Yael Eckstein, IFCJ President and CEO, oversees all ministry programs and serves as the international spokesperson for the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews.
Prior to her present duties, Yael served as Global Executive Vice President, Senior Vice President, and Director of Program Development and Ministry Outreach. Based in Israel with her husband and their four children, Yael is a published writer and a respected social services professional.
Yael Eckstein has contributed to The Jerusalem Post, The Times of Israel, and other publications, and is the author of three books: Generation to Generation: Passing on a Legacy of Faith to Our Children, Holy Land Reflections: A Collection of Inspirational Insights from Israel, and Spiritual Cooking with Yael. In addition, her insights into life in Israel, the Jewish faith, and Jewish-Christian relations can be heard on The Fellowship’s radio program, Holy Land Moments, which air five times per week on over 1,500 radio stations around the world.
Yael Eckstein has partnered with other global organizations, appeared on national television, and visited with the U.S. and world leaders on issues of shared concern. She has been a featured guest on CBN’s The 700 Club with Gordon Robertson, and she served on a Religious Liberty Panel on Capitol Hill in May 2015 in Washington, D.C., discussing religious persecution in the Middle East. Her influence as one of the young leaders in Israel has been recognized with her inclusion in The Jerusalem Post’s 50 Most Influential Jews of 2020 and The Algemeiner’s Jewish 100 of 2019, and she was featured as the cover story of Nashim (Women) magazine in May 2015.
Born in Evanston, Illinois, outside of Chicago, and well-educated at both American and Israeli institutions – including biblical studies at Torat Chesed Seminary in Israel, Jewish and sociology studies at Queens College in New York, and additional study at Hebrew University in Jerusalem – Yael Eckstein has also been a Hebrew and Jewish Studies teacher in the United States.
In this powerful interview, Yael Eckstein President and CEO of IFCJ reviews the power of speech and the importance to avoid malicious gossip and talebearing.
Tell us about tzaraat.
We have previously learned about tzaraat, a physical affliction that is usually defined as a skin defiling disease. We will continue to learn about the laws of tzaraat and a person who was afflicted with it. The verses that I’ve focused on are Leviticus 14:1-2:
“The Lord said to Moses, ‘These are the regulations for any diseased person at the time of their ceremonial cleansing when they are brought to the priest.'” A person who is healed from tzaraat was then spiritually purified through a ritual process laid out in the Bible. These verses also introduce us to a new term, the word for a person who was afflicted with tzaraat. The Hebrew word for the diseased person mentioned in the verse is metzora.
Last week, we talked about how tzaraat was unlike any disease we experience in our times. It was spiritual in nature. It was the physical result of a spiritual ailment that was caused by sin. According to Jewish tradition, there were 10 sins that could lead to tzaraat.
What is the most common cause of tzaraat?
The most common sin to cause tzaraat is hinted at in the word from our verses today, the word “metzora,” a diseased person. The rabbis taught that the word metzora is a conjunction of three Hebrew words: “motzi shem ra,” which means to bring about a bad name. It refers to a person who gossips or slanders, who gives someone a bad name by gossiping or by spreading lies about them. This is the sin that caused Miriam, Moses’s sister, to become afflicted with tzaraat.
We read that Miriam spoke badly about Moses to Aaron and that as a result, she was struck with tzaraat. This event is considered so important that in Deuteronomy 24:9, God commanded us to always remember what happened to Miriam, how she spoke badly and was afflicted with tzaraat. There aren’t too many events that God commands us to remember. So when he does, there’s a good reason for it. In this case, God wants us to remember the terrible consequences of speaking badly about another person. If Miriam was held accountable for her words, which according to tradition were said with the best of intentions, how much more so do we need to be careful with our words? We may not have tzaraat in our times, but God still holds us accountable for our words and we can never forget how important it is to be mindful of them.
Do you believe that watching your words is valued in today’s society?
We live in a world that doesn’t hold that as a value. Slander and gossip are featured on the daily news and surround us on social media. And no one thinks twice about it. But as people of faith, we’re called to a higher standard. We need to be constantly aware of the power of our words and extremely careful with how we use them.
We live in a culture that’s very concerned with what we put into our mouths, the quality of our food, the taste of our food, the calories in our food, the source of our food, but how many people pay as much attention to what comes out of their mouths? How many people believe that the words they say are at least as important as the food that they eat? The truth is that if we want to be healthy, body and soul, we need to be careful about what we put into our mouth and what comes out of it.
Do you have any further reading that you recommend on this subject?
There is a Jewish book called A Lesson A Day. This book is based on a book that was first published in 1873 by a rabbi who lived in Russia. The book is all about guarding one’s tongue, the laws and the ethics of proper speech. The modern version splits the teachings into daily lessons so that they are easy to learn, and also so that guarding one’s speech will be a daily priority. Most people don’t realize the power of speech, both to create and to destroy, and the importance of using that power appropriately. The name of the rabbi who wrote the teachings is Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan, but he was more popularly known as the Chofetz Chaim, which means the lover of life. This name was taken directly from Psalms 34:12-13, which says, “whoever of you loves life and desires to see many good days, keep your tongue from evil and your lips from telling lies.”
Since the Chofetz Chaim’s main teachings were about guarding one’s tongue, he became known by that name. It defines who he was and what he wanted to teach the world, that a person who wants to live a good and godly life must be extremely careful about the words that they say. We need to do everything that we can to make sure that we don’t speak negative, hurtful, or deceitful words.
How many people today truly realize how much the quality of our lives is determined by the quality of our words? Judging from the way most people talk, I would say not many. We might know that it’s wrong to gossip or to hurt people with our words, but I’m not sure that we truly understand the full impact of our words on other people and on ourselves.