Monday, July 18, 2011

Watching Our Words

Parshat Mattot
Bamidbar 30:2 – 32:42
21 Tamuz 5771 / July 22 – 23, 2011

Watching Our Words
by Zvi Bellin, MHHQ

The opening of Parshat Mattot hits us with a strong reminder: Words have power!

Verse 30:3 states,

“A person that makes a vow to dedicate something to the Divine, or swears him or herself to a prohibition, must not make her or her words hollow. Everything that comes out of his or her mouth, he or she will do.”

We all know how important words are. Not only do we have to be careful about what we say, but also how we say anything and who we say it to. Things can get even trickier when we move into the world of e-mailing. When we lose visual and auditory cues, it can be impossible to know if our message has reached the perceiver with our original intention.

I recently received a message about a tragic episode that happened in Brooklyn, when the body of a 9-year old religious Jewish boy was found disposed of in a dumpster. I read on and learned that a suspect was identified and that this person pretty much admitted to committing this crime. I began to read some of the comments left by fellow readers and my heart sank even deeper.

A few of the comments used language that I have a lot of trouble with – “Yenakem at Damo” (Avenge his blood.)If we are to take our words and intentions seriously, I think a cry for vengeance is the most dangerous prayer. When a situation calls for nurturing and healing, further destruction seems pretty pointless. Repaying with impulsive punishment does nothing more than provide temporary relief and more likely increases the cycle of guilt and anger.

We are warned in this week’s portion not to make our words hollow. In Hebrew, the verse reads, Lo Yachel Devaro. This can also be translated as: “A person shall not make his or her thing-ness empty.” I would like to suggest the following interpretation: You should protect your internal being (your thing-ness) from becoming jaded, void, and cynical.

The world can hammer upon us with difficult experiences that are scary and harsh. It takes a lot of conscious effort and practice to stay optimistic and connected to joy. A good litmus test to see how you are coping is to pay attention to the words that you use and hear about the things going on around you. If you are quick to make a joke about something, it might mean that you are experiencing discomfort. If you are being aloof, you might be disconnected or confused about a situation. If there is a lot of negative language coming at you, it might be time to close your web browser and take a walk.

If you are simply flinging words out into your environment (virtual or real) without thinking about their impact it might mean that you have lost your attunement to your internal state. Acting as a hollow shell instead of a complex unique and conscious being. This week let’s remember that our words have immense power to transform our world for the worse or, hopefully, for the better.


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