Beit Midrash

  • Shabbat and Holidays
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To dedicate this lesson

Words To The Wise


Rabbi Stewart Weiss

I wouldn’t exactly call it a "highlight," but one of the most oft-repeated prayers of Yom Kippur is the "Al Chet." No fewer than 53 different sins are enumerated, as we give our hearts a little potch as we silently admit to each one.

By far, the highest number of transgressions in the list – no less than eleven – result from mistakes of the mouth. Defamation, slander, swearing falsely, gossip, untrue talk, foolish talk, offensive talk; it all begins when we open those two gates – our lips & our teeth - & let our snakelike tongue out to wreak its verbal havoc.

So guarding our words, & choosing them oh, so very carefully, is a highly-recommended way to lessen that list of "speech defects" that afflicts virtually all of us (certain mimes may be ahead of the rest of the pack!).

But I believe that the problem is not only with the things we say. An equal or even greater problem may stem from that which we do NOT say! And so I would like to suggest three phrases – each of which consists of no more than three little words! - that can make a huge difference in our relationship with others and, by extension, in our relationship with Hashem.

1) HOW ARE YOU? Asking about another’s welfare is the quickest way to move out of "ego-mode" & into "care/share" mode. But don’t say it as an unconscious, meaningless nicety; mean it, & wait for an answer. And if the person you are addressing has recently undergone
an illness, or a trauma, let them know that you are genuinely interested in their struggle, & that, at the very least, you are prepared to listen attentively to their concerns.

2) THANK YOU. We are called "Jews" or "Yehudim;" the root of the word means "acknowledgement" or "thank you." Giving thanks, "hakarat ha-tov," is one of our most important qualities & responsibilities. It affirms that we are not an island unto ourselves; that we need others & they need us. We connect to others by the acts, large & small, that we do on behalf of them, & vice-versa. "Thanks" says, "I don’t take you for granted; I appreciate you."

3) I’M SORRY! We are not perfect; we make mistakes. We can be careless, & hurt people. A big person, a humble person, can "re-boot" a damaged relationship in an instant with these simple, apologetic words of regret.

So, on this Yom Ha-Din, I thank you for reading this; I’m sorry if I offended you, & by the way, How Are You?!
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