Photo Credit: pixabay

{Originally posted to Rabbi Weinberg’s website, The Foundation Stone}

While parents are reasonably concerned with finding the best Internet filters available, I find myself searching for a speech filter. No, I do not seek a bite piece that will prevent nivul peh, words that contaminate a mouth, nor a filter that can stop all forms of Lishon haRah, the vocabulary of evil, as understood by most as referring to speaking negatively of others. I am desperately searching for a filter that purifies the twisted Lishon haRah we use to speak of God: the positive attributes in which we unhesitatingly express our belief.


I recently received a call from a group of very observant twelve-year-old girls, who had serious questions about God, Torah, Shabbat, and prayer. The young women had asked their parents and teachers, and received vague answers that left them unsatisfied, or, even worse, “Because that is what we are taught,” and yet worse, “We do not ask such questions!”


After answering their first few questions, I decided that, rather than directly answer, I would guide them in finding answers on their own. It was a call about which I dream; young people thinking and seeking clarity. I could hear their excitement over the phone as they debated me, rejoicing in understanding, and relishing the freedom to ask.


All of a sudden, one of the girls became very serious, and asked, “Are we doing something wrong? We can’t tell our teachers or parents about this call. God is angry with people who ask too many questions. We are obligated to observe Shabbat and to pray. There’s no room for questions.” I realized they were uncomfortable being so happy while speaking about God.


They had been taught that God is Awesome, punishes evil, and holds us accountable for every thought and word. The young women never experienced Shabbat as anything other than an obligation. When asked, they admitted that never heard anyone say, “I want to pray,” only, “I have to pray.” They were terrified of God!


“Do you know,” I asked, “who was the first one to speak Lishon haRah about God?” They were confused by the question, perplexed by my reference to speaking Lishon haRah about God. I explained that whoever taught them about God without speaking of His love for them, whoever spoke of the Mitzvot as commandments without describing them as blessings and advice, had spoken Lishon haRah about the Creator, just as did the infamous serpent of the Garden, who implied that God restricts us rather than empowering us.


The Talmud describes God introducing Shabbat, saying to Moses, “I have a priceless gift in My treasury to share with My people!” The girls had learned the laws of Shabbat, but had never been presented with Shabbat as a precious gift. Shabbat as an obligation, not a gift, is Lishon haRah about God. Such teachings present God as the Demander in Chief, not the Grantor of Gifts.


One of the girls commented, “The way they teach us the laws of speech is so demanding that it is Lishon haRah about God. It’s scary. They should begin with teaching themselves about how to speak of God!”


It is for that girl that I am searching for a filter we adults can use to purify the way we speak of God. Perhaps there is one in that Heavenly treasury, ours just for asking.


Shabbat Shalom,