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April 18, 2014 / 18 Nisan, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘Every Jew’

The Sword In The Tongue (Conclusion)

Wednesday, November 10th, 2010

In last week’s column I published letters from two women who wrote about the terrible ordeal from which many of our people suffer. In the Torah, such an affliction is called “onas devarim” – verbal abuse. While we are all familiar with the prohibitions regarding lashon hara (gossip), the prohibitions regarding onas devarim are less known. In fact, most people are not even aware of them. The following is my response:

First and foremost, yasher koach to you for bringing this very important but painful subject to the fore. There is a Yiddish saying, “Azoi vee es crystal zich, azoi Yiddish zich” – “As the non Jewish world goes, so goes the Jewish world.” There is no question that the cultural values and mores of our society impact upon us. In our world, we consider it “good-natured fun” to rank out someone. At universities we have hazing. We label people with nicknames and assail them with derogatory language; comedians make fun of others and everyone laughs. Should the victim of this abuse object, he or she is further assailed for lacking a sense of humor or not being a “good sport.”

Some students suffering from such abuse have actually been driven to suicide. In my work I have, sadly, encountered young people who fell through the cracks and abandoned Torah precisely because they were subjected to this abuse. Such incidents occur not only in schools but in summer camps as well.

Why are people so cavalier about onas devarim while at the same time recognizing, at least in theory, the dire consequences of lashon hara? While the devastating effects of lashon hara have had much exposure through shiurim and literature, there has been little focus on the deleterious effects of onas devarim. This is compounded by the ready acceptance in our society of such painful words as “fun.”

There is a well-known jingle American children learn at a tender age: “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me.” Our Jewish teachings, however, propound just the opposite. While we agree that sticks and stones can break bones, we are very much aware that abusive, hurtful language can leave lasting scars on the soul – scars that never heal, scars that can actually destroy individuals and families.

These abusive words can come in many shapes and forms – ridicule, innuendo, and even what people regard as good-natured teasing.

Then there are those who indulge in “fishing expeditions” very much like what the little girl in the first letter last week had to endure. Not only did she have to deal with the fact that her daddy’s business was no longer viable, she had to adjust to radical changes in her life – not the least of which was that she could no longer go to summer camp while watching her friends make their happy preparations. On top of that, she had to put up with the snide remarks of busybodies like the lady driving the carpool.

You don’t need a special education to realize that children whose families are suffering from the financial crisis are hurting and certainly do not need cruel questions like “How come you didn’t go to camp?” or “What did you do the whole day by yourself?” or “Is your mother working?” or “What is your father doing now?”

It is no wonder your little girl does not want to go in that lady’s car again.

Mind you, this abominable sin of onas devarim comes in many other guises. I know of singles who stopped going to shul because there were always some insensitive people lying in wait for them with statements like “It’s time you were married already.” And it’s not only strangers who are guilty of this but also well-intentioned friends and family members.

Some might argue that these people are trying to do their best to help singles find their mates. But this is not the way to do it. Those who are truly sincere can make a polite recommendation, but those who do not have any suggestions should remain silent rather than pour salt on an open wound.

But, someone is sure to object, how do we know whether they are still available if we don’t ask?

Well, there are ways of asking. Make the recommendation and if the young man or woman is busy, he or she will be delighted to tell you so. But under no circumstances should you barrage them with questions that highlight their single status.

There are other seemingly innocent questions people pose – for example, asking a childless couple what they’re waiting for. The couple may be yearning for a baby and it’s just not happening.

As I said, these are well-intentioned comments, but they pierce the heart like a knife. How much more so outright hurtful remarks like those described in last week’s letters – asking a mother whose child just went through a broken engagement for the gory details, or assailing a mother who lost a baby with insensitive questions, or staring at a special-needs child, thereby bringing tears to the eyes of the mother. I could mention a thousand and one other examples, but I think the reader gets the point.

There are more halachas regarding speech than any other commandment. Indeed, our laws are very stringent in this regard. Three times a day, at the conclusion of the Shemoneh Esrei, we beseech G-d to guard our tongues from speaking deceitfully. Every Jew should repeat to himself Psalm 34: “Who is the man who desires life, who loves days that are good? Guard your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceitfully.”

Children should be taught from an early age to be careful with their words and not to tease or make fun of anyone, for the tongue is a mighty weapon that has the power to kill.

Indeed, G-d created us in such a way that we are all protected from misusing our tongues. Just consider – every organ in the body is either external or internal. For example, the eyes and the nose are external, the heart and the kidneys are internal. The tongue, however, is both external and internal and is protected by two gates – the mouth and the teeth – teaching us that before we use it, we must close those gates and think long and hard, for once words escape our lips we can never take them back, even if we apologize profusely.

I hope these thoughts will reach the hearts of all my readers and we will all rethink the words that escape our lips.

Matchmaking – Not A Piece Of Cake

Wednesday, January 6th, 2010

As I eyed the delicious, calorie-rich dessert buffet at a singles event I recently attended, I surveyed the crowd surging around me, and contemplated what, in the scheme of things was harder to do – lose weight or set people up. Both are very challenging, require a lot of “will” power – combined with tons of resolve, patience – and most importantly, “pep” talking.

But the answer is a no-brainer. Matchmaking is in a league of its own when it comes to expending effort, time, determination, and at the end of the day, overwhelming stress – whatever the outcome.

The fact is if you put in the “hishtadlut” – if you do the “research” as to what is right or wrong for you in terms of what you eat, and make the obvious choices, you will lose weight. There will be “light” (as in less heavy) at the end of the tunnel. Not so when setting people up. In most of your attempts to do so, the only “light” you will experience – despite your best efforts, and all your preliminary research – is the kind that burns you.

I know that I sometimes have a “hunch” that two people may be a potential match, but when all is said and done, the hassle of actually getting them to even meet leaves me feeling stressed and very reluctant to try again.

But I still do – or at the very least I let both parties become aware of the other’s existence and then the rest is up to them, or if they are very young, their parents. I do so for the same reason I imagine homeowners shovel the snow in front of their sidewalks, because it is the right thing to do. Because it may save a life – or in the case of shidduchim, help create a life.

The Torah teaches that when a life is saved, it is as if a whole world was saved, for the Torah has in mind the children, grandchildren and untold future generations who will come into being because of that saved life. I think of my own parents, a”h Holocaust survivors, whose survival has translated into numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren – the most recent one (my new grandson) just days old as I write this. Had they, like their parents and siblings and nieces and nephews succumbed, none of us would be here. Six million by now would likely have been 50 million – or more.

Not everyone has the z’chus to be in the right place at the right time – to save a life that is in danger. However EVERY Jew who is part of a kehilla, a community, IS in the position to enable future neshamas to come into existence. Every Jew has the ability – even the responsibility – to help ensure the continuity of the Jewish people. All it takes is a few minutes of thought, talking to friends and relatives – and a couple of phone calls or even e-mails. Simple, commonplace acts that can have such an amazing outcome – the creation of “worlds.”

In these days of intermarriage and zero population growth in the secular Jewish community, with Jewish continuity an issue, can we afford to be apathetic, too bothered or too jaded to help the singles in our community – whether never married, divorced or widowed – build a bayit ne’eman b’Yisroel?

While the process of introducing people to one another involves much trial and error – even some real whoppers, at least you know you made the effort – and who knows – the two mismatched individuals might even set each other up. Each new connection can open the door to a whole new set of possibilities.

If I make a suggestion and there is some reluctance to go out, I tell the “couple” that at the very least – even though on paper the other person might not be what they are looking for – e.g. the wrong hashkafa, she wants to make aliyah, or there is too much of an age gap – that it is still worth a few hours of their time to meet, because if nothing else – they might know someone from their own group of friends who might actually be their zivug. Increasing one’s circle of acquaintances, expanding your social network can only “frontfire” – as opposed to “backfire.” I know of a couple who realized early into their first date that they were not compatible but who suggested a friend instead – and two singles were transformed into a husband and wife.

It’s not easy to keep on dating – and it’s not easy making suggestions that very likely are long-shots – and could result in hurt or angry feelings – but who said it was easy to “create a world?” If it was as simple as not eating a piece of cake, there would be no “shidduch crisis” but since there is – let’s all make the effort to “gain” Jewish families.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/magazine/on-our-own/matchmaking-not-a-piece-of-cake-2/2010/01/06/

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