Confessions: Dibarnu Dofi
“You sit, against your brother you speak, to your mother’s son you bring contempt – ‘titein Dofi’. (Psalms 50:20) Rashi and Radak explain ‘dofi’ as defamation, to cast someone off, an expression similar to Numbers 35:20: “Yehedafenu – he pushes him off. It is also an expression of contempt and insult.
We push people away, cast them off, often with a look or a harsh word. If one person greets another with great warmth and excitement, and the other responds with a cold shoulder, pushing the effusive greeting aside, is an example of Dibarnu Dofi – using our mouths to push someone away. It does not have to be a direct insult. A subtle action, or change in intonation can serve the same purpose.
Rav Hirsch (Commentary to Psalms) speaks of how our speech may actually push one part of ourselves away: “One can readily see,” the Lord tells the wicked man, ‘of how little value your erudition in Torah is. Indeed, all of your scholarship is nothing but a degradation of Torah. For that same mouth with which you expound the laws of God and speak of duties imposed upon Israel by His covenant, you use for slander and deceit, the very crimes that this law condemns in no uncertain terms.”
The Abudirham explains that ‘dofi’ means ‘du fiyot’ – “white man speak with forked tongue: One side of the mouth speaks holy words of Torah and prayer, even while the other side of your mouth speaks slander and insult.
Dibarnu Dofi describes how we speak words of Torah with non-kosher mouths. The Chafetz Chaim reminds us that our mouths are considered vessels: The same way we would not eat from a filthy vessel, and we certainly would not present a gift to the king in a dirt container, we should not eat spiritual food with a mouth that is soiled, and should not present our prayers to God in a damaged container. He explains the request in the morning blessings before Torah Study: “Please God make the words of Torah sweet in our mouths”: Many of us do not experience the sweetness of Torah because we study with mouths that are ill with the damaging words we have spoken.
We should use our speech to bring people close to us, especially those we may have pushed away over the course of the past year.
We should practice speaking to all in a manner that is respectful of them.
We should pay attention to the sanctity of our mouths. We can practice cleansing exercises before studying Torah or praying: We can find something good to say about others, things and ourselves.
We should practice always listing some good things before we complain about the bad.