R' Shemaryohu was asked to address a gathering for
shemiras haloshon. For the week preceding the rally,
he racked his brain about what to say on this vital topic and
he was filled with anxiety. His salvation finally arrived on
the morning of the rally, apparently as a reward for his
efforts and in the merit of the target public. When his turn
finally came to speak, he went up to the podium with
confidence and began:
This morning I had the privilege of participating in a
seudas bris, which was a veritable banquet. It was
actually the lavish spread itself that turned my attention to
the man seated next to me. He seemed extremely finicky about
everything he ate and examined everything on the table,
choosing hardly anything at all to put on his plate. When
everyone poured themselves some wine or other alcoholic
beverage in order to drink a lechayim to the host, he
barely took some plain soda water. Seeing him young and
healthy, I couldn't control myself and turned to ask if he
was on any particular health diet or regimen.
"Oh, no!" he hastened to reassure me. "I am altogether well,
thank G-d. My profession is a wine-taster in a large winery.
Mine is the final pronouncement regarding the quality of any
given vintage year; what I say determines the grade of that
wine and the price which is accordingly charged. I sometimes
advise making a blend of different wines, according to
specified percentages, in order to obtain a wine of special
aroma and flavor. My expertise lies solely in my sensitive
"People don't realize that I don't actually drink the wine I
taste. I take a sip but only let it sit on my tongue and roll
it about in my mouth and then expectorate, after which I
rinse out my mouth thoroughly. If I were to swallow the first
sip of wine I take, I wouldn't be fit for my job for the rest
of the day. I must guard my tongue in its purity to preserve
its acute sensitivity. Only thus am I able to serve as a wine-
taster and to guide the winery with regard to its production
of quality wines and their subsequent financial success. This
is what I am paid for, and paid well.
"But wine is not the only thing capable of ruining my taste
sensitivity: sharp, spicy dishes, while tempting and
palatable, are liable to blunt and desensitize my taste buds
and make me unfit for my delicate job for at least a whole
day. Now you understand why I am unable to partake of all the
tempting foods being served here, as you are. My digestive
system is fine, thank G-d, but at the end of this meal I must
go to work in the winery and I can only earn my pay if my
tongue is pure and untainted."
If Hashem brought this person to be my seatmate at the
bris, today in particular -- continued R' Shemaryohu --
when I was scheduled to speak at this shemiras
haloshon rally, there must be a specific message I am
supposed to convey. Let us see what we are able to learn from
that wine connoisseur who lives with a constant awareness
that he must guard his tongue under all circumstances, even
in a seudas mitzva when he is confronted by a
bounteous spread of delicacies.
The wine-taster has a primary interest in guarding the purity
of his tongue for a simple reason: his profitable job, an
easy profession, depends upon it. He would be loathe to
exchange his work for an eight-hour job at a lower salary.
When I think of us, I cannot help but think that each and
every one of us is dependent upon guarding our tongues in far
greater measure than that wine-taster. I shall explain what I
In the first mishna in Bovo Kamo, Chazal refer
to man as mav'eh, which is synonymous to "seeker" or
"one who prays." This epithet is a central and qualitative
definition of man as a person. He appears as one who prays,
at the very beginning of the Torah, in verse 36, where we are
told that rain did not fall yet on the earth, nor did the
grass grow, up until the creation of man.
When Odom came upon the scene and knew that the world needed
the benefit of rain, he forthwith prayed for it and rain
fell. Trees grew and grass sprouted. The supply of man's
needs and the normal function of the world is completely
dependent upon man's prayer. And when man does not pray,
there is no rain, no trees and no vegetation. The world would
be desolate without rain. Prayer is the key to rain which
sustains the world, and prayer is entrusted into man's hands.
He prays, he is mav'eh.
Gentile psychologists attempted to define man as opposed to
other living creatures. One of the unique aspects of man is
his ability to laugh, and according to this feature some of
them dubbed him "the laughing man." It is humorous to think
how pitiful a man is, who thinks that this is his advantage
over beasts, that laughter is his uniqueness and
The world, which needs water for its existence, lifts its
eyes to man that he pray and beg for rain. Man is the
shaliach tzibbur, the cantor who knows how to sing.
The mineral, vegetable and animal kingdoms need the "speaker"
to intercede for them.
Speech is a powerful tool, like a huge cannon aimed upward.
It is more powerful than any spaceship headed for the moon or
Mars. Prayer that rises from speech can split the heavens and
speed all the way to the highest heavens, to the very
heavenly Throne of Glory.
The simile of speech to a weapon is reminiscent of what every
private in the army is taught: how to guard his rifle and
keep it clean and in working order. Several grains of sand
are enough to throw its aim off kilter and to render it
useless as an accurate weapon. In a polluted or dirty
surrounding, one must be especially careful to guard its
cleanliness. Cleaning his weapon is the first activity a
soldier learns, and developing an awareness of its state of
cleanliness is one of the most important goals in his
training. A soldier who digs in the mud with his rifle will
soon find himself in battle without any means of defense.
And this is exactly what we must learn and know concerning
our ability of speech.
A person must guard his power of speech to the utmost degree,
in far greater measure than the wine-taster. His very life
and all the details of his survival are dependent upon the
success of his prayers. He is capable of turning worlds with
them, abolishing harsh decrees, invoking salvation and even
changing a present reality, in addition to altering his own
essence and to upgrading his level of spirituality.
To those who think we have exaggerated in depicting the power
of the tongue, let us simply remind them that the whole
universe was created through speech, through the ten Divine
pronunciations that created the world.
With His utterance, Hashem created the heavens, and with the
breath of His mouth, all of their hosts. Man was created in
the form of the Creator, Who blew into him a speaking spirit.
It is easy to understand that the power of speech is capable
of spreading the canopy of heavens and of establishing the
foundations of the earth. But all of this tremendous power,
which one can veritably see dynamically in tzaddikim,
is dependent and conditional upon the cleanliness of one's
tongue and mouth. A smidgen of foul talk with the deceptive
coating of "I really didn't mean any harm . . . " or a bit of
gossip with the excuse of "It's something you should know . .
. " or a white lie that "innocently" slips from the lips --
all those and their like befoul the mouth and the tongue,
pollute the tools of speech from a spiritual aspect, and rob
us of our basic, marvelous ability which was planted in us by