middot humility stories be not quick to speak

be not quick to speak

Written by  rebbetzin malkah

art-corporateladderNot only was Rabbi Israel [Salanter] opposed to the performance of the finer points of mitzvot at the expense of human beings, he held that one had no right even to perform the essentials of a mitzvah or even extricate himself from grievous sin if he thereby inflicted suffering on someone else.

A question was submitted to him: Someone had sinned in secret against a friend of his by speaking evil of him. Was it permissible for this person now to go to his friend and seek forgiveness? In so doing, however, he would have to disclose what he had said to the friend he had maligned.

Rabbi Israel [Salanter] ruled, that although the questioner would absolve himself from grievous guilt by seeking his friends forgiveness, he had no right to pursue his own good by hurting his friend - enhancing his righteousness at the expense of causing distress to someone else. This is the extent to which R. Israel took the feelings of others into account, how he engaged in complicated calculations so as to avoid giving any hurt or distress to others.  -- The Mussar Movement, Volume 1, Part 2 pages 229 - 230

Humility can display itself in many forms. One way it can show itself is in behavior that is coupled with the middah of silence.  It can be the simple deference we show to someone else, or the more rigorous steps we take not to cause offense or be callous to someone's feelings and reputation.  Silence is nothing short of a thoughtful middah.  It is unimagineable how many wars could have been avoided if the behavior above was modeled.

not above, not below

Our Mashiach modeled this principle so well:

"The greatest among you shall be to you as a servant. Everyone who lifts himself up will be brought low, but everyone who lowers himself will be lifted up." --  Matthew 23:11-12, DHE

As soon as we think we are above someone else, we have lowered ourselves out of default.  One cannot be high at the expense of others; on the contrary, the raising of oneself is only a means to a lesser reputation and a lesser resemblance of the character of our Mashiach. We show others what we think of them through our speech and our actions.  If we are careful about how we approach our own hurts and don't aggrieve others through our speech, then we effectively balance the scales out in a more holy way.

One's honor is indeed precious and it is shameful when people are not careful to protect it.  But taking honor from another is never the right way to deal with a situation.  Sometimes, gentle words or no words at all restores honor more than all the words that could be hurled back in defense.

The next time you feel your honor or someone's honor has been attacked, ask yourself these questions before responding:

  • can I respond in humility to the person(s) involved
  • will I take honor away from someone else
  • which will be more effective:  complete silence or speech?


Our words are a tool to affect the world around us and either bring harmony or hate.  The ball is in your court....



"The greatest among you shall be to you as a servant. Everyone who lifts himself up will be brought low, but everyone who lowers himself will be lifted up."  --  Matthew 23:11-12, DHE

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