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a calm word
middot calmness stories a calm word

a calm word

Written by  rebbetzin malkah

art-screamIn a conversation among R. Israel Salanter's disciples, the discussion turned to saintly individuals whose influence extends on high. One of the disciples told about a certain tzaddik who had been offended by the remarks some individuals had directed at him. The tzaddik retorted sharply and cursed them. The curse was fulfilled to the letter. R. Israel was not surprised by the incident itself, but observed in his own telling style: "Someone who had reached so elevated a stature that his words can take effect, should exercise the utmost caution to guard his tongue and lips, so as not to utter anything evil, since he can easily become a damaging agent, for what difference does it make whether one damages with his hands or with the whiplash of his tongue, smiting his neighbor in secret with the force of a Heavenly decree?"   —From The Mussar Movement, Volume 1, part 2, page 212

There is no doubt that there are times when people say inflammatory or offensive things to us or about us.  And certainly, when we catch word of it, we are ready inside to let them have it and let them know how hurt either our feelings or our pride is.  But this story about a tzaddik shows us that words have power.  In this case, the words had so much power that the recipient of this curse found himself on the other end of calamity. Instead of looking beyond the words and maintaining a calm demeanor, the tzaddik reacted and used his words to harm rather than bring healing.

A gentle answer turns away wrath, But a harsh word stirs up anger. Proverbs 15:1

finding the right words

Truly finding the right words as a response to an offense is a very difficult task.  Emotional situations demand a non-emotional response.  In order to achieve this, we must place ourselves in a state of calmness.  The middah of nichutah is one in which a person has tranquility, serenity and gentleness.  Certainly, one who is agitated, sharp with words, and terse does not exemplify this middah.

If we should find ourselves in this situation, it is important that we consider what is bubbling inside ourselves and choose calmness; for in calmness of demeanor, we will find calmness of words.  Not only will we have the chance to turn away wrath, but possible misfortune and regret.

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