Dreaming of Moshiach

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Life and Death are in the Hands of the Tongue

Life and death are in the hands of the tongue (Proverbs 18:21). Sometimes we do not take this biblical phrase literally, because talking about other people may have become a pastime. We can feel good about ourselves by noting other people’s faults. Gossip can help us prove that we are the better one. And sometimes, it’s easier to learn Torah and pray.

If we stopped for a moment and realized that the above biblical phrase is literal, we would make a more conscious effort to think every time we uttered a word. If we realized that every word that goes out of our mouth goes straight up to Heaven and creates a negative prosecution for the person we are speaking about, we may think twice. Particularly if the person we are speaking about is someone close to us. If we also realized that the person can come to harm if he or she has enough negative prosecutions, then we may prefer to remain silent.

In the Chofetz Chaim: A Lesson a Day we read, “Satan, the Heavenly Prosecutor, is always ready with his accusation, but he needs a second witness to set the judicial process in motion. Hashem has granted each Jew the power to act as a witness and thus take part in opening a case against another Jew. Loshon hara has the drastic effect of turning oneself into Satan’s corroborating witness.” In other words, when we speak about another person, Satan has what he needs to begin prosecution against the person we are speaking about. The Zohar takes this one step further and tells us that the words we use here are the same words Satan uses in Heaven.

Let’s say we are angry with our spouse. Today he or she may have left a small mess after dinner. We become angry and may inadvertently mouth off a string of unpleasant words. The following day, this happens again and we follow the same routine. Then, at work, his or her co-workers are angry because the job they expected finished wasn’t. Then he may enter the synagogue and have a disagreement with one of the members. Finally, when he comes home, he is sick, or he discovers that a deal he had so hoped would help his finances has fallen through. Could it be that our negative words or feelings actually harm our spouse, children, parents, and friends? Could it be that some of the words we used against them are the same words used in prosecution against them?

When one person is angry with another person, he can also get a group of people to empathize with his predicament, and then create several negative prosecutions in Heaven all at once to the determent of the person spoken about. Often when we have negative feelings, we don’t connect them to their effects. And often, we don’t wish our fellow Jew harm, especially not those closest to us. But in Heaven, every word and every thought counts. At the Bedtime Shema, we tell God that we forgive every Jew, those who have wronged us through speech, deed, thought, or notion.

The Vilna Gaon tells us that “…the mouth is the Holy of Holies;” holier, in fact, than Torah learning. If the whole Torah is based on loving our neighbor as ourselves, this is not surprising. If we can change circumstances with fervent prayer, then we can create negative effects with derogatory speech. This ability comes with the free will we have on earth. Every moment is a choice.

There is a purpose for speech, although, and that is to praise God by prayer and daily blessings. “This people I formed for Myself; they shall recite My praise. (Yeshayahu 43:21). There is a worldwide awakening toward this trend. People are beginning to practice gratitude and praise. Judaism is a leader in praise, as this is the way of life for a practicing Jew. We praise almost every movement we make throughout the day. Psalm 150 details a future redemptive era of pure praise when the whole world will be praising God. If we remember this throughout the day, then we may remember to choose to use speech to praise God so that we may come closer to greeting Moshiach in our day.




והיה השם למלך על כל הארץ, ביום ההוא יהיה השם אחד - ושמו אחד ישתבח שמו לעד לנצח נצחים בכל העולמות Blessed is His name for eternity in all worlds אין עוד מלבדו