Sweet and Savory

Elul Day 22

A spiritual director friend of mine created a series of daily reflections for Elul; here is today's entry:

Reflect on the teaching of Maimonides: Smooth speech and deception
are forbidden us. Our words must not differ from our thoughts; the inner &
outer person must be the same; what is in the heart should be on the lips.

There are many Jewish ethical teachings admonishing hypocrisy. This one, from the physician and rabbi Maimonides, directly addresses the theme of being our authentic selves in the world, and reflecting the truth of who we are in everything we do and say. 

Great attention is given to the power of language from various faith traditions. For instance, Buddhists strive for right speech;Jews warn against lashon hara (evil tongue). 

Esme tongue
Our words have the power to hurt others and ourselves, or to generate loving kindness. And it is up to us to be mindful of how we speak to one another, even to ourselves. This is not just about gossip: so many people say unkind things to themselves or about themselves, such as "I'm so stupid," or "I'm so fat," or "____________________."
 (insert your self-critical statement here)

When we use right speech or lashon ha'tov (literally "the good tongue"), we are honoring ourselves and others. We are bringing that goodness into the world through our communication. However, when our words are unkind or harsh in tone or content, we are sending that harshness into the world as well. This includes jokes or remarks that demean people through "off-color" humor, or sarcasm; furthermore, it broadens the concept of "terms of endearment" to include not only partners and beloveds, but also neighbors, friends, colleagues and others. We need words and ways of speaking to each other that cultivate connection and caring, rather than defensiveness. 

One of my favorite Jewish texts on this topic comes from Psalm 19:14–

May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of my heart, 
be acceptable to you, Adonai, my Rock and my Redeemer. 

Y’hi yu l’ ratzon I-im rey'fi, v’heg'yon libi

Lifanecha ha Adonai, Tzuri v'go'a'li
Ultimately, I have to be accountable to All that Is for the words I use and the way I speak to and about others. 

For Rosh Hashanah, we often say to one another, "Shana tova u'metukah," a good and sweet new year. May our words reflect the sweetest meditations of our hearts during this holy time and throughout the year.