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August 27, 2014 / 1 Elul, 5774
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The Wrongs Of Onas Devarim


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We all need to feel appreciated for what we do in life. I am involved in a Friday night Tehillim group whereby we divide the 150 chapters among the members. My friend and neighbor, Devorah Kahn, initiated this group and has been a strong force in encouraging people living on our block to participate in this mitzvah. I decided to add something to the group by presenting a three-minute discourse from Positive Word Power, the book from the Chofetz Chaim Heritage Foundation on onas devarim. I read three paragraphs and summarize one lesson. The group responds with different stories related to the particular issue presented (regarding onas devarim).

This Friday night I read Day 51, page 110 – “The Career Critic.” That lesson talks about a man who makes a joke about his new neighbor’s career. His neighbor, a music teacher in the public school system, teaches string instruments and has a few private yeshiva students that he teaches in the evening. The critical neighbor, Yossi, said with ridicule, “Well, I guess it’s like they say: ‘Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.’” Yossi then chuckled at his own witticism, expecting the new neighbor to laugh along with him. After all, everyone knows that teaching is not the highest-paying job. And teaching music? In Yossi’s mind that was simply not a serious job for a grown man. In essence Yossi hurt his neighbor’s feelings, causing onas devarim.

I know that in your situation, you are so frustrated with your sister that you probably feel she is causing you great grief. While this is probably true, in a very subtle manner you are committing a type of onas devarim by making her feel like a schlep – and basically inadequate. Please take my words as constructive criticism and understand that you are in no way similar to Yossi in the aforementioned “Career Critic” story. But the message that you are subtly delivering to your sister is that she is inadequate.

I wish you hatzlachah in this challenging situation!

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