Last year, I had the privilege of hosting Rabbi Noach Orlowek, a prominent mashgiach and noted lecturer. I offered him the use of my study, lined wall-to-wall with seforim. When I came down in the morning, I saw only one sefer pulled out — the sefer Chofetz Chaim – the laws regarding lashon harah (evil speech.) Rav Orlowek later asked me, “Would it be alright to bring this sefer to my room?” Rav Orlowek has no doubt learned the sefer many times, but of all the choices at his disposal, he put this at the top of his list. This encounter taught me how important it is to constantly review these laws, especially when we counsel and teach others.
Parshas Tazria deals with the affliction of tzora’as, a skin affliction usually caused by lashon harah. However, the Gemara (Eruchin) lists a few other sins which cause this spiritual affliction. One of the other causes is tzora’as eyin – being stingy. I believe this sin can also be included under the category of negative speech, as we can sometimes be guilty of being stingy with our words. Sometimes, we have nice words we could say and we hold back. This is a form of miserliness — withholding complimentary words.
There is a lot of press on the damage caused by lashon harah and negative words. But if we really want to use our speech properly, we need to focus on the power of positive speech. In Mishlei (18:21) it says, “Mavess v’chaim b’yad haloshon” — death and life is determined by the tongue. Everyone recognizes the appropriateness of the word “death,” but what about “life?” The answer is, we must certainly prevent our speech from doing harm, but we must also strive to do good! Proper speech can be both healing and life-giving.
Hal Urban, an expert on sales and marketing, wrote a book about using positive words to sell products. Based on his research, he concluded a person speaks an average of 40,000 words a day! Just imagine if we were able to use all forty-thousand words to compliment and encourage! Wouldn’t the recipients of these words be truly transformed?
An environmental group in Indiana wanted to make a point. They made a chain of pennies on the road as far as they could. The chain extended for 40 miles! It consisted of 3.3 million pennies, amounting to $33,000 dollars. Just as one penny added to another can total an enormous sum, so too, our words can build towers of goodness.
I am close to a noted Rabbi who is sought out by many for his counsel. Alas, his doctor found a growth in him that required surgery. It was a life-or-death procedure. He told me that when he was diagnosed, he decided to do something as a zechus (merit.) Together with his wife, they took upon themselves not to say another negative word about anyone…ever. Period! He counsels thousands of people, so this is no easy task. Baruch Hashem, the surgery was successful and he’s back in full force! This was a real fulfilment of the verse Mavess v’chaim byad haloshon –death and life is determined by the tongue.
We can do it. We just need to train ourselves.
This Shabbos, we will also read the section for Parshas Hachodesh. Here, the Torah discusses the mitzvah of establishing the lunar calendar and declaring the new month based on the sighting of the new moon. This mitzvah was the precursor to the miracle of Hashem taking the Jews out of Mitzrayim. The Sfas Emes notes the word “chodesh” – month – has the same letters as chadash – new. We thus learn that Bnei Yisrael always have the ability to become something new, creating lifelong changes.
The Zohar says that when the Jews were in Egypt, they had a “speech deficiency”- they were not able to express themselves properly. This is illustrated by the name of our holiday where we leave Egypt — “Pesach.” The name is a combination of two words:peh sach – mouth speaks. At that time, we acquired the freedom to express ourselves properly, both to Hashem and to man.
Let’s do it! Choose one person a day to give compliments and endearing words. It can be anyone you choose – a spouse, child, parent, friend or coworker. It’s a total win-win! Make a checklist of people and don’t go to sleep until one is checked off. In a pinch, send an email or text if it’s late, since most people would not appreciate being woken up, even if we have the nicest things to say!
With this new commitment, may we merit that this Pesach should be the Final Redemption.