April 19, 2024
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April 19, 2024
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A Time for Silence, a Time for Speech

Some people have a habit of getting themselves in trouble with their words. Hannah was one of those people. It’s not like Hannah wasn’t aware; she was constantly reminding herself to be careful. Hannah just had a hard time with thinking before she spoke.

One Shabbat afternoon was particularly problematic for Hannah. She and a few of her friends were out for a walk. The girls had been hanging out at Hannah’s house, but they wanted to get out for a little bit. At some point, the conversation turned to that night’s basketball game. The girls’ seventh-grade team had reached the semifinals and had a tough matchup with the top team in the league. Carly, the starting point guard, was talking about the team’s chances. “I really think we have a good shot. They might be fast, but they aren’t great shooters. We can let them shoot from the outside and hope they miss a bunch. We have much better rebounders, so I wouldn’t be surprised if we won by at least 5 points.”

Hannah nodded. “Makes sense. I’m not sure why Kira—” but then Hannah stopped short and looked up at the sky. Carly frowned. “You’re not sure why Kira what?” “Nothing. Forget it. I was thinking about something else.” Carly wasn’t convinced. “Kira thinks we will lose, huh?” Hannah shook her head back and forth. “No, no, no. Kira likes you too much to say that. She is even planning your surprise—”

It took a few days for Hannah to clean up the mess her words left, but she did it. (They won by eight points, by the way.) However, she felt so upset by the experience that she decided to undergo a Ta’anit Dibur (a “fast” from speaking). This meant no talking, but plenty of weird hand signals and lots of writing (on the small whiteboard Hannah carried around). After a few days, Hannah was kind of getting used to the no talking thing. She felt calmer than usual and was happy with how she communicated—having to think how to say something before saying it.

After six days, Hannah decided that her goal would be 10 days of no speaking. Her older brother Yehuda promised to take her to Six Flags if she made it. However, Yehuda was clear that he would try to trick her into talking. Hannah and Yehuda shook hands. “Deal?” asked Yehuda. Hannah nodded. Yehuda grinned. “I can’t hear you!” Hannah took out her whiteboard and wrote “How do you expect to hear a nod?”

The ninth day of Hannah’s Ta’anit Dibbur fell on a Sunday. Hannah and her family planned to spend the day in Central Park, just relaxing and picnicking for lunch. Hannah and Yehuda were throwing a frisbee back and forth when Hannah noticed something in the distance, closer to Yehuda. A little boy, maybe 3 years old, had wandered away from his family and towards the street.

Still not speaking, Hannah motioned to her brother urgently, but Yehuda (who was a distance away) laughed it off. “You’ll have to tell me what you are trying to say, Hannah!” Hannah again motioned urgently, and Yehuda began to turn Hannah’s movements into a game of charades. “Wait, I know this one! The Lion King Part 7!” At this point Hannah couldn’t wait. “Yehuda! Get that kid!” Yehuda turned in the direction Hannah was pointing and took off running. He got there just in time.

Yehuda returned the boy to his parents (who had no idea how close their child had come to disaster), and they thanked him. Yehuda then jogged over to Hannah, who seemed shaken up. “You okay?” he asked. Hannah looked up. “I’ll be all right.” “You sure?” asked Yehuda, “because you just broke your Ta’anit Dibbur.” Hannah gave a shocked look. “Don’t worry,” her brother responded. “I already bought the tickets.”

As part of the purity ritual, someone with Tzara’at must offer one bird as a korban, while a second bird is sent to fly away. A bird, which chirps, represents speech. This is fitting, as Tzara’at is a punishment for lashon hara. The message here is that speech can be used for good or for bad. The bad speech must be sent away, but speaking can also be used to serve Hashem. We don’t need to avoid all things that might slip us up, we just need to make the right choices.


Yair Daar is the director of Student Life at Bicultural Hebrew Academy High School. He can be reached at [email protected]

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