A Positive Word

Recently, I discovered the works of the late Rabbi Jonathan Sacks whose writing has been a blessing to me. This is especially true of his book, “Judaism’s Life-Changing Ideas: A Weekly Reading of the Jewish Bible.

His reflections on Metzora were so timely for me and I believe important for everyone after a year like 2020 and the way that this year is trending so far. Rabbi Sacks distills his message about the power of our words to a smooth accessible sip of wisdom.

There is danger in thinking that we can be immune from the words spoken or written about us and others. He is concerned primarily with “lashon hara: evil, hateful, or derogatory speech.” He writes;

“The Sages spoke more dramatically about lashon hara than any other offense. They said that it is as bad as committing all three cardinal sins: idolatry, incest, and murder. They said that it kills three people: the one who says it, the one he says it about, and the one who listens to it.”

Those of us who have been wounded by words before, whether by family, friend, or someone else, can say from experience that this does feel right. We may not be able to speak to what happens to the person who says it, but we know what we felt/feel and we know that those who listen to it experience a death in their relationship with the person that is targeted by the word.

Rabbi Sacks does not want the reader to merely name the darkness, but invites us to consider an alternative. Create an environment that is open to change through committing daily to speak a word of praise to others. He shares a power story about seeing peoples’ relationships and marriages transformed by committing to the daily practice of saying one positive thing to the people in the relationships that matter to you.

“Once a day, usually at the end of the day, they must each praise the other for something the other has done that day, no matter how small: an act, a word, a gesture that was kind, sensitive, generous, or thoughtful. The praise must be focused on that one act, not generalised. It must be genuine; it must come from the heart. And the other must learn to accept the praise.”

Why is this so useful?

If anyone or any organization wants to work on something together then there has to be a willingness to contribute and receive with an open heart. If we are disingenuous or fake about our intent to collaborate then this will not work.

It takes two parties fully engaged in the process.

If the two are willing, no matter how risky or awkward it is in the beginning the results will astound us. We can build together rather than guard ourselves and take one another down.

I am so grateful to Rabbi Sacks for his wisdom. I hope you are blessed by this brief summary of his writing and I encourage you to get his book “Judaism’s Life-Changing Ideas: A Weekly Reading of the Jewish Bible.” I pray that you will find people in your life who want to risk opening their heart to you so that you can bless and be blessed by each other.


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