You and I like to believe that we are of the saner side of the human race, those who do not want to inflict pain and harm on another person. Yet, often, we end up doing just that, through thoughtless remarks.
In war, one of the great tragedies is a phenomenon called friendly fire. How does it happen? Through human error. Without realizing, soldiers of the same side will exchange fire with their comrades. There are many horrible travesties of justice and human cruelty in the world. However, what is really sad is when harm comes about innocuously through careless “friendly fire”. Talking about each other with careless comments, “oh her, she’s such a spoiled princess”, not realizing you might have just ruined a job prospect for her. Making insensitive comments in speech, like rattling off something about your happy marriage to someone who is divorced, and leaving that person to cry all night. Like being snippety or uppity, just because your mood called for such an attitude, not realizing you were mortally hurting another person’s ego.
I’ve collected some doozies of things folks have said on dates, of all places. I call it the “Vayiftach es Pee Ha’asan” file. Like the time a guy told a girl (who incidentally was not past child-bearing age), “You know I don’t want another child, so that should be perfect for you, because let’s face it, you’re old and probably won’t have children.” Or another brilliant bloke, who while walking with a girl he was trying to woo, explained that “he didn’t want a gorgeous girl, anyway.” Not because they were being malicious. But because they were being stupid. Yet, killing is not allowed with stupidity as a defense. Neither is hurting someone with the words. In fact, we are forbidden to indulge in Ona’as Devorim – we cannot speak something that will hurt another.
One place no one should ever have to go to is Memorial Sloan Kettering, a hospital in Manhattan that deals exclusively with patients with cancer. Walking in, one meets Jews from every end of the Judaism spectrum. And these folks learn to speak softly to each other, to think and weigh their words, to hug and kiss each other, to worry together. It is sensitivity, but borne out of suffering.
Can’t we learn to be so loving and careful, so full of sensitivity through our own efforts and not by being pushed through tragedy to that point? We could, if we only did as Pirket Avot instructs us to by ensuring that Kavod Chavercha, the dignity of our friend, should be as dear to us as our own.
 And He opened the mouth of the donkey
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