In today’s times there are many unbelievable things happening, many sad events, sickness, many tragedies, so much confusion, and we simply don’t know what to make of this!
Jewish tradition tells us that before G-d created the world He first studied the Torah and from there He created the world. In a very deep and mystical way, this entire world and its galaxies had a blueprint before being made. The blueprint is our sacred Torah. Don’t ask me where the Torah said anything about the design of planet Jupiter. But it’s there. Somewhere. All the secrets of life are hidden in the sacred Torah.
It follows, therefore, that if we were to find ourselves in the midst of confusion, we could look at the blueprint, see how something is made, and then fix the problem.
What I am going to attempt to do is present the Torah’s perspective and perhaps together we can end this massive world crisis and have a clearer perspective on life. But mind you, this piece is just the tip of the iceberg, as I am only entitled to write a piece of up to 730 words!
Our tradition brings the following line that G-d says to the Jewish People (paraphrased and shortened): “From all calamities and painful tragedies I can save you from … but there is ONE caveat: you must stay away from a prowling tongue.” Gossiping, making fun of others, putting people down with our cynical remarks are all examples of a prowling tongue.
That’s it. Simple. Please don’t ask me what COVID and a prowling tongue have to do with each other! I don’t know. But I do know that ancient wisdom is far more valuable than we can ever imagine.
Our Torah is replete with many examples and stories of controlling our tongues. Here is one fascinating example.
Everyone knows the famous story of Joseph, the son of Jacob who was sold by his brothers to the Ishmaelites, who was then sold as a slave in Egypt. Eventually he rose to power and became second-in-command to Pharaoh. About 22 years later he was reunited with his brothers and aging father, Jacob, who also moved down to Egypt from Israel.
Can you imagine the joy and excitement of seeing his whole family and spending time together, especially with his beloved father? It was surreal for him! And yet, in all the years that Jacob lived in Egypt until his death (17 years later), not once did Joseph visit his father’s home alone. Not once did he go out on a father-son walk or out for lunch. Not once did he play a game of chess or learn Torah alone with his father. And for the record, he probably didn’t WhatsApp him privately either.
Our Holy sages explain: Joseph was concerned that should he be alone with his father, then Jacob may ask Joseph what happened during those 22 years, which would then inevitably reveal the secret that his own brothers actually sold him. To avoid the brothers’ embarrassment, to avoid the brothers’ pain, Joseph decided to be in control of his tongue. He knew that the best way to do that was by never having alone time with his dying father. Bear in mind that we are speaking about our patriarch, Jacob, and his righteous son, Joseph, who have no interest in posting on Facebook or the Milwaukee Times about the brothers. But the slight amount of embarrassment and pain that the brothers would experience was just not worth it.
So, the next time we may want to make a funny line at someone’s expense, we should just remember it’s not worth it.
This attitude can save literally thousands upon thousands of relationships: our friends and coworkers won’t be hurt or insulted. Our spouses won’t be the target of cynical remarks. Our kids won’t feel discouraged by receiving constant comments about their not quite perfect performance. This would create harmony beyond our imagination!
A little homework: I challenge each of us, just once a day, to not let our tongue say something that might be hurtful or inappropriate.
If we could do that, if we could control our prowling tongue, then I can assure you that G-d’s promise would be fulfilled!
Rabbi Dov Smith is a graduate of the Wisconsin Institute for Torah Study.