Friday, July 18, 2014

Sticks And Stones May Break My Bones

Generally, I refrain from perpetuating stereotypes. But this one I have actual proof of: Women like to talk. We bounce ideas off each other about everything from dinner ideas to fashion tips to career moves. We talk about politics and share philosophies, we vent, advise, and criticize. 
But we never speak loshon horah, of course.
In fact, out of the ten levels of speech gifted to the world, the female section grabbed nine, leaving only one for males to use. 

Women also speak more quickly than men do, devote more brainpower to chit-chat, and actually get a buzz out of hearing their own voices.
Basically, women were created with an eight-lane superhighway for processing and expressing emotion, while men have just a small country road. With cool tractors.

This is why I wasn't surprised to find that while the parsha discusses the concept of nedarim, making and breaking promises, it references women more than men. 
Of course men have also been noted to speak without thinking, but womens' tongues are usually looser.

Parshas Matos speaks about words. About making promises. And about the consequences of breaking them.

Let's talk about words for a minute.

The main thing that differentiates a human being from an animal is the power of speech. While most animals can communicate as a survival mechanism, no one other than mankind can creatively communicate or express a philosophical query. 
Speech is also what connects the spiritual world with the physical. 
And, speech transforms abstract thoughts into reality.

Speech is holy. It is the tool of creation. Through speech we can build individuals- with praise and encouragement. By making others feel important, we instill in them confidence and dignity, making them feel that their existence is necessary and their presence is significant.

But, the greater the potential for construction, the greater its power for destruction. 
Speech can also be very unholy. It can be used to destroy. By making someone feel worthless, we can wipe out their self esteem and shatter their dignity. 

Gossip, rumors, accusations being spread without being confirmed can tear apart relationships, families, reputations, and even entire communities.

We all love the invention of the internet and the creation of social media. There are many pros to living in our era; an era in which it is of more significance to have a million twitter followers than a million dollars. So much chessed has been achieved through it- thousands of people across the globe praying for someone in need of prayer, collecting tzeddaka for those in need, organizing food, events, activities to benefit others. Many friendships have developed, support groups created, so much Torah shared, and just so many positive, life altering connections have been made. 

But with everything good, there is an equal potential for bad.
How can we blindly believe one sided, bias articles that circulate social media? People are constantly spreading stories that catch their attention without realizing that the internet, and especially social media sites, are the number one platform for exposing whatever personal agenda the author may have. Because the writer knows that if it's something sensational or something that pulls at the heartstrings, the public will eat it up. And we will always have people who believe the underdog, even when the underdog is the one in the wrong.

When we read an online article slamming another individual, we need to do our own objective research before believing it. 
Do we realize that loshon horah is far worse a crime than what many of these culprits are being blamed for? We need to take extreme caution before spreading these vicious rumors. 

There's another thing Ive noticed about our era that can have the ability to be absolutely constructive, but instead, is often absolutely destructive.

The benefit to chatting with people on social media, or through text, over chatting with them in person, is the extra moment we have to filter what we say. We have the ability to proofread what we want to say before clicking 'send'. 
So, why don't we? Why are we sometimes nasty instead? People tend to be even nastier online than they would be in real life, since they're hiding behind a screen.
It should be the opposite. You have a hard time complimenting someone to their face? Try it through text. This is what technology was created for; to help us grow. To become better versions of ourselves.

There's an old saying, "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me."
This expression is incorrect. 
I wudda written, "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will send me to therapy for the rest of my life."

One second. How'd we get into all that? We just got blown away on a huge tangent. I must be a woman.

Let's get back to promises.
The possuk tells us, Lo yachel devaro, which rashi explains to mean- if you don't keep your word, you become profane. By not keeping your word, you are taking something that's holy out of its holiness.
The opposite is true, too. By keeping your word, you become holy.
Sticking to your words, following through with your promises, are what consecrates you, or defiles you.

People who keep their word are reliable, respectable, and trustworthy. They are people of integrity. It means that they value themselves as well as others, creating a healthy level of self worth. Keeping your word means being true to yourself. 

If you have a problem keeping your word, or if you are unable to use the power of speech positively, when there is so much good that can come from it, you might want to explore why.

And now, story time.

Once upon a time, there was a wealthy man. One day, while sitting in his study arranging his accounts, his young son came up to him, asking him for money to buy a candy.
He handed him a gold coin.
The boy goes out and returns, happily licking his treat. When his father asked for the change, he replied that he didn't get any.

The man went down to the grocery to inquire about it.
The store owner said he did not receive a gold coin from the boy; it was copper one, and as an argument ensued, they each maintained their positions.

Seeing as they were unable to reach an agreement, they took their case to beis din, who ruled that the proprietor has to swear that he did not receive a gold coin from the boy.

The plaintiff objected, stating that he doesn't want him swearing falsely and requested that they dismiss the case.
Case dismissed.
But then....the people started talking. Very soon the story was buzzing all over the city, and no one wanted to have anything to do with a lying crook.
So, they boycotted his store, he was scorned in shul, his kids were bullied in school, and his wife was pointed at and whispered about at the store.

Penniless, and with no dignity left, he packed up his family and sadly said good bye to the place he had lived in since birth, to the only place his family knew as home, in hopes of starting all over in a new environment.

A few months pass. The wealthy man received a heavy envelope in the mail. Opening it, he came face to face with a gold coin and a letter.
In it was an apology from an unknown man, admitting to stealing a gold coin from him a few months back, and is now repaying that debt.

He explained that he had been in a grave financial predicament and as he walked passed his home one day, he noticed the man's son playing with a gold coin. He rationalized that if this homeowner is so wealthy that his son can sit and play with a gold coin, he surely won't miss it for a few months, and he exchanged his copper coin for the gold one.

Realizing what had happened, it was apparent that the grocer was innocent, and had been telling the truth all along.
But...too little, too late.

So, who's to blame for the dreadful turn of events in the grocer's life?
Whose fault was it that his reputation was destroyed, that he lost his job his home, and his dignity?

Was it the fault of the rich man?
The grocer?
The boy?
The thief?

None of the above.
The blame goes to the people who spoke the loshon hora. It goes to those who gossiped and spread rumors about something they knew nothing about.

Please, my dear friends, let's be careful. Social media has the potential to be responsible for some amazing accomplishments.
But it also has the power to destroy people in ways we cannot even imagine.
And when that happens, there's no one to blame but we, the people.

Have a beautiful shabbos!