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KJ Hannah Greenberg

Word Watch: Avoiding Baseless Hatred

I was advised to watch my words not so much to prevent engaging in lashon hara but because the person providing that counsel thought that I would be better accepted by my new peers if I censored what I spoke and wrote. In the end, though, I sidestepped that guidance since it’s always been important to me to stay focused on my values. Meaning, I opted and still opt to fear Hashem, not other people’s opinions. It’s beneficial to divorce oneself from manmade manacles!

See, decades ago, when I was the recipient of that “wisdom,” my family had moved to an Orthodox community from a nonreligious one. Hubs and I had wanted to incorporate more mitzvot, more regularly, and more easily. As well, we had wanted our children to be saturated with Torah. Accordingly, my spouse and I ignored that overseer’s direction.

So, that self-appointed, naysaying chaperone grew louder, claiming that even if we didn’t prize external validation, we ought to keep our sons and daughters’ “welfare” in mind. That worrywart urged that our children would be shunned if my spouse and I failed to conform.

I felt bad for that attendant. Yidden’s obligation is to conform to the mandates of Torah and of well-established traditions. We’re likewise supposed to model, through our (imperfect) behavior, how to treat everyone well and to funnel attention to missing, communal goodwill. Further actions, could, has v’shalom, be seen as condemnatory.

My advisor had discounted all knowledge that they had had of my family. Namely, they had overlooked that my boys and girls were raised on Hillel’s dictum, “do not unto others what is hateful to you.” Hubs and I had taught our children to build, not to destroy. We had imparted to them that whereas we don’t have to take on others’ choices, whenever possible, we ought to put up with them.

In view of our kind of nurturing, my kids learned to check their thoughts, words, and conduct. They knew to step away from goings-on that might be harmful to other people and to discourage false hierarchies of character traits. Besides, they appreciated that gossiping and fearmongering are poor investments of personal resources and that deeds of lovingkindness are far better outlays.

In other words, my kids endeavored to avoid prejudice. They had been schooled in how to ease themselves away from persons who manifest edit (those lessons were difficult but powerful when fathomed.) Blessedly, rather than being exclusive in their undertakings, my children grew into mitzvot constabularies.

All in all, nevertheless, theory and reality often differ. Like their parents, my boys and girls were hurt, when we first became Baalei Teshuvah, by the diametrically opposed classes of comments flung at us. More exactly, we were pained when observant Jews made derogatory remarks about secular ones. The same, we felt wounded when worldly Jews said bad things about spiritual ones.

Detractors were criticizing either who we had been or who we were. Both sorts of folks would have been better advised to work on their own comportment than to assess their fellows’ bearing.

Fracturing community has never led to good ends. Am Yisrael loses on both sides of the observance divide as long as we, no matter who we are or how we identify, invest resources in disparaging remarks. Consider how the strife dividing the once United Monarchy of Judah and Israel brought all survivors to exile in Babylon (it’s a pity when disastrous history repeats itself in modernity.)

There’s a reason why ill-spoken words in Olam HaZeh doom people in Olam HaBa. Our span in Olam HaZeh is brief. It offers no time or circumstance for narrow-mindedness. Essentially, we cannot actualize too much benevolence; even minute amounts of mindlessness can injure other people. What’s more, as individuals, not only are we obliged to enact mitzvot, but we’re also forbidden to think to, or, worse, to articulate assessments of members of the Klal. Abiding others is not merely a possibility, but a necessity. Our job is tolerance, not appraisal.

Hashem is supposed to judge.

Sure, we can (carefully) pick friends and places of worship. We ought not, however, to measure other Jews.

It follows that my family embraced and still embraces associates of all haskafot. Although we ask guests to cover up or to put on a kippah when eating with us, we, otherwise, request nothing of them. Plus, while my family elects to daven in halls featuring mechitzot, we know that there are other centers of gathering.

Hence, despite that former “dear one’s” well-intended warnings, I continued to make every effort to serve Hashem first with love and then with fear. Compassion never requires us to emulate our friends as all of us are Hashem’s creation and as all of us will, eventually, return to the dust from which we were fashioned. The entirety of Am Yisrael remains precious.

About the Author
KJ Hannah Greenberg has been playing with words for an awfully long time. Initially a rhetoric professor and a National Endowment for the Humanities Scholar, she shed her academic laurels to romp around with a prickle of imaginary hedgehogs. Thereafter, her writing has been nominated once for The Best of the Net in poetry, three times for the Pushcart Prize in Literature for poetry, once for the Pushcart Prize in Literature for fiction, once for the Million Writers Award for fiction, and once for the PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay. To boot, Hannah’s had more than forty books published and has served as an editor for several literary journals.
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