From the rabbi – a teaching and a request

Dear CBI community,

I’m writing with a teaching and a request.

There’s an old Hasidic story about someone (let’s call him Ploni — the Hebrew term for “John Doe” or “Everyman”) who engaged in gossip and slander. Word reached Ploni that the person about whom he had gossiped was badly hurt, and Ploni wanted to make teshuvah / to repent. So he went to the local rabbi and asked for help.

Feathers flying.

The rabbi took a feather pillow, went outside, and tore it open. It was a windy day and the feathers flew far and wide. “Before we can talk about teshuvah, I need you to bring back every single feather,” the rabbi said. Ploni protested that this would be impossible. “Precisely,” said the rabbi. “Gossip spreads like tiny feathers in the wind, and once it’s been shared, it can’t be un-heard.”

Halakha (Jewish law) forbids speaking about others — even if you think that what you are saying is true, even if you think it is harmless, even if you think it’s not a secret, even if you think it hurts no one, even if the person you’re speaking about would say the same thing if asked. Talmud compares gossip to murder, because like murder, gossip can’t be undone: it’s irrevocable.

Talmud also teaches that gossip harms three people: the person who speaks it, the person being spoken about, and the person who hears it. Talking about others — even in ways that might appear to us to be benign or harmless — is corrosive to community. There’s an exception to this rule if one is in danger of being harmed, or if one believes that someone else is in danger of being harmed. In that case, Jewish values not only permit but demand speaking out. But otherwise, talking about others is not in accordance with Jewish values.

That’s the teaching. Here’s the request: very simply — don’t talk about others. Don’t repeat gossip. Don’t speculate about other people’s situation, relationships, circumstances, Jewish status, or motivation. Turn your energy instead toward building this community. Join a committee, volunteer your time, dedicate your hands and hearts to strengthening Jewish community in northern Berkshire. This is a wonderful community, and it can become even more so if we all do our part to build it together.

If you have questions or concerns, don’t hesitate to reach out. I’m usually at CBI on Mondays and Fridays, and am happy to make an appointment to speak.

Blessings to all,
Rabbi Rachel

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