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book in Hebrew

Counting the Omer with

Day 16 — Limiting Conversation

Miyut Sichahמיעוט שיחה

By Howard Brill, Rochester, New York

Meg Ackerman, Addison, Texas
Meg Ackerman, Addison, Texas

The Sages warn us repeatedly that excessive small talk provides an opening to transgression. A key difference between wise ones and fools is that the wise are careful with their speech. Silence, Rabbi Akiva tells us, is the protection for wisdom (Pirkei Avot 3:17). Elsewhere in Pirkei Avot (5:7), we are taught to speak with clarity and conciseness, being careful to not respond impulsively, rudely, or beyond our knowledge. Our ability to talk to each other is one of the most powerful ways we have of connecting, but through speech, we can also do great damage. We are being taught to use this power thoughtfully, with awareness of its impact — to not treat talk as small.

Light, gentle conversation is a way of opening up connection. Humor can dispel discomfort. But being afraid of silence, of feeling pressure to fill the silence, can impede connection. Humor can drift into inappropriate areas, to sexist or ethnic slurs. Friendly sharing of relationships can turn into gossip. Dominating a conversation can be about … domination. Sometimes the first thought in our head is not our best thought — but our impulses, our Yetzer Hara in action. The Kotzker Rebbe taught, “All that is thought need not be said … how sweet the sound of silence!”

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