Our tefilos are worded in the plural. Give us wisdom, return us in teshuva, forgive us, and ten more requests in the Shemona Esrei, always asking on behalf of all of us.
Mar b’rai d’Ravina had an additional request.
Mar b’rai d’Ravina ki havei mesayeim tselosei amar hachi: Elokai, n’tsor leshoni meirah u’sifosei midaber mirmah. V’limkalelei nafshi sidom v’nafshi k’afar lakol tihyeh. When Mar b’rai d’Ravina had finished his tefilos he said the following: My Hashem, carefully guard my tongue from evil and my lips from speaking deceit. And may my nefesh be silent to those who belittle me and may my nefesh be like dirt towards all. (Brachos 17a)
If Mar b’rai d’Ravina had finished his tefilos, what would you call these words he said afterwards? Perhaps these words to Elokai, my Hashem, are a techina, a private request in contrast to a tefilo, a communal prayer to Elokainu, our Hashem.
We are comfortable asking publicly for the brachas listed in the davening because we rarely struggle with a desire to be foolish rather than wise, defiant rather than contrite, cruel rather than forgiving. The other brachos include our participation to varying degrees, not difficult for us to contribute.
Chazal chose to add Mar b’rai d’Ravina’s private conversation with Hashem because he was asking for something that is entirely in our control and very difficult to achieve. We are embarrassed to publicly admit that we need a lot of help from Hashem to accomplish it: to control how we express our emotions, to speak properly.
Or just not say anything at all? Just keep it inside?
Why does it say let my nefesh be silent rather than just saying let me be silent? Because sometimes a person will hear something that demeans him and remain silent, overcoming his impulse to react. But the hurt remains in his nefesh and he becomes embittered. This is why we daven for our nefesh to be as silent as dirt. This is what is meant by to’eivas Hashem kol govah lev, an arrogant heart is an abomination to Hashem. (Mishlei 16:5) This refers to someone who appears tolerant but is arrogant in his heart. (Siddur Shaloh, Shaar HaShamayim, Yeshivas b’Socheichi Yerushalayim, 1987, page 209, Hagah)
Chazal added, at the end of our tefilos, the tefilo Elokai, my Hashem, shield my tongue from evil because slanderous speech is a severe sin. Chazal (Baba Basra 164b) taught that no one will be spared from the sin of avak lashon hara, a trace of slanderous speech, every day, unless he guards against it like a lion. This is why we daven specifically for help with avoiding slanderous speech...
The yetzer hara, which appears to be one, has two parts. We see in the Zohar that the yetzer [hara] ... [manifests sometimes as explicit] evil, and the [yetzer hara] sometimes is [expressed through] deceptions and tricks ...We allude to these two characteristics by asking Hashem to protect us from ra, evil, and from mirmah, deception.
And to those who curse me may my nefesh be silent, for the sin of argument is great.
And my nefesh be as dust, may we become so accustomed to the middah of savlanus, tolerance, that we become like dirt that is stepped on and does not feel. (Shaloh Hakadosh, Yoma, Ner Mitzvah 24, volume 3, page 225 in Oz Vehodor edition, Jerusalem 1993)
Elokai, my Hashem, shield my tongue from evil as it says in Tehilim 34:14 shield your tongue from evil and your lips from deceitful speech. Even though good and evil are left to man's choice, he asks Hashem to help him to choose the good.
Let my soul be silent to those that curse me in addition to shield my tongue from evil. Not only do I ask that I not be the first to curse another, but also to be able to tolerate their curse, as in Gittin [36b]: They hear themselves reviled, and do not reply.
And in addition to keeping my lips from deceitful speech, let my nefesh be to all as dust meaning to say that not only do I pray to restrain myself from speaking deceitfully, but also to be as dust to all. Just as everyone treads upon dust, yet it ascends to their heads and ultimately all have need of it, so will one who lowers himself in this world be preeminent in the world to come. (Abudraham, Usha Publishing, Jerusalem, 1963, page 104)
Rav Henoch Leibowitz, ZTZ”L describes the extent to which we must be truthful.
Many people err and do not understand that the prohibition against lying applies even when it does not cause any harm to another. And even those who understand that the prohibition applies in all situations, many of them do not understand the essence of the prohibition. They err in their thinking and believe that it is one of the laws of the Torah that prohibits an action, in this case, the act of lying, the way the action of eating pork is prohibited, and other prohibitions in the Torah. However, when we look carefully at the Torah and the words of Chazal that explain this matter, it will become clear to us that the prohibition against lying is different and does not resemble the other prohibitions of the Torah ...
It is clear that the Torah did not only forbid the act of speaking a lie. Elah sh’haTorah asra b’derech klal osa middah shel sheker v’hamistataif mimena. Rather, the Torah broadly forbade the concept of falsehood and anything related to it. A person must feel hatred in his heart for lying, that lying should be disgusting in his eyes ...(Chidushei HaLev, Shemos 23:7)
And we learn from this that even if a person has not uttered a lie but the listener was misled by his words it is considered a failing of truthfulness even if the listener has no need to know the truth ...
We see from this that the man of truth must be careful not to say anything about which he has the even most remote doubt of its veracity. He must also be careful, lest from his words he cause his fellow to believe something that is not true. He must be careful not to mislead his fellow even when it will make no difference. (Chidushei HaLev, Braishis 27:12)
May we earn the bracha:
And my nefesh as dirt: just as dirt is never ending [aino m’kabeil kliah] so may it be Hashem’s Will that my descendants be never ending, as it says (Braishis 28:14) and your descendants shall be as the dust of the earth. (Brachos 17a with Tosfos)
Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor with specialties in marriage, dating, and parenting.
He is the author of Confident Parents, Competent Children, in Four Seconds at a Time Available at bookstores and on Amazon.
He can be reached at 718-344-6575.