By Rabbi Tuvia Teldon
It is well-known that medicine can treat the symptom or the source of the problem. Treating the symptom will hopefully alleviate the problem, but it may be a temporary treatment, and the malady could potentially return anytime. On the other hand, when we get to the core of a problem and resolve it, we can trust that the problem will not return.
The same choice exists in resolving our inner issues in life. We often look for quick solutions to our inner conflicts, while we recognize that unless we deal seriously with them, we are only putting a Band-Aid on them. Mental health professionals are faced with the same challenge on a daily basis when they try to help their patients.
The Torah is aware of this dilemma and provides many alternatives for each of us to heal in our own way. However, we all know that some of our choices appeal to the core of our being and resolve our issues in a more meaningful way. Usually, this happens through introspection and hard work.
For example, take the prohibition about lashon ha’ra, speaking badly about another person. This is a serious transgression, to which the great Chofetz Chaim connects many commandments. Courses are given on how to control one’s tongue, how to catch oneself before one speaks negatively, and what to do if one made a mistake. Laws are written on how to handle sensitive situations, and people go to great lengths to restrict their speech out of fear that they will say something negative about another.
No doubt this is an admirable behavior and should be encouraged. However in the bigger picture, it is dealing only with the symptom, not the core problem. It needs to be accompanied by a sincere effort to get to the core of the problem.
In Chassidic thought it is explained that each Jew has a G-dly soul, and this soul has three garments — thought, speech, and action. These garments act as intermediaries between the person and the world around him. They express who a person is and give us insight into the true nature of the person’s soul.
In addition, we relate to the world around us through these three garments. Speech and action are very much an expression of thought. We speak our thoughts and act on them. When we only avoid a certain type of speech habit, we may be holding back on giving expression to the negative thoughts in our mind, but we are not doing anything to change the source.
The Torah commands us to love a fellow Jew. It doesn’t leave it up to us to decide to what degree; the Torah mandates that our love must be “kamocha” — a love just like we have for ourselves. Just as we feel our own pain and loss, we should feel the same for a fellow Jew. Just as we strive to fulfill our aspirations and reach happiness, we should do the same for others. Just as we easily overlook our own shortcomings, we should do the same for another Jew.
The Chassidic rebbes teach that the long-lasting path to avoiding negative speech is to cultivate this type of unconditional and overflowing love for every fellow Jew, each member of our extended Jewish family. We should strive to recognize the good core nature of every Jew and see each person as a G-dly soul in a sometimes soiled body, fighting a difficult battle with his evil inclination. With much learning and hard work, we can develop a tremendous respect and love for every Jew we meet.
This approach directly confronts the inner negativity which gives birth to lashon ha’ra, and undermines it before it gets into our garment of speech. With an ongoing focus on true ahavas Yisrael, love for a fellow Jew, we deal with the core of the problem instead of the symptom. We can actually uproot the negative thoughts and feelings which would often lead us to negative speech and action. The goal is to internalize this love to such a degree that the very desire to speak lashon ha’ra doesn’t even come into play.
Rabbi Tuvia Teldon is the regional director of Chabad Lubavitch of Long Island. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information and inspiration, visit www.chabadli.org or Facebook.com/RabbiTeldon to view his weekly broadcasts.