“How many times have you found yourself … up late at night, or waiting in line … and inside your head a one sided trashing is going on; hashing and rehashing a conversation you want to have with an unfair teacher, a duplicitous colleague, an impossible boss, an annoying sibling or a frenemy. Over and over and over it turns and churns in our head. Nothing fruitful, it is something that will never be spoken. How much room it takes up in our heads! …”
This is my last Post of the secular year 2015. It is a time for all of us to reflect on our lives as the year comes to an end. Have we lived our lives according to our best potential or have we made mistakes in our relationships or in our business or in our family, mistakes of which we are still not proud. Are there incidents that we continue to replay in our heads, going over and over the conversations, imagining what we might have done, what we might have said if only we had the foresight, the courage or the wisdom to craft our words better.
The problem of course, is that these mental conversations we might have late at night, or during a daydream, can never see the light of day. We rehearse them over and over in the vain hope that next time we will take a different approach and say different words fantasizing that the outcome of our discussion or argument would be different if it were to happen again.
Now another secular year is about to arrive and we are still going over conversations from the past. What do these conversations say about us? Are we living a different life inside our head from the one that we live on the “outside”? Is the conversation in our head just wishful thinking of what we might do if we could really stand up for ourselves or is it a hope that one day we will have the courage to speak our mind confidently and firmly? What must we do at home, at work or with friends to be the same outside as we are inside without causing needless pain and embarrassment?
There are many people who read the concluding chapters of Genesis and understand each word literally as the results of living in a very dysfunctional family. People see Judah taking the leadership of his family and defending the honour of his brothers. But there is a deeper truth in the story of Judah and Joseph. It is a story of teshuva and forgiveness; it is the story of a brother who was ready to learn from a horrible mistake and to finally do what he knows is the right thing to do, even at great personal cost. In the story, we find the insight to begin to set ourselves free from the pain of our past. Even if we can’t say everything that we wish we could say, we can have the confidence to speak the truth and to live by our words.
This is a deeper understanding of the Torah. It is how those who live their lives by the Torah come to understand the stories of the Bible as the story of life itself. Through these stories we gain insight into our own conditions and discover for ourselves the path that will bring us back to a close relationship with others and with God.
If the children of Israel can find redemption from their great sins, we too can find redemption for our mistakes as well. We can use our words better in order to heal the hurt in others, to show how planned actions will cause pain and suffering in others. We can use our words to tell friends, bosses and family members what they need to hear, not what they want to hear. We can show those around us that our words and our actions are one, and we are proud of who we are and what we have to offer. We don’t have to enter the New Year carrying all the old baggage from the past. We know that we are basically good and that we try to do our best every day.
The Torah is teaching us that we can use our words for good, that the conversations in our heads can sometimes make a difference if take the chance. There will always be words that are best left unspoken, words that hurt and do not heal; words that incite rather than calm down a situation. There are always situations where silence is golden and words will only make a situation worse. Speaking our mind also requires the wisdom to know when we need to withhold our words as well as when we should speak up. The New Year can be one of growth and success, if we can use our words to build up the spirit in others.
May the secular year that is about to begin, be a year of health and joy for ourselves and for our families and may it be a year of peace for the world, peace for our country, peace for our community and a year of peace for our souls.
– Rabbi Adrian M Schell
(Source: Rabbi Konigsburg)