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Parsha - Shemot





Parashat Shemot Vaera- 5778 - The Power of Speech

In this week's parashah, Parashat Shemot, in which the status of the People of Israel rapidly descends from privileged citizens to the level of being persecuted and ultimately enslaved by their "hosts," the Egyptians, Moshe is approached by HaShem, and offered the position of being His Messenger in the Redemption of Israel.

At the Burning Bush, Moshe attempts to decline the offer, "And Moshe said to HaShem, 'I am not a man of words, and I never have been...for I am heavy of mouth and heavy of speech.' Then HaShem said to him, 'Who makes a mouth for man, or Who makes one dumb or deaf, or sighted or blind? Is it not I, HaShem? So now, go! I shall be with your mouth, and indicate what you should say.' He replied, 'Please, my L-rd, send through whomever you will send!' The wrath of HaShem burned against Moshe, and He said, 'Is there not Aharon your brother, the Levite? I know that he will surely speak; behold he is coming out to meet you, and when he sees you, he will rejoice in his heart... He shall speak for you to the People; and it will be that he will be your mouth and you will be his leader.' " (Shemot 4:10-17)

How ironic that Moshe "Rabbeinu," our Teacher, the man who will receive the Torah and become its Teacher, par excellence, to the Jewish People, now protests his shortcomings at communication!

When "Adam HaRishon," First Man, is created, the Torah says, "And HaShem the L-rd, formed the Man of earth taken from the ground, and He blew into his nostrils the soul of life; and the Man became a 'nefesh chayah,' a living being." Targum Onkelos translates the term "living being" as "ruach me-malela," a "speaking being." The essence of Man is his rationality and ability to speak, to become a transmitter of a Tradition of Faith embodying Fear and Love of HaShem, and knowledge of His Torah. Incidentally, archaeologists have estimated the first appearance of

alphabet-based languages as occurring approximately 6,000 years ago.

There is a Mesechta in "Shas"called "Nedarim," translated roughly as "vows." What the concept means is the ability, by means of speech, to create an "Issur Cheftza," a prohibition of use of an object which was heretofore completely permissible. If, having made a "Neder," the one who established it violates it, there is a difference of opinion among the "Rishonim," the great medieval commentators, as to which Torah Commands he has violated. According to the Rambam, he has violated all three of the following:

1. The Negative Command, "He shall not render his words valueless." (BaMidbar 30:3)

2. The corresponding Positive Command, "He shall fulfill everything that comes out of his mouth." (ibid.)

3. The Positive Command, "Guard what comes out of your lips and be sure to fulfill it." (Devarim 23:24)

Ramban's opinion, is that he has violated only the second of the Commands listed. From the emphasis of the Torah on the idea that a person should keep his word, we see how important a value truthfulness is in Judaism.

Another aspect of proper speech that follows from the Torah's Command, "You shall be holy" (VaYikra 19:2) is "lashon nekiah," "pure and clean speech." For example, the Torah, which counts every word and letter, uses the expression "that is not pure" (Bereshit 7:2) instead of "impure" in HaShem's instructions to Noach regarding which animals to load onto his ark. People who practice this characteristic will often say, "untruth" rather than "lie." It follows that profanity and loud and ugly speech are, or should be, absent from the speech of a Jew. Then there is the extremely difficult and challenging prohibition against speaking or accepting "lashon hara," "evil or slanderous speech" concerning another human being.

A person's ability to speak should be regarded as a precious and holy gift from HaShem. The ability to organize one's thoughts and express words that are noble, gentle, courteous and well-reasoned, in praise of and in gratitude to HaShem for His Creation, are desirable characteristics of human speech.

L'Illuy Nishmas beni, Aharon Baruch Mordechai ben Pinchas Menachem












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