A powerful agent is the right word. Whenever we come upon one of those intensely right words… the resulting effect is physical as well as spiritual, and electrically prompt.
The beginning of this week’s Torah reading of Shoftim instructs the people of Israel: “Judges and officers shall you place for yourselves in all your gates.” The Bat Ayin on Deuteronomy 16:18 explains that the interestingly phrased command is hinting at a number of deeper lessons.
One of those lessons is the connection between the words we speak and the quality of our Shabbat. The Kabbalistic book, Sefer Hayetzirah, The Book of Formation, alludes to calling letters stones and words houses. By speaking and enunciating sacred letters and words we are using holy stones to build a domicile for God in our world and in our lives.
The most important timeframe when such transcendent architecture takes place is on the Sabbath. By being cognizant on the Sabbath of not speaking mundane things or worse, by being conscientious in our saying the words of our prayers with meaning and not by rote, by taking the opportunity to learn Torah, to speak Torah, to share words of Torah, by sanctifying our thoughts, our speech and our actions, we consecrate ourselves and create a suitable conduit for God to more closely attune Himself to our lives. In some spiritual way, it can even repair certain aspects of the damage our misused words may have done during the course of the week. What prayers did we utter without thinking? What innocent comments inadvertently hurt somebody’s feelings? What nonsense did we discuss? (Other, more willful, and harmful use of our gift of speech needs more serious and more direct repentance).
The Talmud (Tractate Shabbat 113b) states that our speech on Shabbat should not be like that of a weekday. The Shabbat Musaf prayer refers to “you fixed Shabbat” (Tikanta Shabbat). The Bat Ayin explains that we need to use Shabbat to fix our talking, to fix our speech. By reinforcing within ourselves the belief in God’s existence, power, and presence, we may strengthen our discipline in using our faculty of speech properly, even nobly.
When we build such a divine edifice on the Sabbath just by watching how we use our unique human gift of speech, the positive impact that it will have on ourselves, our families, our friends, our communities, and the wider world will stand and resonate throughout the week.
Our ability to speak is an exceptionally powerful ability. May we use it well.
To the discovery of an apparently 5,500-year-old city gate (the oldest so far) in Israel.