Loving talk is not only G-d’s preferred language; it is built into the very fabric of creation.
“In the beginning, G-d created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was astonishingly empty . . . And G-d said, let there be light. G-d saw that the light was good and separated between the light and the darkness. G-d called the light day and the darkness, He called night.”
This seems like a confusing way to tell us that G-d created light and dark. Our sages noticed this and offered some commentary. The astonishing emptiness, said our sages, refers to the behavior of the wicked. Let there be light refers to the behavior of the righteous. At first both seemed acceptable, but G-d separated between them and called righteous behavior day and wicked behavior night.
If our sages were attempting to clarify this confusion, they appeared to only make it more confusing. Why should the wicked seem acceptable to G-d? Isn’t G-d the epitome of righteousness?
Let me try to untangle this for you. Our sages did not say that the wicked seemed as acceptable as the righteous, but that their behavior seemed acceptable before G-d. One of the key distinctions between righteous and wicked behavior is the way they treat others. The righteous befriend and lift others up; they are pleasant, sweet, and encouraging. The wicked are wrathful; they berate and belittle others.
There are two languages: wrathful talk and loving talk. On the surface, loving talk seems more acceptable to G-d than wrathful talk. However, for a moment, G-d considered making wrathful talk acceptable too.
You see, there are two ways to encourage our fellow to be righteous. One is with loving talk. We are welcoming and loving, accepting, and tolerant. We compliment them, highlight their strengths, and lift them up. They then take a positive view of themselves and realize that wicked behavior is unseemly for someone of their stature. It is beneath them. They embrace righteousness not out of guilt, but out of a motivation to live up to their true strengths.
Then there is another way that has sadly crept into our religious lexicon. It is to criticize and demean those who are not as religious as we are. Those who are less honest, those who don’t observe Shabbat as meticulously, those whose kosher standards are less extensive than ours. The objective is to ensure they know their behavior is wrong in the hope that they just might change their behavioral patterns because of our wrathful talk. We berate them, paint them as immoral and uncouth, and tell them that they are worthless. We describe the terrible consequences of their actions, and we destroy their self-esteem.
For some, this might sound like holy talk albeit not loving talk and for a moment G-d considered whether such wrathful talk might be good. But G-d quickly discarded the notion. There is nothing holy and beautiful, there is nothing bright and G-dly, about such talk.
Even if it inspires someone to repent, the response won’t be as genuine nor as long lasting as the response to loving talk. G-d is inherently good and loving, and He wants us to be good and loving too. He, therefore, chose the loving talk of the righteous.
First, He created wrathful talk, but He saw that it was astonishingly empty. So, He said, “let there be light”—let there be loving talk. He then saw that light—loving talk—is good and He separated the wrathful talk from the loving talk, calling one day and the other night.
You might wonder why G-d made wrathful talk, why didn’t He create loving talk and leave it at that?
The answer is that humans are not born righteous. We are born selfish and wicked. One of the first values parents and teachers must impart is to share and be kind. To play together and be polite. These aren’t inborn traits. They are learned. Children are sweet only so long as they have everything they want and need. If they want something and don’t get it, they turn angry fast.
This is the way G-d made us. He didn’t want righteousness to come easily to us. He wanted us to work for it. Anything worth having is worth working for. This toil can be difficult and frustrating, but it can only be ingrained by hard work. By trying, failing, and trying again. Only then is it really implanted in us.
Even so, we adults often regress and behave like children. We take offense at perceived slights and respond immaturely. We lash out, say wrathful things, and stew in righteous indignation. But we are meant to learn from such slip ups, not double down on them.
It is a process. The beginning of life is astonishingly empty. Then we create our light by working hard and absorbing our newly learned values. It is only twelve and thirteen years after birth, after maturing and learning values that are not ours by nature, that we can become Bat or Bar Mitzvah.
A Sacred Connection
Loving talk reflects our inherent oneness. On the surface, each person is separate. But at certain moments of inspiration, we feel connected. We feel an inherent oneness with perfect strangers. It can be in a positive context—when your team wins a hard-fought game, and the entire stadium celebrates as one. It can also be in a negative context—when a national tragedy occurs, and everyone grieves as one.
This is not just because we share a common love or loyalty. It transcends our common thread. We feel a deep oneness, a kinship that transcends our loyalty to the team. It is a glimpse of our inherent oneness that is concealed on the surface. On the surface, we are each unique. No two people are alike. But deep down, we are one because we were created by one G-d. In intensely uplifting moments, we gain a glimpse of this oneness.
The best of both worlds is when this inner oneness is prevalent on the surface. This is why loving talk is so much better than wrathful talk. It is not just about the more effective and more positive way to build relationships. It is not just about the way we make other people feel. It is about expressing our inherent oneness with those who are very different from us on the surface.
You are righteous. The other person is wicked. There can be no greater divide than that. Yet, you are inherently one. When you respond to your differences with loving talk, you reveal your common bond with the One G-d; the One Creator Who Created both. This is about connecting with others and it is also about connecting G-d with both of you. Your connection becomes sacred.
Once you acknowledge others as a spark of G-d, you can respect them despite their wickedness. You don’t need to demean and belittle them. You don’t need to dismiss them or dismiss their inherent value. After all, they are sparks of G-d. What can be holier than that?