The early mystics who founded the Chassidic movement used to be so into their own introspective Avodat Hashem (Divine service/life mission). So much so, that they never even thought to think negatively about others, much less speak it!! 

There is certainly a lot to be learned from this- especially with regard to the sources of forbidden speech, which include looking for faults in others before ourselves, and failing to judge others favorably if we perceive a flaw. But for the most people, it is extremely difficult to remain rightly focused on our own problems. As a result, Halacha (Jewish law) also mandates that we judge others favorably and take tremendous care with what comes out of our mouths. As they say, Hashem, who creates everything purposely, didn't give us two ears/eyes and one mouth for nothing!!  Human speech is modeled, so to speak, on divine speech- we are made in G-d's "image," after all. Take the story of creation, with the ten utterances that G-d used to create the world. ('Let there be light!' and so forth) 

Kabbalistically speaking, before G-d created the worlds of Beriah, Yetzirah, and Asiyah (we live in the lowest part of Asiyah), He had to make a "space" in which to fashion them. By this we mean that He concealed Himself, so as to make way for the existence of worlds and beings that see themselves, instead of Him. Instead of being overwhelmed by G-d, the posslbility was born to feel one's one presence so powerfully that one could deny Him. 

So in this "space" which exists only from the perspective of created beings- in reality, of course, there is not place devoid of Him- G-d created everything through "speech." So too in the human analogue, speech requires an area outside of oneself into which we project a force- just like G-d seems to do so into the "empty space." That is one way of looking at the statements in Genesis- G-d is projecting a lifeforce into a "space" that is (from our perspective), separate and outside of Him. 

And like divine speech, this power can create or destroy- and once it exits our mouths (identified with the sefira of malchut, or the final sefira- the last step before exiting a given world) then there is no way to get it back. It has exited, so to speak, and gone on to influence other worlds. And our tradition learns from the story of Adam, who is everyone's common ancestor that each person is a complete world. 

This is the reason for the tremendous emphasis on refraining from speaking lashon hara(negative speech)-or listening to it, which gives it a place to enter and continue an independent existence.  Lashon hara must be given no quarter- we cannot give it a receptacle in our inner worlds (ie perception) in which to continue to wreak havok. Because once one hears and believes a piece of negative information,(also forbidden) then it forever taints their perception of the subject of the slander. 

All the more reason to harness the power of speech for positivity- for creation. When a fetus develops inside of the womb, we do not necessarily consider it a separate person in every respect until it has exited. Similarly, when our emotions and thoughts begin to nurture a new potential creation, let's make sure it is something that is positive before giving birth to it!  

Good shabbos!!! 


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    Yaakov Grossman is a Jewish educator, author, private tutor/child care professional, and student in the Metro New York area. Professional inquiries should be addressed to

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    September 2011
    August 2011


    Modern Orthodoxy