Foul language sullies your soul and the environment (Shabbos 33)

King Shlomo was the wisest man to walk the face of the Earth. Legend has it that one of his special talents was his ability to understand the language of every species. The name Shlomo comes from the word for peace or completeness. Solomon was so wise that he was able to judge and bring peace and wholesomeness not only to human beings, but even to the animal kingdom!

During the latter part of the twentieth century, various attempts were made to train animals to communicate with humans. Lacking the wisdom of Solomon, however, all of these proved unsuccessful. Catherine and Keith Hayes did manage in the 1950s to teach their chimpanzee to say ‘mama’ and ‘papa.’ And in the 1970s, Francine Patterson taught sign language to Koko the gorilla.

The best achievement was reached by Irene Pepperberg, who spent the better part of three decades from 1974 onwards teaching her parakeet, Alex, to talk. On one occasion, he asked for a nut. When he did not receive what he asked for, he demanded loudly, ‘N, U, T’ and was even able to respond to basic numerical addition questions!

Ultimately, however, researchers concluded that, for the most part, even when animals communicate with one another, the topic of their conversations are on a much more basic, practical level than the discussions that take place between human beings.

בַּעֲוֹן נַבְלוּת פֶּה צָרוֹת רַבּוֹת, וּגְזֵירוֹת קָשׁוֹת מִתְחַדְּשׁוֹת, וּבַחוּרֵי שׂוֹנְאֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל מֵתִים, יְתוֹמִים וְאַלְמָנוֹת צוֹעֲקִין וְאֵינָן נַעֲנִין, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: ״עַל כֵּן עַל בַּחוּרָיו לֹא יִשְׂמַח ה׳ וְאֶת יְתוֹמָיו (וְאַלְמְנוֹתָיו) [וְאֶת אַלְמְנוֹתָיו] לֹא יְרַחֵם כִּי כֻלּוֹ חָנֵף וּמֵרַע וְכׇל פֶּה דּוֹבֵר נְבָלָה בְּכׇל זֹאת לֹא שָׁב אַפּוֹ וְעוֹד יָדוֹ נְטוּיָה״. מַאי ״וְעוֹד יָדוֹ נְטוּיָה״ — אָמַר רַבִּי חָנָן בַּר רָבָא: הַכֹּל יוֹדְעִין כַּלָּה לָמָּה נִכְנְסָה לַחוּפָּה. אֶלָּא כׇּל הַמְנַבֵּל פִּיו אֲפִילּוּ חוֹתְמִין עָלָיו גְּזַר דִּין שֶׁל שִׁבְעִים שָׁנָה לְטוֹבָה — הוֹפְכִין עָלָיו לְרָעָה. אָמַר רַבָּה בַּר שֵׁילָא אָמַר רַב חִסְדָּא: כׇּל הַמְנַבֵּל אֶת פִּיו — מַעֲמִיקִין לוֹ גֵּיהִנָּם, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: ״שׁוּחָה עֲמוּקָּה פִּי זָרוֹת״. רַב נַחְמָן בַּר יִצְחָק אָמַר: אַף שׁוֹמֵעַ וְשׁוֹתֵק, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: ״זְעוּם ה׳ יִפּוֹל שָׁם״

Due to the sin of vulgar speech, troubles abound, and harsh decrees are renewed, and the youth among the enemies of Israel (a euphemistic reference to Israel) die, and orphans and widows cry out for help and are not answered, as it is stated: “Therefore the Lord shall have no joy in their young men, neither shall He have compassion on their fatherless and widows; for everyone is ungodly and an evildoer, and every mouth speaks wantonness. For all this His anger is not turned away, but His hand is stretched out still.” What is the meaning of the phrase: But His hand is stretched out still? Rabbi Chanan bar Rava said: Everybody knows why the bride enters the wedding canopy. Nevertheless, anyone who speaks vulgarly about it, even if they, on High, sealed for him a decree of seventy years of good fortune, they will reverse it to bad fortune because of this sin. And Rabba bar Sheila said that Rav Chisda said: Anyone who speaks vulgarly, they deepen Gehenom for him, as it is stated: “The mouth that speaks perversity is a deep pit.” Rav Nacḥman bar Yitzcḥak said: Even one who hears vulgar speech and is silent is punished, as it is stated: “He that is abhorred of the Lord shall fall therein.”

When God created humankind, the Torah states, “And He blew into his nose the neshama of life, and man was a living soul.” Onkelos translates ‘living soul’ as ‘speaking spirit,’ meaning that the uniqueness of human beings is our ability to speak. The Maharal explains that man’s capacity for speech is what separates us from the animal kingdom. When we degrade our speaking capacity with foul language, we are degrading the essence of our humanity.

In the Torah’s verse concerning our creation, four words for soul are used: neshama, nefesh, chaya, and in the translation, ruach. These are various levels of our human soul. In the afterlife, en route to heaven, the soul undergoes a purification process, called Gehenom. Rav Chisda teaches that the more a person acculturates themselves to using foul language, the more they sully their soul, and consequently, the more intense the purification process needed in the next world.

According to kabbalistic thought, there are four levels of creation: inanimate objects (domem), vegetation (tzomeach), animals (chai), and human beings (medaber). We are categorized by our ability to speak. Speech is a Divine gift that many people take for granted. Many comedians find it challenging to put together a clean set. Likewise, too many people struggle with the inability to conduct a conversation without inserting meaningless expletives.

These tendencies are the machinations of the Satan, in his attempts to lower our spiritual stature. We all know that such language is inappropriate, despite the difficulty that we might have articulating why foul language is improper. Something deep within our souls tells us that such language tarnishes our pure and pristine inner core.

When the Torah talks about kosher animals, it uses the word ‘tahor’, meaning pure. Our Sages point out that the Torah does not call non-kosher animals ‘tamei’, meaning impure. Rather, the Torah calls them animals that are not pure. Even though it necessitates employing extra words, the Torah avoids the use of the word ‘impure.’ If that’s true of a seemingly innocuous word, how much more careful must we be when it comes to the everyday language we use. Speech is the faculty of your pure and holy soul. You have a responsibility to maintain both the purity of your soul and the air around you!

Keeping a clean mouth is not one of the 613 commandments. Nevertheless, the level of language and the topics of conversation you choose to engage in say a lot about your character. May you maintain your soul’s pristine state and always speak in the language of the prince and princess of the Supreme King of Kings you were created to be!

About the Author
Rabbi of Hampstead Garden Suburb Synagogue, London, UK.
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