In this week’s Torah portion, B’ha-alot’kha, Miriam and Aharon talk negatively about Moshe’s marriage and express jealousy over who was the greater prophet. God rebukes them and Miriam is left afflicted with leprosy. Aharon begs Moshe to intercede on her behalf, and in one of my favorite Torah moments Moshe prays to God: “אל נא רפא נא לה” – “O God, pray heal her.”
There are two reasons why I love this. First, there is the juxtaposition of evil and good speech. Most gossip revolves around lengthy conversations that tear someone down. Moshe’s prayer of healing is short and to the point. The more we talk about others the more likely we are to stray into negative talk. Second, Moshe’s prayer is instructive. It is passionate, short and from the heart. There are definite times that praying as a community from siddurim with elaborately constructed poetry is important and meaningful. Still, we should also know that we can pray anywhere, anytime and with words and feelings that come from our hearts. I find that empowering and comforting.
Using speech for good and constructive purposes while staying away from negative talk is very hard. Very few people have mastered this ability. As both talkers and listeners we have a responsibility to strive to elevate our speech and use it to build others up.
Rabbi Ed Gelb, Director, Camp Ramah in New England