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Sticks and Stones

05/13/2022 01:36:34 AM


Sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never hurt me.

My 11 year-old recently discovered the fallacy of this children's poem when she was injured by a dictionary, as she was pulling it from a shelf! It was a teachable moment and we had a discussion about how words actually can cause pain. Adults know this all too well. Words, however intangible, have immense power to destroy or repair. How we use this power can sow contempt or build trust, cause pain or bring comfort, breed hate or spread love.

Near the end of Parashat Emor, read this Shabbat in shul, the Torah describes the blasphemer (Mekallel). Commentaries disagree as to whether the main transgression of the Mekallel (1) simply pronouncing the forbidden name of God, (2) blaspheming God Himself, or (3) cursing another person using God's name. Regardless, the perpetrator’s crime was one of speech, not of physical action - yet he is punished severely. The Torah reminds us that rhetoric, although intangible, is not benign and has repercussions.

The value of speech is as relevant today as in biblical times. The Jewish concept of guarding one’s tongue has even penetrated the value system of other religions and cultures - including here in the United States of America. The first amendment to the US Constitution addresses the right to free speech.

This immense freedom is also riddled with responsibility. We recognize that our words and our silence have serious repercussions. We speak out in the face of injustice and participate constructively in debate. We use dialogue to connect, support, and heal, as we tolerate others who peacefully exercise the same rights.

On this, the Psalmist writes:
נצר לשונך מרע ושפתיך מדבר מרמה
Guard your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deception

סור מרע ועשה טוב בקש שלום ורדפהו
Turn away from evil and do good - Seek peace and pursue it.

May our words always reflect the love and respect that we have for others and for all of God’s creations.

- Rabbi Suson

Sat, July 2 2022 3 Tammuz 5782