“My God, guard me tongue from speaking evil and my lips from speaking deceitfully. May the one who brings peace to the heavens bring peace upon us and all of Israel. And let us say Amen.”
The germ of the song Elokai began at a point in my life when I needed to make some positive changes but wasn’t sure where to begin. At the time I was teaching at the Denver Jewish Day School and there was an initiative to educate the student body, parent body and the faculty about the negative impacts of lashon hara (evil speech) on our community. Everybody connected to the school went to hear the noted speaker Lori Palatnik speak about lashon hara. I was very moved by her speech, which planted a seed for thinking deeper about how I utilized speech in my own life.
Soon after, I came across www.acomplaintfreeworld.org. Will Bowen developed a ridiculously simple method to create positive change in the world: alter one’s habits around speech by going three weeks in a row without complaining, criticizing, or gossiping. I was taken by the idea and I, along with my 5-year old son, decided to take on the challenge. It took us many months to make it through three complaint-free weeks. At the end we celebrated with a huge chocolate “no lashon hara (evil speech) cake.”
At that time in my life, there was one person I toward whom I was focusing a lot of anger and resentment. I would frequently speak with others about her shortcomings and how they were causing me unhappiness.
One day, sitting alone, I had an epiphany.
I realized that everything I was blaming this person for – being non-communicative, not taking the initiative – was describing me and my behavior. After all, I was going around badmouthing her to other people but I never actually spoke with her directly! At that moment, I understood on a visceral level that our perceived problems with others never have to do with the other person’s behavior but rather, they reflect our own shortcomings.
I literally laughed out loud.
That week, I asked that person if we could have a talk. We had a wonderful conversation and I realized, of course, that she was fine. The problem was with my behavior!
Fast forward about two years. As I changed the way I spoke about others – and myself – things were really turning around for me. Lots of positive changes were happening, including finding the courage to make music my career. In May of 2009, a close friend passed away. She was eulogized by five people at her funeral, all of whom – without coordinating – said the same thing: “Renee never ever spoke badly of anyone else.” After the funeral, I turned to my husband and I said, “If five people can get up at my funeral and say that about me then I will have lived a good life.”
That week, I took part in the maariv (evening) service at the shiva house (house of mourning). The leader recited the words “Elokai nitzur lishoni meira usefatay midaber meerma” (God, guard my tongue from speaking evil and my lips from speaking deceitfully) aloud and mentioned the connection to Renee.
I returned home after the service and this song was waiting for me in my living room.
I hope you enjoy this song and the deepest message contained herein: By speaking only good of yourself and others, you enable the One who brings peace to the heavens to bring peace to us.
You can find Elokai on my album You’re With Me.
Julie Geller is a singer/songwriter who has been releasing a music video every month since June of 2013. Sign up for free monthly music at www.JulieGeller.com.