Daf Yomi Sotah 32
The Chofetz Chaim was one of the greatest rabbis of the early twentieth century. He dedicated his life to explaining the Code of Jewish Law and expounding the laws of lashon hara (gossip). He was once on a train travelling to Bialystok. Seated opposite him was another Jewish fellow and so he asked him where he was travelling to.
‘I’m off to Bialystok to see the Chofetz Chaim,’ said the man. ‘He’s coming to town, I’m so excited! He’s a big tzaddik (righteous man)!’
‘You know, he really isn’t anything special,’ replied the rabbi.
‘How dare you be so chutzpadik (impudent)!’ the man cried. With no idea he was talking to the tzaddik himself, he jumped up and slapped the Chofetz Chaim across the face and stormed off.
A couple of hours later, they arrive in Bialystok. There’s a huge crowd waiting to greet the Chofetz Chaim. Only then does the rabbi’s fellow traveller realize that he had slapped the great tzaddik! He gets down on his hands and knees and begs the Chofetz Chaim to forgive him.
‘What is there to forgive you for?’ asks the rabbi. ‘I actually really appreciate your gesture. You taught me an important lesson. One should never speak lashon hara – not even about oneself!’
Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai taught: A person should praise himself in a soft voice, but disparage himself loudly. We learn that one should praise himself softly from the “Confession of the Maaser” (where one declares that he has performed the mitzvah properly). And we learn that one should disparage himself loudly from the “Announcement of the First-Fruits” (where our grandfather, Lavan, is mentioned).
The Gemara asks: Should one indeed disparage himself out loud? Rabbi Yochanan quoted Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai’s teaching: Why did the Rabbis institute that one should pray softly? In order to avoid embarrassing a sinner, just like the Torah did not make different places in the Temple for the sacrifice of a sin-offering and a burnt-offering (so that onlookers would not know why the offering was being brought).
The Gemara answers: Don’t say that one should disparage himself out loud; rather he should express his distress aloud, so that others can pray for him.
The conclusion of the Gemara is that you should not disparage yourself out loud. Why not? Well, for starters, the Chofetz Chaim learned the hard way that it’s not a good idea to talk ill of anyone, not even yourself.
But, of course, the main reason you should avoid disparaging yourself is that it really doesn’t accomplish anything. When you tell yourself that you’re not that great, it very quickly becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Why should you bother trying to achieve great things when you’re nobody special? You’ve already convinced yourself that you won’t be successful!
Sure, from time to time, we all have misgivings about ourselves. But keep those issues to yourself. When you start verbalizing them, you’re giving substance to the negative energy. When they’re still only thoughts, you can allow them pass and be overpowered by the positive energy. Once you’ve spoken them out, you’ve given them power.
When Hashem created the world, He declared each creation and it became a reality. “And G-d said ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.” The Torah’s message is that He didn’t have to do anything beyond speaking. Once you say something, you’ve already given it life. And that’s why with everything Hashem created, it says, “And G-d saw that it was good.” He reinforced it with positive energy.
Was it perfect? Not really. We know that He created an imperfect world with a view to having humankind work at perfecting it. But it was good. And that was worth mentioning.
Stop disparaging yourself! Stop beating yourself up for being less than perfect! Nobody is perfect. That’s what you’re here for, to work on improving yourself. You can give that some thought in your own mind. But don’t speak it out loud. It won’t help you achieve the great destiny the Almighty has in store for you!
Only allow positive speech to issue forth from your mouth. Whether about others or even about yourself. It is the positive speech and positive energy that bring about great things. May you speak goodness upon yourself and achieve the great destiny you were sent to Earth to accomplish!