I have heard the word “prayer” being used much more frequently in the past few weeks. And not just among my more religious acquaintances — nearly everyone is praying these days for peace, safety and health.
I too find myself praying. I am praying that the situation with North Korea can deescalate quickly, without first becoming a war. I am praying that Iran is not emboldened by the North Korea situation to further its nuclear program. I am praying that the growing anti-Semitism in the world will dwindle before it leads to the dark places we have previously known. Domestically, I am praying that everyone affected by Hurricane Harvey can return home soon and will receive the help they need — both materially and emotionally. I am praying that Hurricane Irma doesn’t cause the damage that has been forecasted and that everyone in its path remains safe.
In addition to the other activities that can provide aid to those in need, prayer is incredibly strong. It calls on a divine force to help our fellow men and women, it unites us as a community, and it connects you with God and others. In light of all this, I am greatly looking forward to the Day of Jewish Unity on Sept. 15. Organized by Jewish organization Dirshu, the Day of Jewish Unity is a day in which Jews around the world are encouraged to join together in prayer for peace and to pledge to refrain from gossip.
Though I already pray for peace almost every day, it is comforting to feel that sense of community knowing that I will be joined by so many people across the world. As inspired as I am by the notion of global prayer, I am even more heartened by the ban on gossip. We are currently in a highly polarized political climate, where cruel and false words are flying faster than the speed of light. Refraining from gossip can have a positive effect on the global climate, our social climate and even our self-esteem.
Each year, Dirshu holds the Day of Jewish Unity on the Hebrew date commemorating the death of the Chofetz Chaim, a true visionary and tzadik. According to his New York Times obituary in 1933, the Chofetz Chaim, originally called Rabbi Yisroel Meier Cohen, was considered a holy individual by the Orthodox Jewish community. Jews traveled from all over to Radin, Poland, the Chofetz Chaim’s hometown, just to meet him and be in his vicinity.
The Chofetz Chaim, in addition to founding a yeshiva and writing a plethora of works that expounded on the religious and ethical principles of Judaism, wrote “Chofetz Chaim,” from which his moniker came, which listed all forms of slander and urged devout Jews to refrain from it. His teachings regarding gossip led to him becoming a revered and lasting voice in Jewish learning. Jews began to call him “the uncrowned spiritual king of Israel” and he was considered to be one of 36 saints because of whose piety God has not destroyed the world.
Though the Chofetz Chaim died in 1933, at age 105, his teachings live on today and continue to inspire moral and virtuous strength and behavior. Gossip is a blight that has plagued us for as long as we can remember. In the Torah, Miriam is punished by God for slandering her sister-in-law. Today, we see the disastrous effects of gossip as they tear apart business relationships, political affiliations and families.
Gossip is a truly insidious sin as it is one that continues even after the initial act has ended. You may have stopped whispering the rumor to your friend, but that rumor still exists and will likely continue to pass from person to person. Not only does it not end, but gossip can snowball and change form. Anyone who has ever played the child’s game “telephone” knows this.
Despite the Chofetz Chaim dying more than 80 years ago, his teachings are still relevant and I still draw strength and knowledge from them. Dirshu could not have chosen a better role model to honor with their Day of Jewish Unity than the Chofetz Chaim.
I eagerly anticipate participating in this year’s Day of Jewish Unity, as well as future iterations of it. In these troubled times, we can all benefit from following the example set nearly a century ago by the Chofetz Chaim. Pledging to do so on Sept. 15 is a step in the right direction toward a more meaningful and fulfilling life that positively affects those around you.