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Sunday, 27 July 2014

Sticks and Stones


Megillah 15

My daughter can home from school the other day bawling her eyes out.
“What happened?” I asked sympathetically.
“Malky called me mean!” she replied.
What do you do when your kid gets called a name for the first time?  Of course you teach them the classic chant, ‘Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me!’

What does Judaism have to say about name-calling?

Rabbi Elazar quoted Rabbi Chanina: Let not the blessing of an ordinary man be light in your eyes, for two men great in their generation received blessings from ordinary men which were fulfilled in them. They were David and Daniel.
David was blessed by Aravnah, as it is written, “And Aravnah said to the king, May the L-rd your G-d accept you.”
Daniel was blessed by Darius, as it is written, “Your G-d who you serve continually, He will deliver you.”

Rabbi Elazar further quoted Rabbi Chanina: Let not the curse of an ordinary man be light in your eyes, because Abimelech cursed Sarah, saying, “Behold he is to you a covering of the eyes.”  
This was fulfilled in her offspring, [as it says], “And it came to pass that when Isaac was old his eyes grew dim.”

Our souls have three faculties of expression through our bodies – thought, speech, and action.  We are all aware that our actions have consequences.  Most of us understand that what we say has consequences.  But most of us would be surprised to know that even our thoughts can have real impact upon the physical world!

Returning to the faculty of speech: Judaism does not believe that ‘words will never hurt me.’  Words, of course, can be extremely damaging.  In some ways, words are even worse than actions, because they travel much greater distances and can spread so quickly! 

You need to be so careful about what you say to others and what others say to you.  Rabbi Chanina says never to take a blessing or a curse lightly.  Every word that comes from another human being must be considered with great gravitas.  If someone has said something nice to you, no matter who they are, thank them for their kind words!  And if G-d forbid, someone says something not so nice, do your best to placate them, so that like the wicked Balaam, they’ll decide to switch their curse to blessing.

Don’t think to yourself, ‘I’ll just ignore them – if I don’t give their words credence, they’ll have no effect.’  That’s like having someone punch you in the face and thinking, ‘If I don’t take that punch seriously, it won’t hurt me.’  Punches hurt whether you want to acknowledge them or not!  And the same is true of words – don’t just dismiss them as meaningless.  G-d is sending you a message and the message might be to do whatever you can to help this person whose mind is clearly not at ease.  Do your best to pacify them and then ask them for a blessing!

You can’t get enough blessings in life.  When you ask someone for a blessing, you empower them.  When I go to the hospital to visit a patient, I explain to them that our Sages tell us that the Shechinah – G-d’s presence – is found at the head of an ill person.  As such, they have the power to give blessings.  I’ll then ask them for a blessing.  That is incredibly empowering – they think I’ve come to offer something to them; once they feel that I’ve come to receive their blessing, that itself has healing power!


Seek blessings from all whom you encounter!  Empower people to be vehicles for the Divine!  The more blessing you have in your life, the happier you will be, the more successful you will be, and ultimately, the greater blesser you will become!