Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Rabbi Min on Shmirat HaLashon

Watch What You Say - Basic Jewish Value #14:  The mission statement of Jewish Family Service of New Mexico reads: “Guided by Jewish values, we offer targeted social services that help preserve and improve the quality of life for New Mexicans.” What are these Jewish values? How do they help guide the day-to-day work that we do at JFS? When new employees join the staff of JFS, they are introduced to eighteen of these basic Jewish values.

Shmirat HaLashon (watch what you say / avoid gossip). There is a well known Hassidic story about the harmful effects of gossip. A man went through the community spreading lies about a rabbi. One day the man felt remorse and asked the rabbi for forgiveness, indicating willingness to do anything to make amends. The rabbi told the man to take several feather pillows, cut them open and scatter the feathers to the wind. He did so and returned to the rabbi to say he’d followed the instructions. The rabbi then told him to go and gather ALL of the feathers. The man protests, “But that’s impossible.” “Of course it is,” replied the rabbi. “And although you may regret the evil you have done and truly desire to correct it, it is as impossible to repair the damage done by your words as it is to recover every single one of the feathers.”

Many JFS clients live in apartment complexes, nursing homes, assisted living facilities or other settings where a wide variety of people reside in closer proximity to each other. Living situations such as these are breeding grounds for gossip. Fortunately, the JFS Health and Wellness Team is able to bring activities, education, and field trips to people in these settings, providing positive socialization opportunities for the residents. In addition, our Care Managers help connect people like these with various services they need, reducing isolation. Other needs such as companionship, friendship, and assistance to people in their own homes are provided by JFS Housekeeper Companions. Such shared positive experiences, whether among residents who are JFS clients, or JFS staff members at meetings, help to counteract the tendency toward gossip.

At this time of the year, when Jews ask for forgiveness and set new intentions before the Jewish New Year (Rosh HaShana), it is timely to remember the Jewish value of being careful about what comes out of our mouths. Remember the feathers!

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