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Powerful Words

By Rabbi Jonathan Tawil
April 22, 2015

Have you ever been in a group having a conversation, when you notice that the person that is speaking the most might be speaking a lot but deep down there seems to be no meaning emanating from him? Some people like to speak at great length, when they could easily shorten their sentences. They speak more because it gives them a sense of authority and ability to convince others, rather then because they wish to portray a real view.

Our Sages consider silence to be a sign of greatness. King Solomon wrote, “The voice of a fool is in many words” (Kohelet 5:2). And Mark Twain once remarked; “Better to remain silent and appear dumb than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.”

The more someone says and the louder he says it, the less likely his words are worth listening to (which is of course why he has to say them so loud).

Speech is a gift — not to be wasted or overused. In Pirkei Avot our Sages teach us “say little and do much” (1:15). We are ultimately judged, both by G-d and by man, not by our big talk and brash promises but by our deeds and accomplishments.

Speech is a uniquely human trait, a Divine gift specially entrusted to mankind. When Hashem created man (2:7) the Torah states: “And the L-rd G-d formed man, dirt from the earth; He blew into his nostrils a living soul, and the man became a living being.” Onkelos, a sage of the period of the Mishna, in his Aramaic translation of the Scriptures, translates “a living being” as “a speaking being.”

Clearly, our ability to speak is one of the most basic aspects of our humanity, distinguishing us from the rest of the animal kingdom.

In this weeks Parasha we are taught about the Metsorah – person that has received Tsaraat (loosely translated as spiritual leprosy). The Gemara relates that one of the key causes to receiving Tsaraat was speaking Lashon Harah – literally “evil language.” Interestingly, the Torah calls “evil language” anything negative, even if it’s true. (Slander — malicious, false information is called motzishemra, literally “giving another a bad name.”)

When Hashem created the world, the Torah relates how Hashem spoke and the world came into being. (For example – when Hashem spoke and said ‘Let there be light’ – light was created.) The process of creation of the universe was through speech. We have similarly been given the ability to create worlds through our speech. If we use our speech correctly to connect to others, unite and serve Hashem, we are building this world and the next. If we misuse the power of speech then we can cause much destruction. As Shlomo Hamelech stated “Life and death are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it (Lashon hara) will eat its fruit.” (Mishlei 18:21).

The Talmud (Arachin 15b) explains that negative speech is even worse than a sword – since it kills many people, even at great distance.

The Chafetz Chaim relates how our brain orchestrates the whole body. The legs and hands only move forward once they receive an order from the brain.

Yet when a person talks, there are several organs in action at once. The throat, tongue, teeth and lips are all set in motion at the same time to produce the word.

He explains that it is a wonder of creation and a kindness from Hashem that we can simultaneously utilise all these organs in order to speak so fast.

This kindness exists in the world in order to allow us to achieve so much in this wonderful world.

The mouth can be very constructive.

We are taught by our Rabbis that Talmud Torah KenegedKulam – when one learns Torah it is as if he/she has performed all 613 Mitzvot. The Mitzvah of learning Torah carries much weight.

The Chafetz Chaim explains that every letter of a word of Torah is a Mitsva that is equal to all other Mitzvot put together.

With a bit of mathematical help he estimates we speak an average of 200 words per minute. At around 5 letters per word, we learn/say 1,000 letters a minute.

That’s a total of 613*1,000 = 613,000 Mitzvot worth a minute!

The Gemara relates how most people sin with Lashon Harah. It is tough to keep away. Yet the antidote can be found in the same organ used to sin. If we learn Torah, listen to Shiurim we can create a better environment and help fix the damage caused by Lashon Harah.

In this manic generation when everyone is busy and apparently have ‘no time’ to learn, what are we supposed to do? Ideally we should fix a time at least once or twice a week when we learn Torah. But even if that is out of reach, then we can learn on our way to and from work.

If for example we choose to spend our daily commute listening to a Torah lecture on our iPod, we could be performing up to 45,000 Mitzvot on a 45 minute ride.

In roughly two years, if we were to make this a daily habit, then we would learn the Torah and Code of Jewish law twice, the entire Books of The Prophets, and every Mishnah that comprises the Oral Law. We would still have those nine hours a day to make a living. Its all about putting things into perspective and keeping focussed to maintain a fixed schedule.

Our mouths are powerful, lets utilise them to the best.

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