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.