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Human beings are distinguished from members of the animal kingdom in many ways. One of the most visible differences is our ability to use the power of speech to communicate.
Perhaps it is that gift, the gift of communication that transforms a random collection of people into a community. A room full of people who don't communicate with each other can never become a community - an extended family - for each other
Being a community means that we speak to each other in ways that will strenghten our relationship, improve us as individuals, and deepens our ability to care and to do. Communities, in short, are really "speech communities". We implement our caring through our talking.
One of the central tasks of Judaism is to build a community among us. Building compassionate and sensitive communities is one of our most presssing needs. To do that effectively we must each foucus on how we speak to each other, and on how we speak about each other.
Judaism has much to teach about guarding our speech - Sh'mirat ha-Lashon. Speech which damages another's reputation, or which is an expression of malice or hostility, is called lashon hara , which literally translates as "evil speech"
How we use our tongues determines the kind of society we will live in. The temptation to speak ill of someone else - whether to vent anger, to consolidate a friendship, or to get even - is pervasive and enticing.
But Judaism insists that human beings must try to overcome temptation,that not every impulse need be indulged. The urge to spak ill of someone else requires channeling and restraint.
1.If you can't say it in front of the person you speaking about, then don't say it at all.
2.If you say something unkind or disparaging about someone, follow it up immediately with something positive and true about that individual.
3.If you are in a conversation that turns to lashon hara , ask "What can we do to help that person overcome or resolve that problem?"
4.Limit your conversation about people you don't particularly like
To speak to someone - lovingly and calmly - strengthens a community's ability to foster relationship and meaning. To speak negatively about someone to others creates an environment of skepticism and mistrust, in which we assume that others are saying harmful things about us because we are doing the same about them.
Let us resolve to work to becoming ba'alei sh'mirat ha-lashon - practitioners of speech that is healing, supportive and compassionate.
Mitzvot teach us to live our lives in such a way that each person can best reflect the Divine image in which we were fashioned.By speaking to each other,andby minimizing when and how we speak about each other, we will take a large step toward realizing this worthy goal.
Rabbi Leon T. Rosenblum has been the spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Shalom since 1989.