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Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Arguing for the Right to Free Speech

Sukkah 44

Jane and Daisy came to see me distraught. 
“Rabbi, we need your help!  Mom and Dad are constantly bickering at each other.  They never say anything nice to one another.  We don’t want them to get divorced!  What really annoys us is that they’re always trying to make us take sides.  Whenever the other one’s not home, they’ll go on and on about why we should hate our other parent.  Rabbi, what do we do to save their marriage and stop this madness?”

On the final day of Sukkot, Hoshana Raba, we wave a willow branch, just like our ancestors would do throughout Sukkot in the Holy Temple.

Rabbi Ami offers three requirements for the mitzvah:
1. The willow must be the right measurement (tzricha shiur)
2. The willow should be taken by itself (bifnei atzma)
3. One cannot fulfill one’s obligation with the willow from the lulav

Asks the Talmud: Requirement #3 seems to be superfluous – if the willow must be taken alone, then obviously one does not fulfill one’s obligation when it is taken along with the lulav!

Our Sages teach that the four species represent different parts of the human body.  The lulav represents the spine, the etrog represents the heart, the myrtles represent the eyes, and the willows represent the lips.

If the willows represent our lips, then Rabbi Ami is providing us with an important lesson about the way we use our lips and mouth.

Firstly, what issues forth from our lips must be measured.  We must think before we speak.  Every word is precious and we must calculate what needs to be said and what should remain unspoken.

Secondly, if we have anything to say about someone else, it must be said “bifnei atzma”, which may be translated as “in the face of herself.”   It is forbidden to talk about anyone behind their back.  If we have an issue with someone, then we must discuss it with that individual face to face.

Thirdly, the mouth is connected to the spine via the neck.   Rabbi Ami teaches that one cannot fulfill one’s obligation of the willow (lips) if it is tied to the lulav (spine).  As long as we remain stiff-necked, or stubborn, we cannot make peace with anyone with whom we are in a situation of conflict.  We must separate our lips from our spines and humble ourselves if we wish to resolve disagreements.

As a human being you are bound to enter situations of discord throughout your life.  But if you remember these three key lessons, you will resolve matters swiftly and efficiently.   

You must learn to bite your tongue and not respond impetuously.   If you have an issue with someone, don’t go around telling everyone else, that’s not helpful.  Go directly to the person and discuss it with them face to face. 

And finally, don’t be stubborn.  Be the first to say you’re sorry so that you can resolve conflict and mend the relationship!  Just like willows fluttering in the wind by a cool stream, your life will be a breeze!  

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