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by Rabbi Yisrael Pesach Feinhandler
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Keeping Quiet Keeps You Out of Trouble
And the diseased man in whom the plague is, his clothes shall be rent, and the hair of his head shall grow long, and he shall put a covering upon his upper lip, and shall cry, "Unclean, unclean." (VAYIKRA 13:45)
Rabbi Yoseph Pressburger, the Rabbi of Mattersdorf and author of Tiferes Yoseph, was walking one day on the street, when some gentile children ran after him and called him insulting names. He kept on walking and did not react at all, pretending that he heard nothing. A gentile passerby admonished the children saying, "Why waste your voices for nothing? Don't you see that he is deaf and does not hear anything at all?"
Another time, Rabbi Pressburger was walking with an acquaintance when once again the same children began calling him insulting names. The acquaintance became angry at them and lifted his cane to hit them. The Rabbi said to him, "Don't do that. Let me take care of the matter."
What did the Rabbi do? He turned to the children and said, "Listen children, I have a deal for you. Every time you holler at me, you will get a coin. Okay?"
"Y-Y-Y-es," shouted the delighted children in unison.
"Then let us start," said the Rabbi.
And so each of them hollered some insult at the Rabbi and he gave them a coin. The Rabbi said, "Again!" and they hollered again and got a second coin.
Afterwards, the Rabbi said to them, "Now, I will not give you any more money."
"It that case," replied the children, "we will not holler anymore."
And that was how the Rabbi rid himself of the children. (K'TES HA-SHEMESH BIGVURASO, p 189)
The Rabbi knew how to restrain himself, and this saved him many problems. In marriage, too, we can save ourselves much aggravation if we know how to keep quiet and control our reactions.
Rabbi Levi said, "We have found in the Torah, the Prophets, and the Scriptures that G-d does not want the wicked to have praise. Where is this mentioned in the Torah? 'And he shall put a covering upon his upper lip, and shall cry, Unclean, Unclean.' 1
"In the Prophets we read, 'And he [the wicked Gechazi] was telling of how Elisha had brought a child back from death, and suddenly the woman, whose son had been resurrected, entered the palace. She was standing with her son to cry to the king about her house and field. Gechazi said, 'Your Majesty, this is the woman whose child Elisha has brought back to life.' 2 Rebbe said, "Even if Gechazi would have been at the end of the world, G-d would have moved him aside and brought them [the woman and her child], so that that wicked person should not tell of the wonders of G-d.
"Where do we know this from the Scriptures? As it is written, 'And to the wicked, said G-d, 'Why are you teaching My laws?"' 3
Rabbi Yehoshua teen Levi said, "A word is worth one sela [a coin] and keeping quiet is worth two.', As we have learned in the Mishnah, "Shimon, his son, says, 'All my days I have grown among wise men, and I have not found anything better for the body than keeping quiet.,'' (MIDRASH RABBAH VAYIKRA 16:5) (YALKUT 557)
What is wrong with praising a wicked person? Why did the person who had leprosy have to cover his upper lip (i.e grow a mustache) and wear torn clothes? Why was Gechazi not allowed to tell of the wonders of G-d? Why does G-d say to the wicked that they are not allowed to relate His wonders? What is meant by the statement that keeping quiet is worth two coins? What does Shimon mean when he says that he found nothing better for the body than being quiet, when it would seem that quiet is better for the soul?
A wicked person and praise are conceptual opposites. Praise belongs to something of value, and a person who only lives to fulfill his desires cannot be compared to something of value. Doing G-d's will, which is the reason for our being in this world, is certainly worthy of praise. But someone who does the opposite of His will is far from praiseworthy.
Our Sages relate that the reason a person developed leprosy on his body was because he sinned by speaking lashon hara. 4 Because he was classified as someone who had sinned, and was therefore not worthy of praise, the leper was commanded by the Torah to go unshaven, wear torn clothes, and proclaim in the streets that he was unclean. These are all actions which disgrace a person and cause him to realize that his behavior was wrong. This process makes him aware that he must now repent. If he would have been allowed to dress respectably and remain well-groomed, he would have given the appearance of being honorable and would likely not feel the weight of his sin.
In the case of the wicked Gechazi, we see how G-d shows transgressors that their actions are not worthy of praise. The king had asked Gechazi, Elisha's student and servant, to relate an incident that exemplified the miracles that the prophet Elisha had performed. Gechazi started to tell the story of how Elisha had brought a dead child back to life. As he was relating it, the mother of the child suddenly appeared before the king. Obviously, the king preferred to hear the story from the mother rather than from Gechazi, and thus Gechazi was forced to stop speaking.
The idea here is that telling of the miracles of G-d is akin to praising Him. But G-d does not want to be glorified by one whose actions are opposed to His will, because that person would be hypocritical and insincere in his praise. To avoid this possibility, He caused the mother to appear at the exact time that Gechazi was about to describe the miracle.
The verse from the Scriptures is, "And to the wicked, said G-d, 'Why are you teaching my laws?"' This verse is much more direct. G-d is demanding here, "Close your mouth and don't dare to utter any praise to Me when your actions belie your hypocritical words!"
Since this message is repeated in the Torah, the Prophets and the Scriptures, we see how important it is. When something is repeated three times, its gravity is underlined.
People commonly think that what they have to say is clever and valuable. But more often than not, what they say just causes trouble, as Rabbi Yehoshua teen Levi pointed out when he said, "A word is worth one sela, and keeping quiet is worth two." Therefore the golden rule is that it is better not to say anything at all than to say something that might be harmful. The suffering of the leper that was caused by his speaking lashon hara is a striking example of how we can see that keeping quiet is more worthwhile than speaking.
Shimon tells us that it is the body which benefits from silence, to indicate that when someone speaks lashon hara he will suffer not only spiritually, but physically as well. The obvious example of this is the leper, who has a physical blemish which is a result of this sin.
Shimon's words imply that even if you are not fearful of the sin involved, at least you should fear the bodily harm that can result from that sin. This can influence one's yetzer hara more quickly, since it is more tangible.
Think Before You Speak
Keeping out of trouble in marriage by staying quiet is an excellent piece of advice. When you see something that bothers you, you do not have to react immediately. Think first if there is anything to be gained by your speaking. One reason you have a brain is to allow you to think matters through and sift out what is worth saying and what is worth keeping in your heart.
Most complaints and criticism are not constructive, but rather only damage your relationship with your spouse. For example, don't say to your wife, "You forgot to salt the food." You can quietly salt it yourself, as you will not be gaining anything by criticizing your wife. Don't say, "You are always going to your parents, instead of being at home." Instead, if it bothers you, do something interesting with your wife, so that she will want to stay home. If the house is a mess, instead of telling her about it, quietly pick things up and start making some order. She will understand Your actions, and appreciate them much more than she will your critical, hurtful remarks.
A wife can also cause damage by saying things thoughtlessly. For example, if she says, "Can you stop reading the newspaper and speak to me?" it hurts her husband. Instead, she can get his attention by showing him some affection or telling him something that will interest him. Saying to her husband, "Why do you always leave such a mess after yourself?" only breeds resentment and makes matters worse. Instead of that, she can say, "It would be so great if you would help me by organizing your stuff after you finish." If he has a habit that he cannot change, it is better not to mention it at all, but to learn to live with it, since every word will only aggravate the problem more.
Most arguments in marriage occur when one spouse disparages the other. Do not forget that anything you say is well-remembered by your spouse and can cause great damage to your marriage. If you have the slightest doubt as to whether or not you should say something, the best rule is always: Do not say it until you ask advice about how and if you should speak at all. It is not possible to take back the sting of hurtful words once they have been said; therefore it is much wiser not to say them in the first place.
It is always right to praise your spouse. Try to find something nice to say every day. Such words strengthen the bond between a couple, since they show that you care for one another.
Saying the right words to your spouse is very important. You very seldom go wrong if you think carefully before you speak.
1. Vayikra 13:45
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network