What We Say Matters

By Bob Ritter

One of the most fascinating things about becoming Vassar Temple’s President is how it has helped me to focus on the question of growth — growth of the temple, and my own personal growth.  The irony I am discovering is how much they are tied to one another. Personal growth starts with self-awareness and leads to personal struggle. So it is for the congregation too.

Growth isn’t always measured in numbers.  One way to measure growth is by how you feel.  Do you feel better or worse than before?  How can you and I feel better about Vassar Temple?  I am sure there are many ways, but this letter is about one in particular.

As President, I feel a greater sense of responsibility for what I say, which has made me more conscious of what others say as well.  Both of which have brought me to consider a very Jewish concept about speech.

There is a Hebrew term – lashon hara (לשון הרע or “evil tongue”) – otherwise known as derogatory speech, which is considered a very serious sin in the Jewish tradition (see Leviticus 19:16).  Spreading a bad name or gossiping (hotzaat shem ra) is considered an even worse sin.  The distinction between the two terms is that the former is based on true remarks and the latter on untrue remarks.

As interesting as all this halakhic discussion can be to some, it also gets very heavy.  So I will make my point.  We have to watch our tongues.  We can say things that build others up, or we can say things that tear people down.  We can find the good, or we can find the bad.  We can speak of growth, or we can speak of destruction.

When you walk into Vassar Temple, literally, or conceptually when you think of Vassar Temple, I want you to feel accepted, safe and loved.  No matter what!  Regardless of your problems, faults, or fears.  Do you?  I believe one way to accomplish this is for us to speak in ways that build people up – to say things which build OUR temple up. Vassar Temple will grow by creating an environment where people can grow.

Fortunately there is much to speak about positively, because many good things are happening at Vassar Temple.  Even more than we can squeeze into the limited pages of our bulletin, which is filled with the ways Vassar Temple is building up people’s lives.  Being a part of that is a wonderful feeling – a feeling of belonging.

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