“… be careful with your words, lest you be punished with exile, and you will be exiled … and the name of heaven will be profaned.” (Ethics of the Fathers 1:11)
Often it’s not what you say that matters, but rather what is heard that counts. This is not a new phenomenon; the possibility of our words and ideas being misconstrued, manipulated and taken out of context is a risk everyone faces when they open their mouth.
What has changed over the course of time is that our mouths have grown larger and the soap-boxes from which we espouse our ideas have become higher. People can, and frequently do, share their opinions and ideas with the world, although sometimes it’s hard to know if the author is informed or not.
With great power comes great responsibility. If you are going to say something in the public domain, make sure it’s clear. Provocative headlines may draw an audience, but they are accompanied by significant risk.
Two cases in point have generated a devastating public outcry against Israel in general and the Jewish nation in particular. Both cases are blogs written by lay-people, not people of title or position, but the damage they have wrought is immense.
I became aware of these articles by our very own news.com.au. The titles of these blogs are:
“When is genocide permissible?”
“Does this war make me look fat?”
Neither of the blogs is as inflammatory as their title suggests. (The first talks about the frustration of the “war of attrition” that has been raging for years. The second laments the difficulty of living indoors due to anxiety over falling rockets, and combining inactivity of underground living with emotional eating.) But the world sees the headlines and rightfully decries them as barbaric and insensitive.
To quote Rabbi Yisrael Salanter: “Not everything that is thought should be said, not everything that is said should be written, and not everything that is written should be published.”
Our words are powerful weapons that can be used in the promotion of peace, or as part of the destruction of war. Over the coming days our words will call out to Hashem requesting forgiveness, asking for longevity and prosperity, begging for security. Our words to Hashem need to mirror our words to our fellow man. We cannot present a golden image to Hashem if that same image is soiled in the eyes of our fellow man.
Elul is the time to ‘clean up our blogs’. It’s an opportunity to update our status from ‘feeling proud’ to ‘feeling remorseful’. A greater sensitivity to each other is the first step in establishing a spiritual sensitivity.