I was on the train, trying to take in the mid-morning quiet that comes with a Sunday in Fall, when suddenly my calm was jolted by the sounds of a few college-aged people seated a few rows up. They were gossiping, gabbing, and very frequently swearing loudly to one another. As if unaware they were surrounded on every side by the presence of other people, they chatted heedlessly about their opinions, lifestyle and promiscuous behavior. My ears were helplessly privy to each word and by each swear word I felt a sharp sting pierce through me. As if physically being accosted, my body cringed by the jabbing of each obscenity. I was surprised by this at first, having been surrounded by such language in college on numerous occasions. However, my years in Jerusalem must have affected me on more levels than I knew and I could see now that my speech tolerance had been altered unequivocally. So I began to think. What was it about cursing that so strongly affected me? And how could just words be so rattling to my psyche? Or was it not my psyche at all, was it in fact, my soul?
According to the Torah speech is one of our most precious gifts. We can use it to destroy someone or lift someone, to discourage someone or inspire someone, to manipulate someone or support someone. It is in truth, a tool, and a valuable one at that.
Speech is what sets us apart from animals. By means of words, we can introduce new ideas, share our thoughts, and create connections. Words are priceless. It is with these words that we pray to Hashem, our Creator. It is said in the Torah that after Hashem created man, Adam was waiting for the plants to grow. They were there, waiting in the wings, but there was no rain, and so the plants did not grow. How can the first man eat with no plants or nourishment at all? Adam HaRishon prayed that Hashem make it rain so that the plants would grow. And so it was. This important last step of creation was embodied in Adam’s prayer. This was G-d’s intent when He set up the world. He wanted human beings to be His partner in creation. Through our speech we finish the job. This last step is an intrinsic ingredient in creation.
It is with speech that we create a new reality. When women make the blessing over the Shabbat candles, suddenly an ordinary day has been transformed into a spiritual reality. Through words, the mundane has been altered and our words usher in the holy Shabbat. Lighting the candles alone won’t do it. We need to make a prayer. We need to speak.
Speech is everything. It is a power. As said in Spiderman, “with great power comes great responsibility”. As human beings created with the power of speech, we have great responsibility. Our words may be used for evil or good. We can create beauty or ruin beauty. It is said that our Holy Temple was destroyed due to sinat chinam (baseless hatred). People used their ability of speech to speak negatively of others and with that our most prized possession, our Temple in Jerusalem, was destroyed.
Hashem gave us speech so that we could elevate ourselves, but our words must be chosen carefully. They must be weighed. If we were to realize the immense power our words can have, how they can affect every aspect of our lives, other people’s lives, and the world at large, we’d never misuse them again. May you all find harmony in the beauty of your words and the reality you create with proper use of them.