This week we enter the final book of Torah – Devarim (words). Its name, which is also the name of this week’s parsha, refers to the many words that Moses will share with the next generation of Israelites in his final speech, doing his best to prepare them to remember and live all they have learned as they enter The Promised Land.
Words are extremely powerful. In this age of instant communications our words are seen and spread faster than ever before. They can make or ruin reputations in a matter of minutes. They can make peace or escalate confrontations.
What we say shows others who we are. How adults speak to, and about, others directly impacts the attitudes and behavior of children. What we say and what we write matters; our words can change lives and can impact untold generations.
Not long after this Shabbat, we mark Tisha B’Av, a commemoration of not just the destruction of the Temples but also many acts of destruction to the people of Israel throughout our existence. Many of these struggles started from words that passed along fear, anger and hatred. We are taught (Yoma 9b) that the Second Temple was destroyed by our own ancestors’ Sinat Chinam – senseless hatred of each other.
As we approach Tisha B’Av on Monday evening it is painful and yet critical to remember that hateful language and attitudes are still shared among the Jewish community. Some feel that “my truth” or “my practice” or “my perspective” can only be “right” if other options are strongly negated.
While it may be difficult to act with kindness and respect when others are not doing so, Rav Kook reminds us that the world will only begin to change if we approach others with Ahavat Chinam – senseless love. We must, we are taught, focus on the positive traits of others and the ties that bind us together rather than seek areas that can tear a community apart.
There is so much to cause us pain this Tisha B’Av as we watch our homeland at war; may we be able to come together to pray for a lasting peace. May we reflect upon our words and actions and commit to being respectful of others, seeking to celebrate all we have in common, accepting differences of practice and perspective.
This Shabbat and always, may the words we hear and the words we share always be words that bring honor to ourselves and bring our community, and our world, just a bit closer together.
Prior to her position with the Grinspoon Foundation, Iris served as a synagogue educator in Syracuse NY, the Central New York PJ Library Program Coordinator and as a national consultant for PJ Library.
Iris holds a bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood, Elementary, and Special Education, a master’s degree in Special Education and Reading, and Advanced Certification in School Leadership and Administration. Her experience as a secular educator and educational leader in congregational and community settings spans over 20 years. She is also a lay leader in Jewish organizations on the local and national levels. Iris served as the President of CAJE – the Coalition for the Advancement of Jewish Education, which was the largest member organization for Jewish educators in the country.