Guard Your Tongue – It’s Healthy And What’s In A Name? And Jewish Sharp Lines And Amazing Story From The Sefer “Veha’arev Na” And More
“Guard Your Tongue – It’s Healthy”
By: Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann
It happened in those days that Moshe grew up and went out to his brethren and observed their burdens. And he saw an Egyptian man striking a Hebrew man, of his brethren… So he killed the Egyptian man and hid him in the sand. He went out the next day, and behold, two Hebrew men were fighting. He said to the wicked one, “Why do you strike your fellow?” He answered, “Who appointed you as a dignitary, a ruler, and a judge over us? Do you propose to kill me, as you murdered the Egyptian?” Moshe was frightened, and he thought: Indeed the matter is known! (2:11-14)
Simply, Moshe’s thoughts: Achein noda ha-davar/Indeed the matter is known, refer to the matter of his killing of the Mitzri/Egyptian. He now had reason to fear for his life, as the matter of the murder had become public knowledge.
Rashi, however, quotes a Midrash: Indeed the matter is known – Moshe had been questioning the matter of the exile: Why must the Hebrew nation suffer beneath the oppressive hands of the Egyptians? Now, however, that he heard that Jews would, at the slightest provocation, speak Lashon Hara (derogatory gossip) about one another [the two quarrellers threatened to report his killing of the Mitzri], the matter became known to him – This is why the Jews had to suffer!
How powerful, comments the Sefas Emes, is the lesson to us about the destructive power of lashon hara. After witnessing two Jews speaking lashon hara, there remained no question in Moshe Rabbeinu’s mind as to the root cause of the Jewish suffering. Indeed, the matter was known!
The Ropshitzer Rav, in his sefer Zera Kodesh (parshas Bo) finds a remez (hint) to the concept of shemiras ha-lashon (guarding one’s tongue) in the word Mitzrayim (Egypt) itself. The Torah She-ba’al Peh (the Oral Torah, or “Torah of the Mouth”) begins with the letter Mem (the first word of the Shishah Sidrei Mishnah/Six Orders of the Mishnah is “Mei-eimasai”). The letter Mem, when placed at the beginning (or middle) of a word is called a “Mem pesuchah”, an “open” Mem, because, when written, there is a space at the bottom of the letter. Likewise, Torah She-ba’al Peh ends with the letter Mem (the last word of maseches Uktzin, the last tractate of the Mishnah, is “Shalom”). The letter Mem, when placed at the end of a word, is called a “Mem sesumah”, a “closed” Mem, because when written, the letter has no space whatsoever – it is entirely closed.
This is no coincidence. Chazal, our Sages, say (Chullin 89a), “What should be a person’s craft in this world? To make himself as the mute [in order refrain from speaking lashon hara]. One might think [that this pertains] even to speaking divrei Torah! No! Righteous words (i.e. words of Torah) you shall speak!” The gift of speech was given to us not so that we should while away our time with idle chatter, and even worse, with gossip, but in order that we should be able to converse and interact with others in Torah study and character improvement. That’s why the Oral Torah (the “Torah of the Mouth”) begins with an “open Mem” – When you open your mouth it should be in order to speak words of Torah. And it concludes with a “closed Mem”, as if to say, when you have finished learning, close your mouth, and go back to your “craft” of being as the mute.
But what happens, continued the Ropshitzer, if one opens his mouth to speak divrei Torah, and then the Yetzer Hara (the “evil inclination”) mixes in and convinces him to speak unholy words – words of gossip and slander? Well, what happens when you put the letters Yetzer (Yud – Tzaddik – Reish) between the “open” and the “closed” Mem? It spells “Mitzrayim” – the Egyptian Exile!
The Vilna Gaon, the “Gra”, writes that if a person finds himself in a situation where he has great desire to speak lashon hara and to gossip about someone, and he restrains and, so to speak, muzzles himself, this is much greater even than fasting and other types of physical suffering, which are known to effect forgiveness.
The previous Bobover Rebbe zt”l once noticed a student of his causing himself physical pain. When questioned, the student reluctantly admitted that he regularly did so, in order to repent for his sins. The Rebbe zt”l told him: “Do as I tell you, and you can stop hurting yourself, yet still achieve repentance from your sins: Hashem will test you, as he tests all of us, and put you into situations where it would be so easy, and satisfying, to gossip and speak negatively about your friends. When this happens, clamp down on your lips and say nothing. This is even greater than great amounts of physical suffering!”
The Bobover Rebbe, Shlita, explained with this the Mishnah in Pirkei Avos (1:17), “Rabbi Shimon, the son of Rabban Gamliel, said: All my days I have grown up among the Sages, yet I have never found anything good for the body except silence.” Mefarshim (commentators) question this. Certainly silence is good for the neshamah, for the soul. But why did Rabbi Shimon remark that he had not found good “for the body” except silence?
As we have seen, however, the silence which comes as a result of refraining from gossiping, even when it’s really tempting to do so, replaces even the most severe forms of punishment that one may need to suffer in order to effect forgiveness for his sins. Thus, “silence” is indeed healthy not only for the neshamah, but even for the body! Indeed, perhaps we should begin promoting shemiras ha- lashon instead of all the other nutritional fads!
What’s In A Name?
By: Rabbi Dovid Green
The second book of the Torah, The Book of Shemos (Exodus) begins by recounting the names of the Children of Israel who went down to Egypt. A separate more thorough count is related in The Book of Genesis (46:8-27). Nevertheless, the recount is related in this week’s parsha as well.
Rashi, the medieval French commentary, notes the seeming redundancy of the recount, and he explains as follows: “Even though it (the Torah) counted them during their lives it recounts them in their deaths to convey their dearness (to G-d) as they are analogous to stars which G-d brings out and in by number and by name; as it states in the verse “(G-d) Who brings out their host by number, each He calls by name.” (Iasiah 40:26)
We see from Rashi that the Children of Israel are recounted in order to convey love to them. They enter and leave by number and by name, similar to that of stars.
What is special about being counted and called by name? When something is counted it takes on a special individual significance. When the stars are brought out it is done by number (known to G-d), to give each one its place as an important part of the bigger picture – individually shining its own unique and intrisic light – but contibuting to the whole panorama of the heavens and its hosts. Each star “counts.”
Each star is also called by name. By attributing names to stars G-d is declaring their essence and purpose. The word in Hebrew for name is “Shem.” The word “there” is spelled exactly the same as the Hebrew word for “name.” The two words are related. What is “there” in the essence of the thing named is its true name. That essence is the potential in the thing. One’s name and his potential are one and the same. In this context realizing one’s potential is living up to one’s name. That is, utilizing one’s latent talents actively, and not leaving them untapped.
By the same token when one does not use his abilities, and expose his potential talents it is called “shemama,” “desolation,” also related to the word “Shem,” or name, except that in this case it is when one fails to tap the latent abilities.
One way that G-d conveys His love for us is by comparing us to stars and showing us that we count and have a unique and individual purpose.
The Book of Exodus begins by recounting our potential as a people. The book ends in our having realized that potential after the exodus from Egypt, and the building of the tabernacle, the sanctuary housing G-d’s exalted presence. We are a people who can host the Glory of G-d in our midst.
One story which illustrates this potential greatness is told about Rabbi Menachem Nachum Kaplan (19th cent.), known as “Reb Nachumke.” Reb Nachumke was the sexton in a synagogue of learned men in Grodno in Lithuania. He was extremely kind and generous, and he became the self-appointed guardian of the poor, the needy, and the downtrodden. Once a week he would cover the city of Grodno making collections which he would use toward his many endeavors to help the needy.
Once he came to the home of a wealthy lawyer who failed to appreciate the value of Reb Nachumke’s work. He spoke harshly with Reb Nachumke, basically accusing him of being a parasite, and then slammed the door in his face, nearly hitting him.
Unfortunately for the lawyer, his fortunes took a downturn. Being that the lawyer had many dealings with many corrupt government officials, suspicion was cast upon him in a particularly dirty deal, and he basically had to spend his fortunes on legal defense for himself. He was given three years in prison and he was forced to leave his wife and family with no means of support. As the man’s wife made plans to sell her furniture and take a small apartment, there was a knock at the door. It was Reb Nechumke. He wanted to know how much she needed in order to manage on a monthly basis. She gave him the figures, and he left telling her that she should remain in her home and she would receive the funds she needed. For three years the woman received the amount she needed from Reb Nachumke to cover her expenses and care for her children. When her husband was released, he arrived at home surprised to see everything in order and everyone so well cared-for. When his wife related to him how it came to be that she was able to remain in the house and manage, the lawyer was filled with shame remembering how he had treated Reb Nachumke. He went running to Reb Nachumke, thanked him, and begged him for forgiveness. Subsequently, the man changed his ways, and learned to appreciate Reb Nachumke, Torah observance, and the beauty of being charitable.
Learning Torah and performing its commandments has the unique ability to challenge us to rise up and excercise our latent potential. Through becoming accustomed to behave as G-d commands us in His Torah, we become a refined, second edition of our real selves. We begin to realize how brightly we can shine, and how special we really are. Just as the stars are unique, exalted, and shining bright, so are we when we work toward getting in touch with, and living up to our name.
Jewish Sharp Lines:
“Who is rich? He who is happy with his lot.” -Pirkei Avot
R’ Yaakov Weinberg used to comment on this famous line, “It doesn’t mean that a person should be satisfied with his lot. Only a dead person is satisfied. A growing person is not satisfied. Rather, the interpretation is that a person should appreciate his lot in life. And someone who appreciates his lot in life is, as a result, happy with his lot.
The verse in the Torah writes, “Is a tree a man that you should engage it in warfare.” Besides for the literal meaning which prohibits chopping down a tree for no reason in war, the verse is also comparing man to a tree to teach us that just like a tree’s purpose is to grow and give fruit, so too Man’s purpose is to grow and give fruit.-Maharal
“You want to live a meaningful life?” R’ Noach Weinberg once asked a group of secular Jews, “Find out what you’re ready to die for and then go out and live for it.”
“I wish my Olam Haba will be like R’ Akiva Eiger’s Olam Haza.” -R’ Leib Bakst zt”l
It is noteworthy to point out that R’ Akiva Eiger suffered much in his life, including the loss of a daughter as well as serious digestive problems later in life. However, the bond which this legendary Talmudic sage had with the Torah lifted him above his suffering.
“A pill may be bitter for a sick person; but one cannot call it ‘Bad.’ Sometimes, situations in life are bitter. But nothing which Hashem does can be referred to as bad.” -Chafetz Chaim
“Sometimes a child needs a bath. Yet, he refuses to take the bath. The mother hits the child after repeated commands are ignored. The child begins to cry. If you would ask the child, “Does your mother love you?” he would immediately answer, “Yes.” “So why did she hit you?” No answer.
We know our Father in Heaven loves us. Sometimes, however, we cannot clearly understand his ways. But, one thing is clear – He loves us dearly.”
“Greater is the power of a Yeshiva than the power of a Gadol Hador.”-R’ Chaim Ozer Grodzenski
Regarding the awesome legends which has over time come to characterize chassidic storytelling, R’ Menachem Mendel Morgenstern, the Kotzker Rebbe, used to comment, “If you believe they happened, you’re a fool. If you believe the stories could not have happened, you’re a heretic.”
“Man proposes, G-d disposes.” -Yiddish saying
To a critic of the unusually long amount of time required to study to qualify for a leadership position in the Chofetz Chaim network, R’ A.Henoch Leibowitz, the longtime former rosh yeshiva, replied, “Sending a medical student who hasn’t yet graduated into the field is sendinga butcher, not a doctor. The same applies here as well.”
“A person who runs after materialism is like a person who drinks seawater. The more he drinks, the thirstier he gets.”-Vilna Gaon
Someone once informed the Telsher Rosh Yeshiva, R’ Elya Meir Bloch, that his views on secular Zionism were turning away potential donors. Inresponse, R’ Bloch said, “My father never told me I have to be a Rosh Yeshiva; he told me I have to be an ehrlicher yid.”
“The Kotel is kodesh. The shtender, however, is kodesh kodashim.” -R’ Chaim Pinchas Sheinberg Zt”l
The holy Rebbe, R’ Levi Yitzchak MiBerditchiv, once asked his fellow Jews what they would change if they were G-d. Each one gave his answer, ranging from alleviating their suffering of constant persecution to providing for themselves a more fortunate lot in life at the economic end. After the Rebbe heard all the answers, he said, “Truthfully, I don’t know how I can make the world a better place. But I do know one thing – and that is that G-d is all powerful and mighty. If this is how He created the world, than it would be a fallacy to assume that there is something wrong with the current design.”
Amazing Story From The Sefer “Veha’arev Na”:
This story was publicized in the new volume of the book “Veha’arev Na”,
and it deals with a Jewish boy from Baltimore who was very far from
Judaism, and wanted to be accepted to learn a profession in a certain
high school. Standing at the head of the high school was a priest, and
when the boy approached him, the priest asked him if he was Jewish.
The boy thought to himself, “What should I answer him? If I tell him
the truth, maybe he won’t accept me because I’m Jewish, and if I lie
and say I’m not Jewish, maybe the truth will come out.” In the end, he
decided to say the truth.
When the priest heard that he was dealing with a Jewish boy, he asked
him, “Do you recognize the letters of the Hebrew alphabet – the Alef
Bet?” The boy answered, “No, I have no clue about them.” The priest
told him that he was accepted to the high school but on one condition:
“that every afternoon, after you finish your lessons, you come to my
office, and I will teach you the Alef Bet!” The boy, who really wanted
to be accepted to the high school, had no choice but to agree to the
At the end of the first year, the boy finished learning with the priest
all the letters of the Alef Bet. Then, the priest called him and
informed him, “If you want to continue to learn in the high school next
year, you will need to come to me and have a private lesson in Humash.”
The boy had no choice and again agreed to the strange request. At the
end of the year, after the boy learned all of the 5 books of the Torah,
the priest called him and told him that he could remain in the high
school only if he comes next year to a private lesson – this time in
Mishnayot. The boy again agreed to the request and throughout the
year, the priest and the boy dealt with learning Mishnayot.
For the fourth year, the priest called the boy and told him, “If you
want to continue your studies with us, you will now need to learn
Gemara, but not here – in Yeshivas Ner Yisrael of Baltimore – which was
not far from the high school. Rav Ruderman is the Rosh Yeshiva. He
will teach you Gemara. After you learn Gemara there for a number of
months, you can then return and learn in our high school.” Leaving him
no option, the boy again agreed, and approached Yeshivas Ner Yisrael to
Hagaon Rav Yaakov Yitzchak Ruderman ZT”L to learn Gemara.
The boy entered the Yeshiva and looked for Rav Ruderman. When he found
him, the rav asked him what he wanted. He answered, “I came to learn
Gemara.” The rav was very amazed since the boy didn’t even look like
he was Jewish. “Are you Jewish?” he asked. The boy answered
positively. The rav told him that he cannot now teach him Gemara –
“You first need to learn Alef Bet and reading.” “I already know them –
also, I already learned Humash and Mishnayot,” the boy said. The rav
tested him and he was proven correct. “Where did you learn Torah? Who
sent you here?” wondered the rav. “The priest at the high school,”
answered the boy.
Rav Ruderman accepted him to the yeshiva, and already after a few
weeks, the boy started changing his ways. The light of Torah had
influenced him and brought him toward good. He got better and better
until he became a true Ben Torah. After a half a year of tiring
learning in the holy Yeshiva, he was tested on a complete Mesechet, and
after he passed with flying colors, he received a certificate saying
that he succeeded in the test on a complete Mesechet. He ran to show
The boy thanked him since it was in his merit that he returned to the
source and grew in the yeshiva. “But I want to know one thing: why did
you do this for me?”
The priest broke out crying and after he calmed down, he told the boy a
“Many years ago, I received a sabbatical from work and I didn’t know
how to spend the year. I heard about a group of priests who were
traveling to the Land of Israel for a week and decided to join them.
“On Friday night, I got to the Kotel and when I heard Friday night
prayers, I very much enjoyed them. I waited there until the end of
“At the end of the prayer, a Jew approached me and asked me if I have a
place to eat on Shabbat. I replied negatively, so that Tzaddik
gathered me into his home. After the meal, he asked if I would
accompany him to an exciting Mussar talk by Rav Noach Weinberg and I
happily agreed. I was very impressed by the talk. I decided that
there is something for me to do on my sabbatical year – to remain in
Yeshivat Aish Hatorah, headed by Rav Weinberg. I informed my peers
that they should go on their way and that I would be remaining a bit
longer in the Land of Israel.
“During the year, I had the chance to learn Alef Bet, the 5 books of
the Torah, and Mishnayot. At the end of the year, I approached the rav
that taught me and told him that my sabbatical is over and that I must
return to my job. The rav tried to convince me to stay, saying, ‘After
you learned so much, it would be a shame for it all to go to waste,’
but his persuasion did not help. He requested that we approach Rav
Weinberg in order to hear his advice. Rav Weinberg also said that I
should stay, and it would be a shame that I should leave after I was
doing so well during the year.
“Finally, I decided to confess. ‘I am going to tell the Rosh Yeshiva
the truth. I am a Goy and serve as a priest, and I now need to return
to my work.’
“Shaken, Rav Weinberg heard this and responded sharply, ‘I do not
forgive you for the entire year that you wasted for us! We invested so
much in you for nothing!’
“I was stunned and started crying like a baby. I asked that he forgive
me, but he resolutely said, ‘There is no forgiveness for you, not in
this world or the next world!’ Eventually, he said, ‘Maybe, you can
get atonement if a Jew will by chance come to you and you will transmit
to him everything you learned in the Yeshiva. Only then would it be
retroactively clarified that your learning here wasn’t totally for
“And now,” concluded the priest his awesome story, “after years that I
waited that a Jew should fall to my hands whom I will be able to teach,
you came here. And in order to fulfill my promise, I tried my utmost
to transmit to you everything that I learned in Yeshiva…”
Story For Kids:
“The King’s Friend”:
The king had a fascination with outings to the country, and he would invite the rabbi so that they could discuss the kingdom’s happenings.
The rabbi had a way of always weaving into the conversation the idea of hashgacha pratit, divine providence, constantly seeking to connect the unfolding events with G‑d’s underlying presence and guiding hand.
The rabbi fumbled with the rifle, and a shot accidentally escaped from the weapon. On one of these outings, the king decided to go hunting. Accompanied by the rabbi, his companion of choice, the king insisted that the rabbi also hunt together with him.
Unfamiliar with the sport, the rabbi fumbled with the rifle, and a shot accidentally escaped from the weapon. A bitter scream pierced the forest, a scream from none other than the king himself! The rabbi had mistakenly shot the king, damaging his hand forever by shooting off one of his fingers.
Enraged, the bleeding king had his guards imprison the rabbi immediately, with swift orders to put him into one of the dungeon’s prison chambers.
Months passed, and the king’s injury slowly healed. His hand was getting stronger, and his desire to go on one of his outings finally made him plan a most extravagant trip to many far-off lands.
Throughout his trips, he missed the wisdom and companionship of the brilliant rabbi.
In one particularly exotic location, the king was warned not to leave the camp grounds, because hostile natives lurked. But the king’s adventurous spirit was sparked by the idea of seeing the area as it was.
The king was warned not to leave the camp grounds, because hostile natives lurked. On one of his forays outside the camp, the king was captured by cannibal tribesmen. As was their custom, they inspected their “merchandise” before cooking. They were alarmed to find that the enticing specimen before them had a missing finger. Immediately they declared it a bad omen, and discarded the king close to his campgrounds.
The king was beside himself with joy. The rabbi’s “blunder” had saved his life.
He immediately changed course and directed his entourage to return home. He had to speak to the rabbi.
When they arrived at the capital, the king immediately set the rabbi free.
He asked him:
“Dear rabbi, you have always spoken of divine providence, and how everything comes down from heaven for our good, and I see that here. But rabbi, I have one question: what was the divine providence as it relates to you? You were in the dungeon for months; where is the good in that?”
If I wasn’t in the dungeon, I would have been with you. The rabbi smiled as he answered, “Your majesty, if I wasn’t in the dungeon, I would have been with you, and the cannibals would have eaten me, G‑d forbid.”
“What lesson can we take from all this?” asked the king.
After some thought, the rabbi answered.
“Perhaps the lesson is that everyone is essentially a friend of the ultimate King, the Creator of heaven and earth. Since He is a true and good friend who wants the very best for us, we must have faith that all our experiences, even the seemingly negative ones, are really for the best.”
Two Great Stories With
Rav Moshe Feinstein
(1895 – 1986)
Rabbi Moshe Feinstein was one of the greatest Jews that ever lived in this
country. He knew all of the Torah (much of it by heart). People came to him from all around the world to ask him what to do and how to live according to the Torah and he always helped them. Reb Moshe lived to be a very old man and he was very respected by Jews everywhere. But, Reb Moshe never thought he was too great to help another person.
One time, a few days before Succos, the old shamash in Reb Moshe’s yeshiva was building a Succah. He was having a problem putting up the schach. The shamash came to Reb Moshe and asked him if he could send some yeshiva bachurim to help him put up the schach. Instead of asking bachurim to help put up the schach, Reb Moshe took a ladder, climbed up and put on the schach himself. What a valuable lesson we learn from the great Reb Moshe Feinstein.
Rav Yisroel Meir Kagen
The Chofetz Chaim
One time, the great Rabbi, the Chofetz Chaim, was riding on a train to his home town of Radin. At one of the stops, a Jewish man got on the train and sat down next to the Chofetz Chaim. The Chofetz Chaim said, “Shalom Aleichem, where are you traveling to?” the man didn’t know who he was sitting next to so he answered, “To Radin to visit the great Chofetz Chaim.” The Chofetz Chaim was a very modest person so he said, “The Chofetz Chaim is not so great.” The man was very sad to hear this old man say bad things about the Chofetz Chaim. “How can you say bad things about the Chofetz Chaim? He is one of the greatest tzadikim that ever lived.” The Chofetz Chaim answered, “I know him and he’s not such a great tzadik.” When he heard those words the man became very angry. He hit the Chofetz Chaim and changed to a different seat. As the train came to Radin, the man was very surprised to see that a large group of people had come to meet the old man. He asked them why they had come to meet this old man and they told him, “Because he is the great Chofetz Chaim.” When the man heard this, he ran over to the Chofetz Chaim with tears streaming down his face and begged for forgiveness. The Chofetz Chaim felt very bad because he had made the man so sad. He said that now he had learned a lesson. Just as we must never say loshon hara about other people, we must never say bad things about ourselves.
Filed Under: Torah
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