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Rabbi Yitzhak, January/February 2010

This past month I have found myself called upon to assist with sorting through an extraordinary number of interpersonal conflicts. I have come to see in each of these situations how good hearted people can arrive at points of conflict due to a lack of understanding of the highly nuanced perspective or experiences of others.

Tradition teaches that we all have within our lives a world of thought, a world of speech. In the world of our thoughts we can create narratives about others that are incorrect. Often we build our world of thought based on false assumptions. We may at times even attribute motives for the behaviors of others. From this powerful incubator, the world of our thoughts, we give birth to words. It is at that point of transition from thought to speech that we are guided by our tradition to be exceedingly careful.

Words are seen as building blocks or elements of reality. They become established in the world and take on a power of their own. “Word” in Hebrew is “davar,” which also means a material “thing,” a reality. Just asHashem created the world through speech – “Let there be… and there was…,” so it is with our capacity to speak. Words are powerful creative forces that have the capacity to bring more truth, clarity, and understanding into the world, or to add to the confusion and dissonance of life.

When we choose to move our thoughts into the realm of speech, we have an obligation to utilize our speech as a tool of inquiry to test out the accuracy of our thoughts. This is best done by speaking to the person with whom we are in conflict. Repeatedly in my recent experiences I have witnessed the capacity for honestly spoken words to clarify confusion and to bring people closer to one another, increasing understanding and shalom.

Through these recent experiences, that have literally filled my days, and at times nights, I have had the opportunity to witness and to participate in processes that elevated relationships rather than diminished them, giving honor to people rather than disgrace, creating harmony where there has been painful dissonance.

I urge us all to be mindful of the worlds of thought and speech within us. To ask ourselves if our thoughts are correct or if they may have a measure of assumption and the possibility of distortion within them. I want to urge us all to be willing to address our words as directly as possible to those with whom we may feel conflict and to speak them with a healthy measure of humility, recognizing that we do not yet know the response we will hear. We may learn something surprisingly new and significant, giving us a deeper understanding, dissolving incorrect assumptions and bringing about a sense of shalom. This guidance from Jewish tradition will help us to create together a Kehilat Kodesh, a highly conscious community.

Rabbi Yitzhak