Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

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6 Ellul 5762 - August 14, 2002 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Opinion & Comment
Guard Your Tongue

by Yochonon Dovid

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 taste buds.

"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 mean.

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 greatness.

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 the Creator.

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