Photo Credit: Jewish Press

What would you think if you heard someone say to her husband, “I’m not going to talk to you today”? No doubt you’d assume trouble was brewing. Well, life is full of the unexpected, and even when a situation appears fairly black and white, one must still adhere to Chazal’s exhortation to judge people favorably.

Before continuing reading, I challenge you to come up with a positive interpretation of the above-mentioned statement instead of the obvious negative one you would naturally apply to it.

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Now for the explanation: Our holy books praise the practice of adopting a Taanis Dibur, a “fast of words.” The Chofetz Chaim, in his renowned Shmiras Halashon, highly recommends this form of fasting. He writes that if a person wants to fast (as a means of kapparah or self-improvement, for example), he should refrain from talking rather than abstaining from food, which weakens the body.

Hashem of course granted us the power of speech, but it’s important to remember that wisdom lies in using this power (like most powers) moderately. Chazal highly recommend restrained speech. “Mila besela, shtika betrei,” goes a popular adage. “If the spoken word is worth one dollar, keeping quiet is worth double that.”

Speech doesn’t always do it; intent listening can sometimes be more effective. That’s why the same letters that comprise the word “listen” (_____) lie in the word “silent” (______). Most people, though, like to listen to themselves more than to others!

There is a wise saying quoted in the name of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov: “The problem,” he said, “is that man learns to talk before he has mastered the skill of keeping silent.”

My son, inspired by the idea of a Taanis Dibbur, recently decided to abstain from talking for a day. Aside from davening and talking in learning, he would not utter a single unnecessary word. He double-checked with his wife to make sure the day he chose worked for her and that she could manage without him.

On the designated day, he left the house early in the morning, reminding her that he would not contact her for the next 12 hours, at least. Lo and behold, though, in the early afternoon, her phone rang and, sure enough, her husband’s name appeared on the caller ID.

Figuring he was having trouble keeping his pledge, she decided, as a good wife, to help him pull through and answered the phone saying the exact sentence I quoted above: “I’m just not going to talk to you today,” obviously with only good intentions in mind.

She would have given anything to be able to take her words back when she heard the impersonal voice of a stranger on the other end say, “I found this mobile phone and am trying to locate the owner.” She bit her lips. What could she say to a stranger to undo the impression she had created?

To make matters worse, she discovered in the course of the conversation that the caller was none other than a good friend of her husband’s. What in the world must he be thinking, she thought to herself. She really didn’t know whether to burst into uncontrollable laughter or tears. She couldn’t even straighten things out before the next day. Her husband, as you may recall, was “speech fasting.”

Hasty conclusions are not reliable. A myriad of alternate hidden explanations can shed a different light on everything we see and hear.

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Rebbetzin Miriam Gross was director of education and assistant dean at EYAHT – Aish Hatorah's College for Women in Israel – for close to 30 years. Born and raised in Antwerp, Belgium, Rebbetzin Gross today lives in Jerusalem where she lectures, teaches, and serves as a Torah-based counselor. She can be reached at RebbetzinGross.JP@gmail.com.