The power of speech and the havoc it can wreak has forever been a concern of our Jewish sages. They take talk seriously, emphasizing in particular the precept that a person should never shame another in public — likening that sin to murder.
As we recite the Al Chet (confession of sins) this Yom Kippur, the weight that Judaism puts on proper communication is clear: Of the 43 sins enumerated, 11 of them have to do with speech.
This year, like each year, those of us who attempt meaningful self-reflection will recognize where we have gone astray and ponder ways we can improve our behavior in the coming year. As the community enters into this introspection, as individuals as well as a collective, we hope that those sins related to speech are considered earnestly.
We live in a time where public speech has taken a wrong turn, a time when our tweeter-in-chief hurls vulgar, mean insults at everyone from the late Sen. John McCain (questioning his heroism) to LeBron James (“the dumbest man on television”) to former political aid Omarosa Manigault-Newman — whom he called a “dog” and a “crazed, crying lowlife.”
But our president is far from the only one guilty of these sins. We can look to those on the political left as well, some of whose comments have been equally outrageous.
Remember Robert De Niro at the Tony Awards a few months ago? He got a standing ovation for shouting “F— Trump!” Television comedy star Samantha Bee earlier this summer called Ivanka Trump a “feckless c—.” Joy Behar, a host of the ABC show “The View,” called Vice President Mike Pence “mentally ill” because of his Christian convictions. To her credit, Behar issued a public apology afterward.
While these are examples of public figures whose speech has gone haywire, they are not the only ones guilty of the sins of speech. It seems that we have become a society of insulters. Some of us post offensive memes on social media. Some of us refuse to even talk to others whose political views differ from our own, while others of us spread rumors — either verbally or on the internet — without bothering to check the facts.
The sound of the shofar summons us to do better, to work toward rebuilding our society into one that seeks to protect the common good, and to repair the divisiveness that has taken over our country and our community. We can start by taking heed of what we say, and how we say it.
May this year be one of healing.
G’mar chatima tova. PJC