Rabbi’s Corner

Take the speech improvement challenge

Rabbi Israel Becker
Rabbi Israel Becker

Nearly 2,000 years ago, the Talmud taught us that when a person leaves this world, he/she will be shown their entire life. Our private showing will include audio and video playback of every single conversation of ours. Every single word that we uttered during our lifetime will be presented. In fact, our Rabbis specifically tell us that even the smallest, lightest conversation between a husband and wife will be repeated to us at our time of judgment.

Why is every single seemingly unimportant conversation between a husband and wife repeated to us? Why not just repeat the major aspects of our speaking, the major aspects of our communications?

There is a profound message in the answer to this question. Our Rabbis are teaching us that despite what we might think, there is no such thing as a light use of the gift of speech. There is no such thing as an insignificant word, because every word that we utter has the potential to be Holy, has the potential to be beautiful, has the potential to be generated with feeling and caring and love.

With this concept in mind, we can understand a Biblical directive in the Book of Numbers 30:3, “He shall not profane his words.” The commentary of Rashi (1040-1105 C.E.) explains that “he shall not make his words profane.” Our choice of words as well as the way the words emerge determines their spiritual quality.

In fact, in framing the value and import of our words, the famous Onkelos (90 C.E.) commentary explains Bereishis (Genesis) 2:11, “and G-d formed man from the dust of the earth and blew into his nostrils the soul of life.” Onkelos defines the soul of life as the gift of speech. Our ability to speak is the manifestation of the presence of G-d’s soul within us and actually defines us as humans.

Some people might define profaning speech as using foul language. However, the teachings of the Torah go much further. There is no such thing as an insignificant word. Words uttered without significance are like banging notes on a piano. Conversely, every word uttered with a sense of respect, with a sense of moral direction, with a sense of positive purpose, is a Holy word.

During the coming High Holiday season, we are called upon to make very positive use of the gift of speech, through prayer and through greeting each other and asking each other for forgiveness, and blessing each other.

May I suggest a self-examination for all of us: Take the Speech Improvement Challenge. Challenge yourself every day, with every word you speak.

Prior to saying anything, review your internal dialogue, several times a day.

Muster the courage to review any conversation that you have had. Ask yourself, what exactly was the point of the words I said? What feelings do they evoke for me or for others? Ask yourself, could that conversation have been expressed with more love, more feeling, more concern, more care, more foresight?

This process only takes a few seconds and is well worth the effort.

By realizing the sanctity of speech, and with a few seconds of thought, we can achieve almost instant spiritual elevation and enriched, and more productive living, not only during the High Holidays but during any day or moment of our lives.