The Sages interpret the unusual Hebrew word me’odecha in the Shema (Deut. 6:5), translated "might" above, to mean “substance,” “resources,” or even “wealth”—which gives us a perfect text for the middah of generosity. We express our whole-hearted love for Hashem by practicing generosity toward others. This generosity can take various forms, as Alan Morinis describes:
You have money in your pocket, so you give money. You have no money but there’s food in your home, so you give food. There’s no food in your home but there are ideas in your mind, so you give helping words. There are no words in your mouth but there is love in your heart, so you offer your heart itself.
I’m not quite out of money or food, but generous speech is the option that grabs my attention this week. Perhaps it’s because we’ve just completed the middah of silence. I’m not too bad when it comes to refraining from damaging or frivolous speech, and I’m learning to practice contemplative silence as part of my morning prayers. Like every middah, however, silence of the right kind requires balance. We need to avoid the extreme of keeping silence when it’s time to speak, time to break the silence with “helping words” that affirm and build up others. The right balance to silence is generosity of speech.
The other night (it was Christmas Eve, actually, I must admit) we were walking some out-of-town guests through a local neighborhood that was all lit up with luminarias along its walkways and roof tops. Luminarias are little paper bags with candles inside to give a soft glowing light—a beautiful old New Mexico tradition. It was freezing and I was leading the group back toward home base when we started to suspect that we were headed in the wrong direction. Our friends’ daughter pulled out her smart phone, checked the GPS, and said we needed to do a 180. Embarrassed I said, “Well, I guess I got us lost for the past three blocks,” and she replied, “We weren’t lost; we were just exploring”—a rather generous way to put it, I thought, and felt encouraged instead of embarrassed.
So, this week, coming out of a week emphasizing silence, I’m looking for chances to practice its opposite by speaking words of encouragement. I have a feeling that opportunities to give helping words will be abundant.