The Israeli elections have not (yet) produced a clear winner. I can understand that a more right leaning government may be formed, given what Israel sees on almost every border, but I have also pretty much lost confidence in Netanyahu’s leadership. We shall see.
Last Wednesday I announced the morphing of this column as retirement nears. In Letterman (yes I misspelled it) style I said I would share my ten favorite It’s Wednesdays, beginning with the very first one. The only problem was that I had lost the first one and all the first three years of the column, which made it hard to reproduce the first one except in approximate form. Congregant Allen Lerman saved the day, having not deleted a single one of them (or much else) all these years. He copied them into word files and I have saved them now in six different media. I (and you?) am in his debt. So here is number one, from early March 2005, the first of 400-450 that would follow.
Shalom [you notice that Boker Tov didn’t happen right away?]:
This past Shabbat, I talked about gold. Gold was used to build the Mishkan, the portable worship place of the Israelites in their Wilderness journey. But some of their gold was also used to make the Golden Calf, just a little earlier in the narrative. From this we learn that things can be used for good or bad. Scientific inventions, emotions (eg. anger), even life circumstances, can have positive or negative uses. What’s important is not what we have or don’t have, or what others do, but how we react.
In my charge to the Bat Mitzvah, Gina Amsellem, I then talked about words, because maybe nothing has as much power for good or evil as words. The Bible said it long ago (Proverbs 18:21): “death and life are in the power of the tongue.” God created the entire world by speaking. And with speech, we humans have been given the God-like ability to create good, or (the converse) to destroy. One word, said at the wrong time or in the wrong way, can affect another human being for his or her entire life. A child shamed by parents, told he or she is worthless, will grow up with an overwhelming disability. A word of gossip can forever tarnish a reputation. That is why any system of ethics usually begins with the warning to do no harm, particularly with our tongues.
Gossip is the biggest issue here. To say something negative about another person can sometimes carry consequences we cannot imagine. It is always improper, even if it is true. We all know the story of the kid who spread gossip. The kid feels regret and goes to the rabbi to ask for forgiveness. The rabbi says, “I have listened to you and will accept your teshuvah as genuine. But there is one thing you must do. Bring me a feather pillow.” The kid is puzzled but follows the rabbi’s directions. “Now I want you to cut open the pillow and scatter the feathers to the wind.” The kid is even more puzzled, but he does it. “Now I want you to gather all the feathers.” “That is impossible!” says the kid. “So it is with gossip,” the rabbi replies.
Few of us can get through an entire day without gossip, and it can be so harmful. So, I have been thinking about that a lot lately. Rabbi Joseph Telushkin has written many books, one of which is the book Words that Hurt, Words that Heal. Teluskin has called for a day to hold our tongues and avoid any gossip. I wonder how many of us could meet the challenge and go through an entire day saying nothing negative about anybody? How many of us can search for the good, and find only positive things to say about others? Maybe it’s time to see, right here.
So, I announced last Shabbat a campaign among our membership for Shemirat HaLashon (literally “guarding the tongue”), for avoidance of gossip. I said we are choosing a weekday – Wednesday seems good – a day, from morning to night, for holding our tongues and avoiding gossip. I said we will go till the summer, as a trial. And I concluded by saying that I know this is not easy. For any of us. Me too. But it’s a great goal. To help heal the world through our words. And if not now, when?
This is the kickoff. I will be reminding all of us of this campaign. Each week. The goal of course is that we not only avoid gossip for one day of the week, for three-four months, but ultimately that we become gossip-free most or all of the time. I think we know that is the right path. We just need to be reminded to get on the path and stay on it. Rabbi Bill Rudolph
That was the launch. I kept writing and reminding, and you wrote back. Once we exhausted that topic, and there was no more gossip, It’s Wednesday moved to other themes and ultimately to whatever was on my mind the Monday that I started working on the column for that week. A lot of people speak to me about the columns, which have become my major impact point for many congregants not to mention their relatives to whom they send it. Ten years later, it’s fun to ponder this modest start.
One of the best parts was always what you wrote back. Sometimes the whole column was your responses to something I wrote. Gossip got some of the best comments of them all. One that Allen preserved for me is worth sharing now. When the listserv notices go out, usually there are a few “Out of Office” replies. After a while I noticed that congregant D seemed almost always out of his office, and wrote back to him asking if I could have a job like his, or if he was doing undercover work abroad. Here was his response:
“As with all things (except theology), there is a good explanation for my many Out of Office replies. Every week since you began your campaign, I have tried not to gossip on Wednesdays. But to no avail. So now I just don’t come in on Wednesdays and I seem to have the problem licked.”
Number 9 to follow. Future ones won’t need all the context and will be much much shorter. In the meantime, have a great Wednesday. Bill Rudolph
P.S. Scolnic Institute Wednesday night classes launch this evening; pre registration not required. Israel Media Series continues with the film “Yana’s Friends” Saturday night at 8:00 pm. Women’s Seder, a wonderfully unique experience, is sold out.