Freedom of speech
Freedom of speechiStock

Our Parasha opens with the admonition of Moshe Rabbeinu, to the heads of the tribes:(30:2-3)’This is the thing that Hashem has commanded; If a man takes a vow to Hashem or swears an oath to establish a prohibition upon himself, he shall not violate his word; according to whatever comes from his mouth shall he do’.

Rashi comments:’He shall not violate his word’:’He shall not profane his word; he shall not treat his word as unholy’.

Rav Eliyahu Dessler derives from here, that this means, that, if a person says: this stone or this tree, is sanctified, they, by his words, become sanctified; and, if he said that this oxen or this sheep are sanctified, they are thereby sanctified - thus, anyone who slaughters it outside the Beit Hamikdash, is liable to death from Above, as in any case of slaughtering sanctified animals, outside of the sanctuary.

‘All this from the power of his words! from man being created as ‘a living soul’ - with the power of speech’.

Rabbeinu Yona expounds the source of this wondrous power:’ If aJew sanctifies his mouth, his mouth becomes a כלי שרת: a sanctified ministering vessel; just as a kli sharet sanctifies whatever is placed in it, and gives it a new nature - as sanctified -so too, the words that emanate from the mouth of a Jew - his mouth being a kli sharet - is sanctified, and his words are ‘sacred’.

‘The reason that the mouth - alone from all of man’s organs - is a kli sharet, derives from the words of the prophet Isaiah (43:21) you Israel, ‘the people which I formed for Myself, that they might tell of My praise’.

‘The whole purpose for which Israel was created, was to proclaim Hashem’s praises - and since this was the purpose of their creation, their mouths are therefore sanctified ministering vessels!’.

Adds the Netivot Shalom:’We find that a major part of our service of Hashem, is performed by our power of speech: our toil in Torah - in which we are enjoined to engage ‘day and night’ - and, of course, our daily prayers. So too, the Mitzvah to ‘remember’ the Shabbat, is to ‘remember it by words’.

‘For this reason, our mouths are akin to a kli sharet, like all vessels which are intended for the service of Hashem’.

The hasidic master, the Shem miShmuel adds a beautiful gloss:’The reason that a person can, by his words, elevate a mundane object to be sanctified, is because one who ‘guards’ what comes out of his mouth, renders his mouth to be a kli sharet- and just as these vessels in the rituals of the sanctuary sanctified that which was placed in them, so too, words uttered by our mouths.

‘This, however, is conditional upon the mouth remaining sanctified, by not being rendered ‘impure’, by uttering ‘impure’ matters.

‘Just as the sanctified vessels in the sanctuary only remained sanctified if not defiled - as, if they became ‘impure’, they ceased to be sanctified, and required sanctification anew.

‘That which Rabbeinu Yona laid down: that the mouth was a kli sharet only when the person guarded his mouth from ‘being used’ for impure speech’.

Rav Yitzchak Goldwasser adds:’Man’s power of speech - which differentiates him from other living creatures - is the direct result of the infusion of the Divine into man, at his creation - this making him ‘a talking soul’.

‘Misuse of this gift of speech, shows a disrespect for this wondrous gift - the transgressor shows that he does not give enough respect to the Divine part in him’.

Rabbeinu Bahya ben Asher, in his mussar classic Kad haKemach, proffers a singular teaching as to the importance of pure speech:’The words that come out of your mouth, should be more ‘weighty’ in your eyes, than the money that you expend’ because of its singular power.

Comments Rav Ahron Kotler:’This is because of their awesome importance; not to take such care, is akin to casting away preciousr stones.

‘Not only because of the power of words, and what they can achieve, but because they are a gift from your king - Hashem - and to disrespect them, is to disrespect the king - and this is in addition to the loss, of the divrei Torah that they could have been used for - and were not - at that time’.

Asks Rav Chaim Friedlander:’Why, then, are we so careless with our words?’.

He answers: ‘We are careful as to our deeds, as their outcome is tangible, to our eyes; we are less careful with our words, as their outcome is not evident, in the same way.

‘This is despite the teaching of our Sages, that our words are no less a creation than the creation of this world - because of their unique power to ‘create’: to sanctify mundane objects and activities.

‘So so, that the sages of the Zohar Hakadosh say that by the power of our words, we are partners in creation with Hashem!

‘If we but gave thought to the effect in this world - and Above - of our words, how much more careful we would be with that which comes out of our mouths’.

Rav Chaim miVolozhin brings the following proof of this:’The fine for seducing a maiden - which is an act - is fifty shekelim; the fine for words, giving somene a bad name, however, is double that sum : one hundred shekelim.

‘This is because speech comes from one’s soul, and therefore causes more damage than deeds - the effect of words is felt in all worlds’.

A beautiful parting insight from the Ben Ish Hai:’We find that Hashem created in man two repositories for the mind and the intellect: the brain and the heart; for speech, however, He created only one repository: the mouth.

‘He placed the mouth in our bodies in the middle, between these other two repositories, so that they should ‘guide’ man before he opens his mouth, to utter words.

‘He should first ‘check’ through these two organs, if the words he wishes to utter, are appropriate and that he will be able to fulfill them. Only, if sure of this, may the words be uttered.

‘This is alluded to in the words לא יחל דברו - not in the literal sense, of not making his words חולין: not desecrating them, but, homiletically, לא יחל: not to start - להתחיל - by uttering words, but to first check their appropriateness or propriety, with the other organs mentioned’.

לרפואת נועם עליזה בת זהבה רבקה ונחום אלימלך רפאל בן זהבה רבקה, בתוך שאר חולי עמנו.