The Power of Positive Speech: Lessons from the Torah

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by R. Eliezer Simcha Weisz

The Torah, in this week’s Parsha, offers a profound lesson that extends far beyond the actual laws of the Metzora (one afflicted with tzaraat). It teaches us about the importance of positive speech, highlighting its significance in our daily lives.

In Vayikra 14:4, it is commanded that the Metzorah who seeks purification must bring a Korban including   two living clean birds:

וְצִוָּה֙ הַכֹּהֵ֔ן וְלָקַ֧ח לַמִּטַּהֵ֛ר שְׁתֵּֽי־צִפֳּרִ֥ים חַיּ֖וֹת טְהֹר֑וֹת וְעֵ֣ץ אֶ֔רֶז וּשְׁנִ֥י תוֹלַ֖עַת וְאֵזֹֽב׃

Rashi explains:

טהרות. פְּרָט לְעוֹף טָמֵא, לְפִי שֶׁהַנְּגָעִים בָּאִים עַל לָשׁוֹן הָרַע שֶׁהוּא מַעֲשֵׂה פִטְפּוּטֵי דְבָרִים, לְפִיכָךְ הֻזְקְקוּ לְטָהֳרָתוֹ צִפֳּרִים שֶׁמְּפַטְפְּטִין תָּמִיד בְּצִפְצוּף קוֹל (ערכין ט”ז)

The Zohar Hakadosh explains. He explains that two birds are required,  as both relate to aspects of the power of speech:

– One for harmful speech (lashon hara).

– The other for positive words that could have been spoken but were not.

דהנגעין באין על מילה בישה ועל מילין טבין דאתי לידיה ולא מליל (זהר פרשת תזריע)

While the need for atonement for negative speech, like gossip (lashon hara), is clear, the Zohar Hakadosh suggests that withholding positive reinforcement can be just as detrimental as negative speech. Imagine a situation where you have the opportunity to praise someone’s effort but remain silent. Even though nothing negative is said, the lack of acknowledgment can be discouraging.

The Pirush HaSulam further explains:

כמו שעונש האדם הוא משום דיבור רע, כך עונשו, משום דיבור טוב שבא לידו ויכול לדבר ולא דיבר

Just as one is punished for speaking negatively so to one is punished  for refraining to speak positively

Thus positive reinforcement in the form of praise or rewards to the other is as crucial as avoiding negativity. Therefore, one does not only need to bring a korban (offering) for bad speech, but even for the good speech, or lack thereof.

Another example of positive reinforcement emerges during the construction of the Mishkan, built by the Israelites in the desert (Shemos 28:3). Here, Hashem (G-D) instructs Moshe Rabbeinu on the construction of the Mishkan and its vessels. He tells him (Shemos 28:3):

ואתה תדבר אל־כל־חכמי־לב אשר מלאתיו רוח חכמה ועשו את־בגדי אהרן לקדשו לכהנו־לי: (שמות פרק כח פסוק ג)

“V’atah T’daber el kol chachmei leiv asher meelaisiv ruach chochmah, V’asu es bigdei aharon lkadsho lchahano li”

And you shall speak to all the wise-hearted, whom I have filled with the spirit of wisdom, and they shall make the garments of Aaron, to sanctify him for ministering to Me.

Chatam Sofer understands this command to Moshe Rabbeinu differently. The verse begins with “V’atah T’daber el kol chachmei leiv” (And you shall speak to all the wise-hearted). Here, Chatam Sofer emphasizes that this is more than simply assigning tasks to the skilled artisans.

ירצה [הפסוק רוצה להגיד] כמו שכתב חובת הלבבות (בהקדמה) שבלבות האנשים חכמה נטועה, אם יבוא מי שיעוררם על זה יוציא המטמון ההוא ויגלה לעין כל, ואם לאו יהא נעלם, כגרגיר הזרוע שאם יעדר ויחרוש יצמח ואם לאו ירקב,

והכי נמי [וגם כאן] אמר ה’ יתברך למשה רבנו עליו השלום לֶהֱיות כי הוא יתברך מילא אותם חכמת לב וצריכים למי שיעורר אותם ויודיעם זה, כדי להוציא חכמתם התקוע בכח אל הפועל, לזה אמר ‘ואתה תדבר אל כל חכמי לב’ ומה תדבר אליהם? ‘אשר מלאתיו רוח חכמה’ – זה בעצמו הוא הדיבור אשר תדבר ותודיעם שהם מלאים רוח חכמה, ועל ידי זה בזאת ההודעה ‘ועשה את בגדי אהרן’ כי יעוררו להוציאם אל הפועל.” (חתם סופר)

The verse intends to express, as outlined in the introduction to Chovot HaLevavot (Duties of the Heart), that within people’s hearts wisdom is inherently present. If someone comes and prompts them to acknowledge this, that valuable resource will be brought into the open for all to see; however, if not, it will remain concealed, akin to a seed that, when nurtured, sprouts, but if neglected, it decays.

Similarly, Hashem, blessed be He, conveyed to our teacher Moses, peace be upon him, that because He had imbued them with wisdom, they require someone to rouse and enlighten them to this fact, thereby enabling them to manifest their latent wisdom in action. This elucidates the directive, “And you shall speak to all the wise-hearted,” signifying that Moses was to convey to them, “Whom I have filled with the spirit of wisdom” – this communication itself serves as the means to inform them that they are imbued with wisdom. Through this, by means of this communication, “and they shall make the garments of Aaron,” they will be motivated to actualize this wisdom into practical deeds.

When using the specific phrase, “asher meelaisiv ruach chochmah” (whom I have filled with the spirit of wisdom), Hashem instructs Moshe Rabbeinu to tell them and make them aware that they are special, that “asher meelaisiv ruach chochmah” – “that I have filled them with the spirit of wisdom” – imbued them with special qualities skill talent and wisdom.

This positive reinforcement serves a vital purpose. It motivates the artisans and empowers them to create the garments for the Mishkan. This explanation of the instructions given by Hashem to Moshe Rabbeinu underscores the importance of encouragement in unlocking a person’s full potential.

The Torah teaches  us of the profound impact our words can have on others. Whether through praise, encouragement, or acknowledgment, positive communication has the power to uplift, inspire, and bring out the best in those around us.

We should strive strive to emulate the Torah’s teachings showering our family, friends, colleagues, and students with positive speech.

About Eliezer Simcha Weisz

Rabbi Eliezer Simcha Weisz is a member of The Chief Rabbinate Council of Israel

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