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The Rabbi and His Admirer

Ann Spangler
Ann Spangler
2015 2 Feb

Joseph Telushkin tells a delightful story about a well-known rabbi who wrote several books about the importance of guarding one’s tongue and not speaking negatively about others (lashon ha-ra). It seems that one day the rabbi, known as the Chaffetz Chayyim, was traveling to a lecture he was supposed to give that evening, when he encountered a man sitting opposite him on the train. When the rabbi inquired where his fellow passenger was headed, the man replied, “I’m going into town to hear the Chaffetz Chayyim speak tonight. After all, he’s the greatest sage and saint in the Jewish world today.”

Embarrassed by the man’s lavish praise, the rabbi responded, “Sometimes people say such things, but it’s not true. He’s not such a great sage, and he’s certainly no saint.”

The man shot back, “How dare you disparage such a great man!” Then he slapped the rabbi in the face.

Later that night, when the man arrived at the lecture, he was chagrined to learn of his mistake. After the rabbi’s speech, he rushed over to beg forgiveness.

Smiling, the rabbi merely replied, “You have no reason to request forgiveness. It was my honor you were defending. On the contrary, I learned from you an important lesson. For decades, I’ve been teaching people not to speak lashon ha-ra about others. Now I’ve learned that it’s also wrong to speak lashon ha-ra about oneself.”1

The story of the rabbi and his ardent admirer conveys the truth that, just as we don’t have God’s permission to speak ill of others, neither do we have his permission to speak ill of ourselves. Make a promise today to stop robbing yourself of God’s peace by saying disparaging things.

1. Joseph Telushkin, The Book of Jewish Values: A Day-By-Day Guide to Ethical Living (New York: Bell Tower, 2000), 441.

(Image courtesy of ilco at freeimages.com)