Expressing the Good About OthersApril 5, 2022 - 12:00 am
The priest shall order that two live clean birds and some cedar wood, scarlet yarn and hyssop be brought for the person to be cleansed. — Leviticus 14:4
Each week in synagogue, Jews read through the Torah from Genesis to Deuteronomy. The Torah portion for this week is Metzora, which means “diseased,” from Leviticus 14:1-15:33.
Our ability to speak gives us an awesome power — but it also comes with a huge responsibility. If we aren’t careful, our words can inflict severe harm on other people. Gossip can ruin a relationship or even stop someone from getting a job. Hateful words can hurt someone so deeply that they can affect a person for the rest of their life.
Yet even though we know that negative speech is harmful, almost everyone has engaged in it. Have you ever had a juicy piece of gossip that you just couldn’t wait to share?
Stop and ask yourself why. Think about it. What is gained by sharing negative information about someone? The sad truth is that many people feel better about themselves by putting other people down. After all, if the person I am talking about isn’t as good a person as others thought, I am better in comparison, right? Wrong.
Gossip is just a cheap and destructive way to build ourselves up at someone else’s expense. Expressing the good about others expresses our humility. Speaking ill of others stems from arrogance.
Expressing the Good About Others
We see this idea in this week’s Torah portion in the description of the purification process from tzaraat, the impure skin ailment that, according to Jewish teaching, is caused by gossip and destructive speech.
Consider two of the items used in the purification ritual — cedar wood and hyssop. In the Midrash, the rabbis explained that hyssop grows very close to the ground, whereas cedar is a very tall tree. In the words of the rabbis, “Why is the one afflicted with tzaraat purified by the tallest of trees and the lowest of plants? To teach him that as a result of raising himself up like a cedar, he contracted tzaraat. Now he must purify himself by making himself as low as hyssop.”
One way to overcome the urge to gossip is to get in the habit of putting a positive spin on the behaviour that we see from others. When we do this, we express humility and compassion, which increases love and kindness in the world.
Your turn: Try sharing something positive about another person at least once a day. And when you hear gossip about another person, counter that speech with something positive about that person. Let’s train ourselves to only speak well of others.