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Parashat Matot-Mas’ei – The Power of Speech


“A person shall not violate his word, but fulfill everything that emerges from his mouth.”

Words matter! Our Torah puts great emphasis on words and how we express ourselves, as King Solomon wrote:”Life and death are in the power of the tongue.” 

Speech has a central part in our tradition, from the daily priestly blessings to prayer itself. 

Verbal communication is the profound difference between man and lower forms of life. Indeed, in the very formation of Mankind, the Torah describes the essence of humanity as a living soul with the power of speech (Targum Onkelos).

Although here in America, with the seemingly unbridled freedom of the first amendment, we generally think of speech as just a superficial act. In truth, it has a strong impact on our inner selves and our society. The words that leave your mouth make an imprint on your mind and heart and that of others. 

The driving force of humanity is verbal interaction. This is why the Torah so strongly emphasizes the need to guard our unique attribute of speech.

Speech is the tool of the building blocks of creation, as in: “And G-d said, ‘Let there be light’ “ (Genesis 1:3). Through speech we can build individuals – with praise and encouragement. By making others feel important, we build them up, as if to say, “Your existence is unique and special .” This is life-giving and life-affirming. This same power can be used to harm through lies, gossip and half truths to ruin lives and cause grievous harm. 

The gift of speech can be likened to fire, the greatest discovery of humanity. With it we have the power to warm and foster growth or destroy. 

The Talmud relates that Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel once sent his servant, Tavi, to buy “good food.” Tavi, who was famous for his wisdom, brought back a tongue. Thereupon, Rav Shimon sent him to buy some “bad food.” Again, he returned with a tongue. The Rabbi asked him to explain how the same food could be both good and bad. Tavi answered, “From a tongue can come good and bad. When a tongue speaks good, by complimenting or praising another, there is nothing better. But when a tongue speaks evil, when it spews hate, demeans or makes fun of people, there is nothing worse!”

Let us use this precious and unique gift to build a brighter more positive world for ourselves and all those around us. 

The Hebrew language is referred to as the ‘Holy Tongue’ because the Torah goes out of its way to use positive uplifting language whenever possible and so too is the person who emulates this quality.

~ Rabbi Shaul