Improving Our Speech

The consequences of our speech are extremely far-reaching, demanding that we choose our words carefully.

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Why Joseph Was Punished

Ze'enah u-Re'enah then reports on the cost of Joseph’s tale-bearing, neatly assigning a punishment for each "evil report:"

"Yosef was therefore punished in due course with these three things. Because he had accused them of eating a live animal, his brothers killed a kid and dipped his coat in its blood when he was sold; because he accused them of calling the maids' children servants, he himself was sold as a servant; and for saying that they had had a close relationship with the gentile women, his master’s wife tried to seduce him."

The message of the midrashic interpretation of these subsequent events in the biblical text is clear: repetition of information that reflects badly on someone--whether the report is true or false--is wrong and subject to severe punishment.

The issue of gossip has fascinated me for many years. We all sometimes complain about gossip, and most, if not all, of us gossip ourselves from time to time. But I have found that the effort involved in at least attempting to hold oneself back from speaking about someone else can help anyone on a path to more ethical, self-aware speech and right living, an ideal to which we can all aspire.

Awareness of how we speak and what we say can direct our thoughts to more conscious verbal expression and more deliberative thinking in preparation for that speech. With such effort, one can hope that what actually comes out of one’s mouth is positive and more thoughtful. Ultimately, by being more aware, anyone can make an impact, and assist in the establishment of a better world.

A Step To Improve Speech

At this point in my own life, I can only say that I aspire to refraining from loshon hora. However, I was delighted to learn about a community-wide effort to curb the "evil tongue."

In the fall of 1999, some of the foremost Jewish philanthropic foundations banded together to discourage sensationalism and slanderous speech. They included the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies, Steven Spielberg’s Righteous Persons Foundation, Michael and Judy Steinhardt’s Jewish Life Network, the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation, and the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation of Baltimore

Finally, an effort toward civil behavior and thoughtful speech that has "legs!" These foundations will tend to decline funding requests to institutions whose leaders' "irresponsible rhetoric negatively impacts the Jewish community." In other words--you’ll be punished if you bad-mouth other Jews. What a wonderful, refreshing stance.

In an article in the New York Jewish Week describing this effort, the vice president of the Bronfman Foundation, Mark Charendoff, was quoted as saying, "We want potential grantees to understand there are economic consequences to one's language and behavior, and we’d like to see federations and other Jewish foundations adopt this kind of policy."

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Marjorie Rothenberg is the Manager of Major Grants at the New York Blood Center. She is the former senior writer with the Capital Development and Special Gifts Department of UJA-Federation of New York.