Many years ago, there was a merchant who traveled from city to city selling a “potion of life.” Rav Yannai, a great sage, sought out this merchant to investigate his claims and said, “I hear you have traveled around the world saying that you have the potion for life. What is it?” The merchant opened up the Book of Psalms, written by King David, and showed Rabbi Yannai the verse that reads, “Who is the man who desires life and loves days that he may see good in them? Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking negatively. Refrain from evil and do good, seek peace and pursue it.” (Psalms 34:13-15) The merchant said, “This is what I’m selling.” Rav Yannai became very animated and said, “I have read this verse many times, but not until this very moment did I realize how simple its message is.”
The kabbalists explain that lashon hara – evil speech – is the worst form of darkness there is. Evil speech is more than just speaking negatively about someone else, it includes those times when we say things in anger and even when we talk about ourselves negatively.
Which do you think is worse? Walking up to someone and slapping them in the face, or having dinner with a friend and speaking badly about another person. Slapping someone seems so much worse. So bad, I’m sure that some are appalled that I would even discuss such a thing. However, lashon hara is worse than almost any other negative action we can do.
Rav Yannai explains that the person who slapped someone can go through a process of teshuvah (repentance), which allows for the removal of any darkness that we have brought upon ourselves. Teshuvah is a two-step process; first is clearing the physicality of the action by asking the person we hurt for forgiveness. Second is the spiritual aspect, which is about bringing enough Light into our soul so that the darkness drawn by the negative action is removed. This process of teshuvah can be done for almost any negative action that we do, except for lashon hara, which is in a separate category of its own.
Rav Shimon Bar Yochai once said in reference to Creation, that the Creator should have given us two mouths. One we would use for day-to-day tasks and the other would be reserved for spiritual matters. By having two mouths, we could keep the one we use for goodness pure. (I know, ladies, more time would be spent choosing lipstick colors.)
Interestingly, the seed for pain and suffering in our world was planted when the snake, which represents the negative side, spoke lashon hara about the Creator to Eve and then to Adam in the Garden of Eden and planted the seed of doubt through his words. Because Adam and Eve listened to the words of the snake, they fell spiritually. Therefore, when we speak negatively about others or about ourselves, we go back and reconnect to the power of the snake, the seed of darkness of our world. This puts a shell of negativity around our soul that prevents any Light we draw (through our spiritual) work from entering it.
What the merchant revealed to Rabbi Yannai is that the prerequisite for any other spiritual work we do is to first and foremost refrain from negative, evil speech.
Our words are powerful. There’s a story about a group of tiny frogs that arranged a competition. The goal was simple: to reach the top of a very high tower. On the day of the challenge a large crowd gathered around the tower to watch the race, and cheer on the contestants.
The race began and quite honestly, no one in the crowd really believed that the tiny frogs would ever reach the top of the tower. It was a tough vertical climb and the crowd knew it. Statements and jeers such as “Oh, that’s WAY too difficult!”, “They will NEVER make it to the top!”, “NO CHANCE will they ever succeed. That tower is TOO high and they are sooooooooooo TINY!” could be heard throughout the race.
Soon after the race began, a few of the tiny frogs began collapsing, one after the other. The other competitors kept going, climbing higher and higher. But the crowd continued to heckle and yell their taunts and disbeliefs, “It’s TOO difficult!!! No one will ever make it! Why bother?!”
Soon more frogs got tired and gave up. The crowd was relentless, “Give it up all ready! You won’t succeed anyway!” more and more frogs were defeated by the climb. All but one.
One tiny frog persisted to climb higher and higher; this one just wouldn’t give up! By the end of the race, all of the frogs had dropped out and given up the dream of climbing the tower. All but that one, who, after much effort, managed to reach the top of the tower. Naturally everyone was astounded and had to know HOW he was able to do it. Another frog asked the winner how he had found the strength to reach his goal, but the tiny frog didn’t answer; he just smiled and beamed with joy.
As it turned out, the tiny frog was deaf. And he couldn’t hear the discouraging remarks from the crowd.
With mindfulness we can begin to shift our consciousness toward seeing the good in others (and ourselves) which will naturally change the way we speak about others. When we engage in lashon hara, we put a shell around our soul, and then all the Light we draw as a result of our spiritual work cannot even enter; it cannot assist and support us in our life’s process, especially in the challenging times.
The Rav often said, “Never let negative things enter your mind or come out of your mouth.”
After my son Josh was born and the doctors diagnosed him with Down syndrome, my husband and I were very careful to not use that label, because then that diagnosis takes on a life of its own. It becomes more than just observations of symptoms and spirals into a limiting of potential, outlining all that ‘could’ be or can be associated with it. We want Josh to be empowered to the limits of his inherent potential, not by a label or a diagnosis.
We should do our utmost to see the positive aspects of people and situations. Just as saying negative things about others is dangerous, so too is sitting around and constantly talking about how bad things are (or how bad we think things will be.) This creates negativity around something that may or may not exist. On a spiritual level, energy comes to this world without form, therefore the way we think about things and the way we speak about them enables them to manifest.
A slab of clay doesn’t manifest into something until a sculptor’s hands form it. Now, imagine spiritual energy as that lump of unworked clay. Our words & thoughts sculpt that energy, giving it shape, form and dimension in our reality. So when I hear people constantly ruminating about their problems and adding in how bad the situation is or how badly they feel, I remind them that all this talk is creating a more probable reality for challenges to exist because our mouths form energy.
I hope we have a renewed appreciation for the power of our words.
THOUGHT INTO ACTION
If you don’t have anything nice to say… you aren’t trying hard enough. Think of something positive and then express that.