The Power of the Words We Speak
“He who guards his mouth and his tongue guards himself from aggravation of his soul.”
– Proverbs 21:23
Jacob ben Wolf Kranz of Dubno, the Dubner Maggid, was a Lithuanian-born maggid (preacher). He was born at Zietil (now Dzyatlava), in the government of Wilna (now Belarus), around 1740, and died at Zamość on December 18, 1804.
Rabbi Jacob was an unrivaled preacher. Possessing great eloquence, he illustrated his sermons and homiletic commentaries with parables taken from human life. By such parables, he explained the most difficult passages and cleared up many perplexing questions in rabbinical law. He was also an eminent rabbinical scholar and often was consulted as an authority.
Once, the Dubner Maggid warned a particular individual that his words should be carefully thought-out before speaking because they could have serious consequences. The person tried to defend himself by saying, “I did not do anything; it was only words.”
The Dubner Maggid replied, “In the Torah, we are told of a miraculous skin disorder that would come to people who spoke gossip. Their punishment would be expulsion from the community. “Let him sit alone (in a state of impurity) outside the camps he should dwell,” says the Bible.
This fellow was punished measure for measure. Because his gossip caused separation and strife between husbands and wives, between people and their friends, the punishment was to be alone until the condition cleared.
Being alone is considered like death itself. It was hoped that once he was cured, his life would be renewed as if he had been born again, healthier and better than before.
Said the Dubner Maggid, “Concerning this Godly condition of leprosy, the Torah instructs something that is not found in any of the other commandments.” It is not enough to get the opinion of an expert Rabbi on this condition; the afflicted person is specifically prescribed to visit a priest, and only the priest has the power to alter the person’s life by announcing whether he is “pure” or “impure.”
“The reason for this,” said the Dubner Maggid, “is because this condition comes mostly for the transgression of an evil tongue (gossip), and people who stumble over this sin minimize the severity of the deed by saying, ‘I merely said a couple of words,’ therefore the Torah tells him to go to a priest so he can see and experience firsthand the power of words. The person’s fate is determined by just one word, ‘pure’ or ‘impure.”
Our sages tell us, “God made a covenant (treaty) with the lips.” The words that we speak have a direct impact on the influence and outcome of actual reality.
“Do not open your mouth (and give fodder) to the bad angel.” When a person says something negative about himself or gossips about another, the holy book of the Zohar says these words are used against the person.
For example, when a person says, “I do not have any more strength,” or “I do not have any money,” he creates, through a combination of those enunciated letters, a reality wherein there is a lack of strength and energy and no money. People were made in the image and likeness of God. Like God, who made the world with the power of ten words and commands, our words have a lot of power to make things happen.
The same is true of positive words. The Talmud recounts the story of Rabbi Akiva, who was extremely poor. When he married his wife Rachel, they could not afford beds and were forced to sleep on straw. To eat, Rachel sold her hair.
Rabbi Akiva would tell his wife Rachel, “Do not worry, I will yet purchase for you Jerusalem of Gold.” The commentaries explain this was a particular ornament of jewelry with which only the wealthy adorned themselves.
The Talmud says, “Not many years went by, and Rachel was able to go up to her bed on ladders of gold! Rabbi Akiva purchased this ‘Jerusalem of Gold’ ornament for his wife. Rabbi Akiva became wealthy through eight ways, and each one was miraculous, without toil or effort.” With this story, the Talmud demonstrates the incredible power of positive words.
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