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26 Tishrei 5760 - October 6, 1999 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Opinion & Comment
Speech as a Reflection of Our Values

by Rabbi Nosson Zeev Grossman

Educators stress that during the vacation time one needs to be extra wary of harmful environments. Leaving the yeshiva's beis medrash, our present-day Noach's ark, for bein hazmanim, and the temporary pause of studies in cheders and Beis Yaakov schools, are liable to cast young people into a dangerous confrontation with modern society's hazards. In the last brocho of birchos hashachar we daven daily: "Do not bring us . . . into the power of challenge."

It seems superfluous to warn that we should keep our children in a purely Torah atmosphere during vacation time. Any discerning person sees that the morals of our brethren on the other side of the fence, those who have strayed from Judaism, have drastically declined. Surely we must do all we can to prevent any spiritual damage to our young boys and girls. Responsible parents do everything in their power to ensure that their children are under constant supervision and are not wandering the streets.

But despite our best efforts there is occasionally no escape from having to mingle with society for medical care, for official paperwork, or travelling on buses where many of the passengers are either non-Jewish or non-religious Jews. For this reason rabbonim and educators underscored the need to strengthen our children when they leave our houses, to immunize them from any taint of foreign influence, and to convince them that it is preferable to "cover their eyes and close their ears" when they are among those who might leave a harmful impression.

We emphasize the prominent hindrances of contemporary society: people dress improperly, heretic views abound, and other myriad modern maladies. We are, perhaps, not sufficiently aware that outside our homes children are liable to learn a new "language." This language, better known as slang, is formed in the empty minds of foolhardy teenagers, and every new neologism spreads among the non- Jewish in chutz la'aretz and the secular populace in Eretz Yisroel like fire in a field of thorns.

There may be nothing explicitly wrong with the words and concepts themselves. Although they do not carry heretical messages nor are they obscenities, they are nonetheless injurious since they show the feelings of both the promiscuous non-Jewish and secular Jewish youth, their backgrounds, and their ways of thinking.

Unfortunately part of this new way of expressing oneself has unintentionally penetrated into our camp. We are often surprised to hear a string of popular expressions from the mouths of children and teenagers who study Torah. These concepts have crept into our working vocabulary and have become standard speech of yeshiva students. They are not forbidden per se. On the other hand, they are often expressions of the "mental world" of the base and superficial youth, and there is no reason for us to imitate this way of speaking.

Anyone who has ever examined such slang will realize that it embodies a poverty of values. Sometimes this refers to words showing a lack of seriousness, feelings of excessive pride, superficiality, and typical leitzonus. Occasionally these words unveil their contempt for the forbidden by making daily use of words similar to real aveiros.

For instance, in previous generations people were careful not to use words referring to killing and murdering. Today things have changed. A person starts off a conversation when he wants to show his anger and offer an appropriate reaction after being annoyed by another person, using expressions such as "I will kill him." Also words of stealing and theft and other serious aveiros, that were always considered negative expressions, have become acceptable if not even fashionable.

The non-Jewish population and our brethren who have strayed from Torah and mitzvos have developed such a "language" but it is extremely unfortunate if it is incorporated into the language of our children who live in an atmosphere of kedusha and tohoroh. A ben Torah knows that he must separate himself from unrefined behavior and act in a unique way. The Rambam (Hilchos Dei'os 5) writes: "Just as we can know whether a person is sagacious by his wisdom and knowledge, and his being detached from other people, so he needs to be particular in his behavior, in what he eats, and what he drinks, . . . and how he talks."

Maran the Chofetz Chaim (introduction to Kvod Shomayim) writes: "The truth is that everything which needs correcting depends only on talmidei chachomim, and this is especially true when we correct speech so that dvar Hashem will not be hefker." The Chofetz Chaim designates the above mainly in regards to being careful not to speak loshon hora but what he writes pertains even to general purity of speech. Those who study Torah are required to be especially mindful how they speak, since through their speaking divrei Torah they help the world continue to exist.

The Shem MiShmuel shows us how many types of speech can influence a person. The Midrash Rabbah in the beginning of Devorim writes: "Is a Jew permitted to write a sefer Torah in other languages? Chachomim taught us that there is no difference between sifrei Torah, tefillin, and mezuzas with the exception of permission for sifrei Torah to be written in every language. Rabbon Gamliel says that even sifrei Torah are only allowed to be written in Greek. HaKodosh Boruch Hu said: `See how dear the language of the Torah is that it cures the way a person speaks.' R' Levi said: `Why do we need to learn from somewhere else; let us learn from what is written here. Until Moshe was zoche to Torah he was `not a man of words,' but after being zoche to Torah his ability to speak was cured and he began to speak. From where do we know this? The Torah writes "These are the things that Moshe spoke."'"

Naturally this needs to be explained. Many times the Torah writes that Moshe Rabbenu "spoke." Why do Chazal infer this point only from "spoke" in this parsha? Furthermore, Moshe apparently did not need his power of speech since the Shechina would speak from his throat.

"It seems we must reflect on the nature of non-Jewish languages. A nation's vernacular is its essence and shows its substance, as Chazal write: `The tongue is the quill of the heart.' Their heart's evil is invariably expressed in the way they talk. Their particular power of evil is hidden in their national language. The Gerrer Rebbe, the Chidushei HaRim zt'l, once said that French lures a person to adultery, Rachmono litzlan. This is because it is well known that the French are markedly sullied in this, and therefore their essence is expressed in their language.

"The language of Torah however transforms the evil in a language to good. Since the Torah must use that language to explain something, the language combines itself to tohoroh. Its basic evil nature is repelled and a spirit of tohoroh enters it. This is the `curing of a language.' In this way I explained why Rashi cites French words numerous times. It is inconceivable that Rashi did not find words in loshon hakodesh to explain the correct meaning to the reader. According to what we have written Rashi helped those who speak that language. Since it is possible that before Rashi cited French words as explanations, French would be even more conducive to adultery."

Subsequently the Shem MiShmuel explains why Moshe Rabbenu explained the Torah in seventy languages although he had only spoken to bnei Yisroel in loshon hakodesh or in the Egyptian language, and did not need all the seventy languages for his purpose. "Moshe [used the seventy languages] to cure somewhat the languages for the benefit of coming generations. Perhaps he knew [through ruach hakodesh] that in the future Jews will go into golus among the seventy nations and would need to use the local languages.

"When Chazal write that the Shechina spoke from Moshe's throat it refers only to loshon hakodesh in which the Torah is written, but as to what was later explained in the seventy languages it was surely not the Shechina emanating from his throat. The Ramban (parshas Nosso) writes that our language is called loshon hakodesh because divrei Torah and all the prophecies and every matter of kedusha are all written in that language. If the explanations that Moshe gave in the seventy languages were "Shechina speaking through his throat" what preeminence did loshon hakodesh have? We must therefore conclude that when the Shechina spoke from his throat, Moshe spoke only loshon hakodesh but not the seventy languages.

The Midrash's proof from Moshe that the Torah cures one's language is only when he explained the Torah in the seventy languages. When Moshe spoke the seventy languages the Shechina did not speak from his throat, and nonetheless his innate difficulty of speech did not disturb him because "his language was cured according to the above way."

We have written at length because of the essential message: Every language expresses a nation's essence -- "A nation's vernacular is its essence and its substance, as Chazal write `The tongue is the quill of the heart.' The evil of their heart is always expressed in the way they talk. The nation's particular power of evil is hidden in its language."

The above does not only relate to foreign languages. Also using loshon hakodesh improperly, profaning and degrading it, while creating a low quality "Hebrew slang" wrecks the nefesh. If in foreign languages there is a negative power in apparently innocent and mundane words only because of the inner essence and hidden influence of those who created the language, there is surely great damage in using a distinctive jargon that shows emptiness and arrogance. The nature of such a language is evil and its messages are shoddy. Such a language cannot be cured and there is no way in the world to purify the way it is used. It is surely intolerable that someone who speaks divrei kedusha will use such language. The Torah-true should distance themselves from such slang.

A person's values are reflected in the way he speaks. We should heed the saying of a famous French writer that "Le style c'est l'homme meme" (The style is the man himself) since the kadmonim speak at length about the fact that man's superiority over the animals is in his possessing the power of speech. This unique power obligates man to be more careful about how he speaks since it is a central element in building or, chas vesholom, ruining him. We must protect the purity of our camp, the way our children talk, since base external influences create a disgusting and vulgar slang. We must do this the entire year and especially during vacation time.

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