Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Think before clicking "Send"...

Sometimes your computer can teach you a lot about life.

Allow me to explain.

The saintly kabbalists taught that the underlying theme of an entire Parsha is expressed through its name.

At the literal level, this week's Parsha is called "Send" ("Sh'lach") because it's all about the spies that Moses sent.

"Send forth men for yourself to scout out the Land of Canaan,"G-d commanded Moses. The spies were instructed by Moses to bring back a report of the land. And so they did. Unfortunately, though, their report was a slanderous one. The tragic consequences of this evil report are described in the ensuing chapters of the Parsha.

Rashi comments: "Why is the section dealing with the spies juxtaposed with the section dealing with Miriam? Because she was punished (with leprosy) over matters of slander, for speaking against her brother, and these wicked people witnessed it, but did not learn their lesson.

One of the major lessons of Sh'lach, then, is the devastating results of evil speech.

How does the name "Sh'lach" convey that message? What does the word "Send" teach us about the effect of speech?

That's where my computer comes in. You see, I have this seemingly innocuous little icon in my Outlook called "Send." It appears at the top of every email message I compose. I can type and type to my heart's content in total privacy, but once I hit the "Send" key, the message is out of my control. I can no longer modify or erase it. It's out there floating in Cyberspace, getting instantaneously sent to someone's email server. The recipient will get it exactly the way it appeared when I clicked "Send."

Did you ever click "Send" prematurely, before editing your message? Or perhaps you regretted what you wrote or how you wrote it? Too late now.

I once composed a private message intended for a certain individual. Somehow, however, I erroneously addressed it to several hundred recipients, and only became aware of this oversight after having clicked "Send." Oops! My erstwhile private information was now public. Thanks to that darned little Send button.

Much like the text we send in the present age of email and instant messaging, our spoken words leave our control once we say them.
Our words may be from us, of us and by us, but once they are spoken, they are no longer ours. Indeed, once they leave our mouth, they cannot be retrieved.

A Chassidic tale vividly illustrates the far-ranging consuquence of improper speech:

A man went about the community spreading evil gossip. Later he felt remorse and asked his rabbi how he could make amends. The rabbi instructed the man to cut open a feather pillow and scatter its feathers to the winds. After the man had complied with the strange request, the rabbi instructed further: "Now, go and gather the feathers. Because you can no more make amends for the damage your words have done than you can recollect the feathers."

Speech has been compared to an arrow. Once the words are released, they cannot be recalled. The harm they do cannot be stopped, nor can the harm always be predicted, for words like arrows often go astray.

On the other hand, a kind word, a blessing or prayer, can continue to yield results of healing and love, even long after they were spoken. Just as the tongue can be the most destructive tool, when used properly, it can be the most healing tool.

Think twice before pressing Send. Think three times before opening your mouth.

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