Hold Your Tongue

November 15, 2009

5 min read


Toldot (Genesis 25:19-28:9 )

We should learn to hold our tongues - but not with our hands. In this week's Torah portion ( Gen. 26:19-22), Isaac 'held his tongue' and didn't argue back with the people who had come to start a quarrel with him. We'll live happier, more peaceful lives once we learn how to avoid fights by holding our tongues.

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In our story, a kid discovers that his hold on his tongue was stronger than he thought.


"Oh, yeah?" Danny snarled. "Well, if you think my hair looks funny, then yours look hilarious, ridiculous and disgusting - and for that matter so do you!" Danny kicked some dirt toward the kid who had made the comment and was now heading fast for the other side of the schoolyard to escape the tornado of insults and pebbles.

"Danny," his friend, Shawn, asked, "why did you just go so ballistic?"

"What are you talking about?" Danny asked. "That jerk just laughed at my new haircut. What else was I supposed to do?"

"Maybe ignore him?" Shawn suggested.

Danny waved the idea away like it was the most absurd thing he'd ever heard. "Impossible! Whenever someone starts with me, I give him ten times as much back. Remember the time at the beach?" he chuckled.

"How could I ever forget?" Shawn shook his head and rolled his eyes. "We were having a great time hanging out by the waves until you started that argument with the kids on the next blanket..."

"Excuuuuuse me!" Danny cut in, "I didn't start anything. They were the ones who moved into our space and when I told them to move, they called me a you-know-what."

"Maybe," Shawn shrugged, "but instead of us just moving, like I suggested - after all, the beach was half empty - you insisted on answering them back, until the whole afternoon was just one big tug-of-war for space and everyone had a rotten time."

Danny threw up his hands. "Yeah, that was pretty dumb I guess, now that you mention it. But what can I do? It's just who I am. If someone starts up with me, I'm just physically incapable of not answering back..."

"Hey, Danny Bald-o!"

Shawn could see Danny's face turn purple with rage as the two of them wheeled around … to see 'Tiger' Tony, the toughest kid from the oldest class in their school, staring down at them like a big cat about to pounce. The boys froze in fear.

"You know," Tony pointed his finger right at Danny's face, "that kid you just ranked out was my brother. I know it was you, because he told me it was the kid with the weirdest hair in the whole school! Do you have anything to say about that?"

Barely moving his head, Danny managed to shake it 'no.'

"Good," Tony sneered. "Then it's your lucky day 'cuz I'm wearing a new outfit and didn't feel like getting it dirty turning you into sawdust. But I would have if you'd given me any lip!"

He turned and left as both boys breathed a sigh of relief.

"Good thing it's not really true," Shawn said.

"You mean what that bully just said about me?" Danny asked.

"Of course, that's not true - your haircut looks cool. But that's not what I had in mind,.." Shawn added with a smile.

"Then what do you mean?"

"That it's not true that you're physically not capable of not answering back when someone starts up with you."

"Well I guess you're right," Danny admitted with a shrug. "If a person really wants, he's always strong enough to hold his tongue."

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Ages 3-5

Q. How did Danny feel about 'holding his tongue' at first?
A. He felt like he couldn't stop himself from answering back when people started up with him.

Q. How did he feel in the end?
A. He saw that he really could if he wanted to do it.


Ages 6-9

Q. What life-lesson do you think Danny learned from what happened?
A. He always saw himself as the type who couldn't hold back from an argument, which was something that caused him and others a lot of unpleasantness. But when the bully insulted him and he held himself back, he realized he was more in control than he thought.

Q. What do you think would have happened if Danny had answered Tony back?
A. He would likely have gotten beat up. People save themselves from all sorts of grief when they learn to hold their tongues.


Ages 10 and Up

Q. How is it possible to win an argument by losing it?
A. Getting in the 'last word' (often with 'interest') may give a person a brief moment of pleasure, but avoiding arguments by holding our tongues will give us a calmer, happier life. Not only will people respect us more (yes, ironically it is the one who can hold back from answering back who appears strong), but people will like us more and even those who would bother us, won't start up with us when they realize they're not going to rile us up. So we come out a winner in many ways.

Q. Why do you think Danny was able to hold his tongue that time even though he usually couldn't?
A. Obviously, the fear of getting beaten up was greater than the potential pleasure of 'letting loose.' But the deeper point here is that many things we brand as 'beyond our control' are really not. It's just a matter of motivation. Realizing this, is a powerful tool to harness the power of motivation and make ourselves into the great, spiritual people we can all truly be.


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