middot silence stories words of worth

words of worth

Written by  rebbetzin malkah

art-appleHe was as careful in his speech as in his actions. It goes without saying that he refrained from whatever was prohibited by the halachah.

For this we have Rabbi Israel [Salanter's] own testimony. Upon reproving one of his disciples for his words, Rabbi Israel [Salanter] remarked: "Insofar as evil gossip (lashon hara) is concerned, you cannot tell me, 'Remove a beam from between your eyes,' and, it seems, not with respect to idle chatter either."

But even in speech that is permitted, he avoided superfluous verbiage and would weigh and count his words to make them conform to standards of propriety and refinement. One of the scholars of the generation observed on a specific occasion: "Rabbi Israel [Salanter] does not squander words. Every sound or word that issues from his mouth is first considered and reflected on. He purifies them like a silver smelter and weighs them in a chemical balance."  -- The Mussar Movement Volume 1, Part 2 page 197

Finding the balance between speech and silence can be challenging.  Sometimes, we are in situations when it seems like we have to fill in the gaps with conversation.  While at times this can be beneficial, other times it can lead to trite conversations that go nowhere.  Worse yet, some conversations do go somewhere and cause hurt to others through careless speech.

The next time you are in a situation where you have to speak, ask yourself a few questions:

  • What benefit is my speech going to bring?  Will it help to welcome, comfort, encourage, or give necessary information? 
  • Will my speech turn into gossip or idle chatter about someone? 
  • Will my speech be filled with placating remarks or flattery?
  • Is my speech only to ingratiate myself?


an appetite for speech

We can learn to control our appetite for speech, if we wish.  Another short teaching from Rabbi Salanter illustrates this:

Nearly all of our brethren, the children of Israel, will not eat without [ritually] washing their hands, even if they are very hungry and in great distress. But they easily violate the serious [prohibition regarding] malicious speech, even without much appetite for it…-- pg 207, Rabbi Israel Salanter and the Mussar Movement: Seeking the Torah of Truth, I. Etkes

What this shows us is that sometimes we pay more attention to other mitzvot and are exceedingly meticulous, no matter what the strain or extenuating circumstances because we have an appetite to perfom mitzvot.  But in other cases, where nothing is pressing us and we have little appetite to ramble, we let our mouth run astray.  Our appetite for this type of behavior isn't even very great, yet we give into it.  Words have a purpose and are filled with strength.  Let us examine each word, each sentence, each conversation and seek to make them the best that can be.

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