpeak over the course of the next few months.)

Shemiras HaLoshon is in today.

The words, Shemiras HaLoshon, that is.  What those words are meant to represent can be quite another story.

Did you ever notice that there are several halachas listed in Sefer Chofetz Chaim that tend to be generally ignored, as if by prior agreement, with the majority of Klal Yisroel in on the conspiracy?

Who has not witnessed, at least once in his life, not to mention the more likely scenario of dozens of times, if not more, the trashing of a people of impeccable character, including great rabbis who were universally considered to be great tzaddikim with usually only the speaker’s camp, group, sect, or whatever, opting out of the adulation?

And speaker wise, (re: the baali loshon hora), we’re not talking pygmies here.  Many of them are great men in their own right, and the information that they are giving over they in turn heard from the lips of other great men.

So what gives here anyway?

Most, if not all of it that’s not actually out right slander (motzi shem ra) is spoken under the rubric of toellis (speech that is necessary for a specific purpose).  One avails himself of this heter, as per the guidelines laid out in Sefer Chofetz Chaim, so as to make known something that would be important for the listener to hear, such as negative information concerning a shidduch or perhaps a potential business partnership.

The truth is that one man’s tzaddik can be another’s apikoris, so given the elasticity of the heter of toellis where the line between objective and subjective necessity of one’s words tends to get subconsciously blurred, it would be more productive to shift our focus elsewhere.

We said above that many of them are great men in their own right, and the information that they are giving over they in turn heard from the lips of other great men.  While everyone and his uncle who has a negative comment to make about someone will do their best to morph their words into pristine examples of speech bursting forth with positive purpose, if what they are saying they in turn heard from the lips of others then they have a serious problem.

Where exactly is the heter that would permit one to believe this stuff?

It may be all fine and dandy to either actually sanitize one’s negative comments under the ultra-violet exception of toellis or to fool oneself into thinking that he did, but neither scenario is going to fly in the realm of being mekabel (accepting) someone else’s words because what most of us forgot, or maybe never knew, or better yet don’t want to know, is that there is no mention anyplace in Sefer Chofetz Chaim of any kind of heter to be mekabel loshon hora l’toellis.

What this means in English is that you can’t believe anything you are told about anyone for any reason whatsoever, and if doesn’t concern you in some way you can’t even listen to it. 

Unlike the speaking of loshon hora, there’s no wiggle room here on the mekabel end within which to drey.  So how is it that so many of us seem to be running on what amounts to permanent chutzpah cruise control in the realm of believing loshon hora that more often than not we shouldn't even be listening to in the first place ?

When we said that you can’t believe anything you are told about anyone for any reason whatsoever, we omitted to mention that there two exceptions to this no, nada, nicht, never rule of being mekabel loshon hora, which is that if a person is an established apikoris or a rasha then you are allowed to believe what’s said about him.

And these are the only exceptions, so we ask again in reference to those who are mekabel loshon hora about our great rabbis and other upstanding people:

Where’s the heter?

Could it be that the taiva to speak loshon hora is so great that they have to morph tzaddikim, with which they have disagreements that amount to no more than chaluki deos (differences of opinion), into apikorsim just to be able to speak about them?

How can one posit such a possibility?

Great rabbis or just plain fine upstanding Jews are exactly that.  What you see is what you get.  It isn’t likely that one would find any of them doubling as apikorsim or reshoim on their night job.  And it’s just as unlikely that you’ll ever encounter an exception to the rule that forbids you to be mekabel loshon hora from someone. 

What we are looking at here is simply gross ignorance of the Halacha that is unfortunately not limited to the ignorant.

There are a number of exceptions to many of the rules laid down in Sefer Chofetz Chaim, and many of those exceptions have to run a gauntlet of five or sometimes even seven conditions. 

This isn’t one of them.

The Halacha of not believing loshon hora that’s told to you is about as clear as things get vis รก vis the laws of loshon hora.

You can’t believe a word of it.