Day 5: Hod she’b’Chesed, Eternity in Love
Kind speech. Positive speech. Appreciative speech. Speech with good long-term effects. That’s what I want to talk about today. But I’ll get there in a bit of a roundabout way.
TEXT STUDY: Honour in Speech
Honour and Shame. That’s the topic of a student thesis I read today. (Great work, Iman Zandroto!)
Iman argues that Psalm 127 is set in a traditional culture that values a man’s honour. Such a culture values strength of mind and body. To gain honour, a man must use sharp wit to fend off insults. Sometimes a verbal sparring match takes place in public. Then, the audience decides who wins. They honour the winner. But they shame the loser. And they enforce their verdict with real consequences, social and economic.
Psalm 127 reassures men. If you honour God, your lord and patron, others will honour you. Enemies who insult you or your children at the city gate will never succeed in shaming you.
It’s an interesting interpretation, and well-argued. Iman backs it up by citing similar themes in other psalms. But I couldn’t help thinking about some dissimilar themes. Psalm 1:1-3, for example, tells us to avoid the whole witty insult game. “Happy is the one who doesn’t follow the advice of the wicked, or walk in the path of sinners, or sit in the company of those who mock…”
Psalm 34:13-15 also says that, but more directly. “Who desires life and years of good fortune? Guard your tongue from evil, and your lips from tricky speech. Turn away from evil and do good, seek peace and pursue it.”
The Psalms were written over many years, by many different authors. Of course they don’t all offer the same message. But the contradictions got me thinking about contemporary values. About internet culture and media culture, specifically. Here, witty sparring is the norm. Sometimes it’s funny. But sometimes jibes are meant to shame. And the audience, who cannot always tell the difference, jumps in to judge. The audience chooses a hero and a villain. Then, they heap praise on the hero. But they pour shame upon the villain. Their judgment carries real consequences, social and economic.
Sometimes the audience judges wisely. But often they lack information, oversimplify, and act on impulse. So, I try not to participate. At least, that’s my practice on social media.
My family of origin gifted me with great skill at the witty insult game. But childhood was a long time ago. Now I try to live into Psalm 1, and avoid the games. So, often I keep Psalm 34 in mind. In each new situation, I ask myself: What is the goal here? What kind of peace do we seek? Can I find true words that point to the good?
What do you think? In what situations do you see being critical of others as a sign of strength? When do you see it as a sign of weakness?
How do you feel? Do you ever push yourself to speak kindly even when you don’t feel it? If you do that, does it change the way you feel and think?
What do you do? Have you ever done a daily gratitude practice, naming things you are grateful for? How did you go about it? Did it affect your mood? Or your way of speaking that day?
How do you experience God? What kind of inner feeling do you tend to recognize as an experience of God? One that is gentle, or overwhelming, or powerful, or…?
About the questions
These questions go deeper into the daily reflections in the book Shechinah, Bring Me Home: Kabbalah and the Omer in Real Life.
There are many ways to explore these questions. You can: Tell a story from your own life. Give an example from a book or a movie. Write a poem. Analyze a concept. Offer a definition. Draw a picture. Sing a song.
New to the Omer? Here’s a guide to the theory and practice.