Shmirat Halashon "Keeping the Laws of Proper Speech"

I read a book where the author listed the rules that a person should use when offering criticism. Though I enjoy reading the opinions of professionals and rabbis, I always check with the Word of G-d to see what He says about the subject.

I researched the words critical, criticism, criticize, and critique in the Torah. Seven translations of the Bible did not contain those words in them. Only two translations of the Bible contained the word criticize. The New American Standard had one verse that contained the word criticize (Isaiah 29:24).

The verse states “Those who err in mind will know the truth, And those who criticize will accept instruction.”

The Hebrew word ragan is translated as criticize in this verse. Ragan means to grumble, murmur or rebel.

The Living Bible had 15 references  that contained the word criticize (Numbers 12:7, Job 34:29, Daniel 6:4, Matthew 7:1, Luke 6:37, Romans 9:20, Romans 14:1, Romans 14:10, Romans 14:13,       2Corinthains 6:8, Philippians 1:10, Colossians  2:16, Titus 2:8, James 4:11, and James 4:12).

According to each verse, criticism is something negative and not to be done. Three different Hebrew words are used in the above verses. The first is the phrase l’daber B’abedi which means to speak against My (G-d’s) servant.

The second verse in Job uses the Hebrew word rasha. Rasha means to make trouble, disturb, violate, and condemn. 

The third verse in Daniel is the Hebrew word shekach, which means to disclose a covered or hidden thing.

The verses in the B’rit Chadashah do not paint a positive picture of criticism either. The words in those verses are defined as judge, condemn, dispute, contradict, shame, dishonor, disgrace and malign. (See Strong reference numbers, 2919, 470, 1253, 819, 2635.)

Criticism is defined in the dictionary as fault-finding, the act of passing severe judgment, censure. When a person criticizes someone, they make judgments as to the merits and faults of the individual they are speaking about or speaking to.

When we criticize another person, we destroy that individual with our words. So are we to criticize each other or not? The answer found in the Torah is no!

Our responsibility to each other is outlined in G-d’s Word. Ephesians  4:32 reminds us to “be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as G-d in Messiah also has forgiven you.”

Colossians  3:12-14 echoes the same thoughts but adds “...Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.”

The Torah does give us the responsibility to speak to an individual when we see them walking in sin or towards sin.

In Ya’akov (James) 5:19-20, we read  “My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth and one turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.”

Galatians 6:1-2 reminds us that   we “...who are spiritual, restore (repair) such a one in a spirit of gentleness...”

How do we respond to someone  who is sinning? How do you approach this brother (or sister)?       

Start by asking yourself: “How do I feel about speaking to this person?” Am I looking forward to correcting them or do I have an ache in my soul for them? 

If you are looking forward to telling them what is wrong with them, the timing is wrong. Your attitude may get in the way of  restoration. On the other hand, if you are truly hurting for the other person,   G-d’s Ruach can use you for the restoration process.

When you speak to the individual, you need to be specific and instruct them on what is wrong and how they need to change. If your comments do not include how the person can restore his fellowship with HaShem, then you are just exercising grumbling and complaining.

Paul’s letters to Timothy give some excellent advice on approaching a brother (See 1 Timothy 5:1-2, 1 Timothy 5:19-21, 2 Timothy 3:16 and 2 Timothy 4:1-6).

Proverbs 9:7-9 tells us that “He who corrects a scoffer gets dishonor for himself, and he who reproves a wicked man gets insults for himself. Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you,

‘Reprove a wise man and he will love you. Give instruction to a wise man and he will be still wiser, Teach a righteous man and he will increase his learning.”

Rabbi Moses Maimonides taught that we should administer a rebuke in private (Matthew 18:15). We are to speak gently and tenderly to the person (Galatians 6:1-2). We are to point out that we are speaking for the wrongdoer’s own good (Ya’akov 5:19-20).

HaShem gives us instructions in Leviticus 19:15-18. “Do not pervert justice...judge your neighbor fairly. Do not go about spreading slander among your people…Do not hate your brother in your heart. Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in his guilt. Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself.  I am the  L-rd. ”

“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the L-RD require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your G-d?” (Micah 6:8)

To do justice means that we seek healing. We stop trying to get others to conform to our personal ideals and standards. Our purpose is to encourage each other to aim for G-d’s standards and hit the bull's-eye!  

As we adopt these principles of proper speech, we will see justice and healing in the Body of Messiah. The world will notice our unity and love for each other. Our witness will speak volumes.


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