Yehuda Lave
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Words can Kill-the symbolism in the Torah

Words can Kill-the symbolism in the Torah

When we were growing up, our parents would encourage us when we got into battles with other children, by telling us that sticks and stones can break your bones but names will never hurt you.

I don’t want to disparage the memories of our blessed parents, but they didn’t tell us the truth.

Names and words can not only hurt, but can kill or bring life.

Proverbs 18:21 puts it this way: “The tongue has the power of life and death.” The stakes are high. Your words can either speak life, or your words can speak death. Our tongues can build others up, or they can tear them down. An unchecked fire doubles in size every minute.

Before the internet, a word was important, but in today’s fake news world, the internet has the power to ruin lives or build businesses.

Just about every blogger can identify with the frustration. You write an article that is kind and well-reasoned and, at least in your estimation, displays your expertise. With some excitement you share this article with the world and, yet, within minutes, you face a barrage of comments that immediately turn it into a battlefield. The entire tone changes from kindness to all-out warfare. While bloggers have rightly been criticized for being too negative at times, blog commenters can be equally ruthless. You don’t have to keep a blog to be a large part of the problem.

This problem has become even more exasperated for the last three years. Liberals have become so frustrated that the world (including the US with Trump), has become more conservative, that if someone doesn’t agree with their viewpoint, they must be wrong and therefore you can insult the other person without any limits.

While the content of the articles of the blogs I read is usually discerning, gracious, loving, the comment threads are commonly not NEARLY marked by the same characteristics but are rather characterized by sarcasm, anger, backbiting, and sometimes, what even appears to be out and out hatred. 

One of the strange realities of the Internet is that it gives us the illusion of being somewhere together, and yet at the same time, it dehumanizes us. 

In this new coronavirus world, we are constantly pushed the illusion that we are together when we are on Zoom or Skype. Since we lost being physically together, people take lemons and make it into lemonade, by saying being on the internet together is just as good. This is especially sold to Grandparents that can no longer see their own grandchildren.

We speak of the Internet as “cyberspace“–a space or place where we go and gather. We tacitly understand that the Internet provides a level of interactivity that was not present in many of our previous means of communication. And yet even as we believe that we are actually somewhere together, we ignore the rules that govern the way we communicate when we are face-to-face. In this relationship mediated by computers and blogs, kindness, gentleness, and self-control seem irrelevant.

Do you see the tension here? We feel like we are together in a real relationship, and yet we dehumanize the person we communicate with. This leads to exactly the kind of ugliness that the reader identified with blog comments.

There is one part of the problem. The second part of the problem is much older than the Internet: We underestimate the power and importance of our words.

The deadly tongue disrupts the community and by its lethal power isolates its owner from the community and kills him. The life-giving tongue creates community and by its vitality gives its possessor the full enjoyment of the abundant life within the community.

People who understand the power of the tongue us their words carefully and thoughtfully. “They search for chaste expression and precise meaning, and they have an end in view which they will reach because they know what language is for and how it can best be used to achieve its purpose.” Yet this is hardly what you expect when reading blog comments.

The Bible teaches in both the Old Testament and the New is that everything you say online, just like everything you say in your home and synagogue and workplace, is a reflection of your heart. The Bible tells us time and again that the tongue is connected to the heart. The words that come out of your mouth simply reflect what’s going on at a spiritual level. This is equally true of the words that fly off your fingers when you are tapping away at a keyboard. Angry and bitter words are necessarily the product of an angry and bitter heart.

So we are dealing with a two-part problem: We underestimate the power of our words and this allows us to misuse them. Meanwhile, the Internet enhances our ability and even our desire to use words carelessly. And before we know it, we are leaving harsh, angry, unkind, sarcastic comments on blogs.

Maybe the solution to this problem is as simple as just growing up. So much of the Spiritual life comes down to maturity–to believing what the Bible says, accepting it, and obeying it. Can’t we just believe that our words are as powerful as Scripture says they are and allow that to then change our behavior?

While there was no internet at the time of the bible, the concept of killing words was there. In Hebrew, it is called Lashon Hara.

Lashon hara (or loshon horo) (Hebrew: לשון הרע‎; “evil tongue”) is the halakhic term for derogatory speech about a person. Lashon hara differs from defamation in that lashon hara is truthful speech, rather than lies, for a wrongful purpose. Lashon hara is considered to be a very serious sin in the Jewish tradition.

Speech is considered to be lashon hara (detraction) if it says something negative about a person or party, is not seriously intended to correct or improve a negative situation, and is true. Statements that fit this description are considered to be lashon hara, regardless of the method of communication that is used, whether it is through face-to-face conversation, a letter, telephone, or email, or even body language.

By contrast, hotzaat shem ra (“spreading a bad name”) – also called hotzaat diba or motzi shem ra (lit. “putting out a bad name”) – consists of untrue remarks, and is best translated as “slander” or “defamation” (calumny). Hotzaat shem ra is worse, and consequentially an even graver sin, than lashon hara.

The act of gossiping is called rechilut, and is also forbidden by halakha. 

Much of the book of Leviticus, especially in chapters 13 and 14 is taken up with long stories of leprosy and bringing birds with for sacrifice and dipping them in blood and hyssop and cedarwood. Most of these stories are pretty unintelligible in today’s world, and we dismiss them as not relevant.

When you have a powerful Bible teacher as I have, the words come to life to teach us, while the Torah didn’t talk about the internet, it taught that words can kill or bring life long before anyone thought about the internet.

To prove words can kill, here is a little story:

A Helpmate Against Him

Morty just finished reading the book, ‘MAN OF THE HOUSE’.

He stormed into the kitchen and walked up to his wife menacingly.

Pointing a finger in her face, he said, “From now on, I want you to know that I am the man of this house, and my word is law! I want you to prepare me a gourmet meal tonight, and when I’m finished eating my meal, I expect a sumptuous dessert afterward. Then, after dinner, you are going to draw me my bath so I can relax. And when I’m finished with my bath, guess who’s going to dress me and comb my hair?”

His wife replied, “The Chevra Kadisha would be my guess.”


About the Author
Yehuda Lave writes a daily (except on Shabbat and Hags) motivational Torah blog at Loving-kindness my specialty. Internationally Known Speaker and Lecturer and Author. Self Help through Bible and Psychology. Classes in controlling anger and finding Joy. Now living and working in Israel. Remember, it only takes a moment to change your life. Learn to have all the joy in your life that you deserve!!! There are great masters here to interpret Spirituality. Studied Kabbalah and being a good human being with Rabbi Plizken and Rabbi Ephraim Sprecher, my Rabbi. Torah is the name of the game in Israel, with 3,500 years of mystics and scholars interpreting G-D's word. Yehuda Lave is an author, journalist, psychologist, rabbi, spiritual teacher and coach, with degrees in business, psychology and Jewish Law. He works with people from all walks of life and helps them in their search for greater happiness, meaning, business advice on saving money, and spiritual engagement
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